The best written love must overcome obstacles.
Yes, parental objections, physical distance, poverty, etc., are great ploys. But CONSIDER THE POTENTIAL OF MISCOMMUNICATION.
Jane Austin nailed misunderstanding. You can, too. Want a handy guide? Check out The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.
This book explores five ways people express love.
#1 Words of Affirmation
#2 Quality Time
#3 Receiving Gifts
#4 Acts of Service
#5 Physical Touch
According to the author, each person has a predominant mode of expression.
FOR PLOT PURPOSES, you need only have two people with different preferences for expressions of love to go unrecognized.
This book is a NYT #1 Bestseller. The writing is accessible, the examples informative. I recommend it!
And as so often happens, there are now niche sequels.
GO FOR SOME LOVE! After all, Valentine’s Day is coming soon.
Below are a few writing tips I’ve written about before that are definitely still applicable today. What writing tips have you received that have helped you the most?
Don’t have characters tell each other things they already know just because the reader doesn’t know those things. For example, if two sisters are talking, it’s highly unlikely that one would say, “When Mom and Dad adopted our brother John, I was devastated.” Find another way to convey relevant relationships or bits of backstory to the reader.
Another no-no is to have an exchange between two people weighed down by repeatedly calling each other by name. “Hello, John.” “Hi, Sharon.” “How are you doing, John?” “Oh, Sharon, I am so low I have to reach up to touch bottom.”
A third negative is putting in greetings and leave-takings that are pro-forma, tell us nothing about the characters, or don’t move the story forward. Just because they would happen in real life doesn’t mean that every amenity has to be spelled out to the point of diluting the scene.
The basic rule is that short, simple sentences–even sentence fragments–convey more energy than longer, more complex sentences. They are less likely to be beautiful in the poetic sense, but they carry more punch.
Take an emotion such as anger. If it is a long-held, smoldering anger, longer sentences with modifiers and clauses might be appropriate in a narrative passage. But if it is an anger outburst or a heated argument, you are more likely to want short sentences.
If you use lots of ands, buts, whens, and thens, consider if wordiness is sapping energy from your writing. Consider breaking one long sentence into two or more shorter ones.
Whether describing a person, a place, a thing, or a process, long detailed descriptions–unrelieved by action–are likely to be deadly. If very well done, readers will get so involved in the description, in visualizing exactly what the author had in mind, that they are taken out of the story itself. If not well done, those passages are likely to be skipped altogether. Elmore Leonard advises leaving out the parts that readers skip anyway. Replace length with strong, vivid, memorable language.
In describing people, go for details that will help define the character for the reader. For example, describing an employee saying, “Her dress was black and blue and ruffled, better suited to a ballroom than a boardroom,” would not create the same image in the mind’s eye of every reader but it’s likely to convey the same impression–which is generally much more important.
And consider not describing transportation at all. If you need to get your character from New York to Philadelphia, put her in a car, a plane, or a train, get her out again, and let it go–unless something important to the story happens in transit. Even then, skip as much of the before and after as possible.
Finally, leave out the parts of routine actions that the reader can assume. For example, if a man is going out and locks the door behind him, we know without being told that he had already opened the door and closed it again.
Truth: Marathon euchre and cribbage got us only so far. It’s only natural that talk turned to books. So here’s a list of books the four of us recommended to each other.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katharine Boo is beautifully written nonfiction. It’s about striving and hope in a Mumbai under-city, and won both a National Book Award and the LA Times Book Prize.
Another excellent nonfiction read is Escape From Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden. It’s a gripping story.
The novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is moving, funny and good writing.
Two people praised the novel Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf as excellently written. It’s the story of a seventy-year-old widow and widower who become soulmates, written as Haruf was dying.
Purity by Jonathan Franzen was described as a “weird” but excellent novel about two young people with strange mothers, searching for their real fathers, one in San Francisco and one in East Berlin.
Iron-hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill is YA fantasy, about a princess who is very smart, not pretty, living in a land of dragons and magic castles.
When we got to mysteries, there were too many to list, so we just went with authors: pretty much anything by Tara French or Donna Leon for books set abroad, Greg Isles, Kathy Reichs, Lee Childs, Jeffrey Dever, Janet Evanovich, Nevada Barr, or Dennis Lebane.
Good reading even when you aren’t snowbound!
NASA has officially recognized a thirteenth constellation, Ophiuchus (pronounced either Oh-FEW-cuss or Off-ee-YOO-cuss, depending on who you read).
We’re all familiar with the 12 constellations associated with the signs of the zodiac for the last 3,000 years. It seems Ophiuchus was always there, but the Babylonians left it out because they needed only twelve.
In the 1970s Stephen Schmitt proposed 13 zodiac signs but it was so controversial that it never caught on.
NASA points out that constellations are matters of astronomy and there are 13 of them. The signs of the zodiac are matters of astrology, and thus somewhat arbitrary.
The 12 signs of the zodiac divide the sun’s ecliptic so that each spans 30 degrees of celestial longitude. Constellations are unequal in size and depend on the positions of stars. Constellations and signs of the zodiac don’t generally coincide. For example, the constellation of Aquarius corresponds to the sign of Pisces.
So, if you add Ophiuchus and adjust the dates for the other 12 constellations to align with their greatest visibility in the night sky, you get the following:
Ophiuchus: Nov. 29-Dec. 17
Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20
Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16
Aquarius: Feb. 16-Mar. 11
Pisces: Mar. 11-Apr. 18
Aries: Apt. 18-May 13
Taurus: May 13-June 21
Gemini: June 21-July 20
Cancer: July 20-Aug. 10
Leo: Aug. 10-Sept. 16
Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30
Libra: Oct. 30-Nov. 23
Scorpio: Nov. 23-Nov. 29
The characteristics of the original 12 signs remain the same. Ophiuchus is from the Greek, meaning “serpent-bearer.” It is associated with healers and physicians.
TRAITS OF OPHIUCHUS are all over the map. POSITIVE: happy, humorous, honest, truthful, intellectual, clever, free-spirited, instinctive, charismatic, creative, driven. IN ADDITION: competitive, secretive, emotional, adaptable, flamboyant dressers, and well-loved by authorities. SO WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE? How about being polygamous, irresponsible, jealous, judgmental, restless, temperamental, and prone to procrastination?
TAKEAWAY FOR WRITERS: Consider making your character an Ophiuchus! You can learn much more about this fascinating sign online.
People are creatures of habit. Your challenge for the year ahead is to break out of your reading rut. How many of these categories can you sample this year? Choose at least a dozen!
HUMOR: It’s a scientific fact that you can’t get ulcers while laughing. So choose humor for the good of your health.
PRIZE-WINNERS: Pulitzer, American Book Award, Booker Prize, Hugo Award (sci-fi), Caldecott (children’s books), National Book Critics Circle Award, or any other you choose. You can’t go wrong!
BESTSELLER: See what’s popular– for example, any NYT Bestseller category.
READ FROM THE BIBLE: Any one or more books, any of the 450 translations into English. An all-time international bestseller. If you are into brevity here, choose the Book of Ruth.
PUBLISHED MORE THAN 100 YEARS AGO: There are hundreds of classics that fit this category. But consider Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was the most popular book (after the Bible) in 19th century America.
PUBLISHED IN 2016: For suggestions, see my blog post from December 27.
HISTORICAL FICTION: Any fiction set before 1950.
ROMANCE: Can be mixed genre, as long as romance is a central theme.
YOUNG ADULT: Any genre. Explore what young people–and many adults–are reading. Think Harry Potter, or the recent vampire series.
BIOGRAPHY AND MEMOIR: This can be current or historical, just find a life worth reading.
ABANDONED BOOK: Any book you started but didn’t finish. Why did you put it aside? Is it better the second time around?
MAGICAL REALISM: Márquez inspired many writers–and readers–to explore this genre. If you aren’t a fan already, you might become one!
NEGLECTED BOOK: Any book you’ve had hanging around for awhile, intending to read eventually. What’s been stopping you?
A BOOK IN TRANSLATION: Any book that has been translated from another language. Think Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Proust, Marquez, or something more modern, like Ha Jin.
HORROR: Just look for the shelf label in your local bookstore or library. Think early Steven King.
ACTION/ADVENTURE: Think Indiana Jones or James Bond.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS: Can be another quick read, while standing in the aisle, even!
POETRY: Can be all one poet or a collection. Maybe try Shel Silverstein?
NOT YOUR ETHNIC BACKGROUND: Easier than you might think. Most books in translation or set abroad would qualify, as well as subgroups within the U.S.
SCIENCE: It can be as technical or as popular, as focused or as general, as you like. Mary Roach is my favorite popular science writer.
HISTORY: Social, military, political, whatever, as long as it is nonfiction. I like Dean King.
BOOKS THAT SPAWNED MOVIES: I blogged about this for Christmas on December 20. But there are tons from which to choose. Try for a book for which you have seen the movie.
SHORT STORY COLLECTION: It could be varied or within a genre; for example, the Virginia Is For Mysteries series.
MYSTERY: Classic or modern, cozy or police procedural, foreign or domestic. They’re everywhere!
FANTASY: It can be anything from an older book, like Alice in Wonderland, to a book that has just come out. It exercises you in willing suspension of disbelief.
So, in 2017 READ, READ, READ! Get thee to the bookshelves.