Month: March 2017

EXPOSITION – THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE BORING #wwwblogs #amwriting #writingtips

spongebob

A client asked me a question about exposition the other day, and I rummaged through my old blog posts and found this post about the subject. Many books I read have issues with exposition, so I thought it was worth re-posting this.

Despite the fact that I quite often highlight great tracts of text and write ‘EXPOSITION’ over them in bold, (actually I’m much more polite than that about it) exposition is, in fact, extremely important. Indeed, exposition is part of every narrative; without it your reader would have no idea what was going on, where anything was, or who the characters were. Used wisely, used well and given the appropriate mode in which to inform, then it does have a valid part to play in a narrative. You can probably have no better example than the bard himself. The opening scene of Shakespeare’s Othello tells us a lot about Iago and Roderigo, their relationship and their status. And all in a few lines of dialogue.

ACT I
SCENE I. Venice. A street.
Enter RODERIGO and IAGO

RODERIGO: 

Tush! never tell me; I take it much unkindly

That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse

As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.

IAGO:

‘Sblood, but you will not hear me:

If ever I did dream of such a matter, Abhor me.

Without wanting to make this a lesson in literature and language, the opening lines tell us that Roderigo is socially superior to Iago; he says, ‘Tush!’ in other words, ‘Shut up.’ He must be Iago’s superior to speak to him like this. So, with one word, the audience is put in the picture.

Shakespeare knew that ‘showing’ the audience information about his characters and the setting, through actions and speech was far more entertaining and engaging than simply ‘telling’ them that information. And ‘telling’ is the form of exposition that we have all been guilty of using (yes, all of us, without exception, and if you think you haven’t done it then you don’t know what it is). But we do need to let our reader in on things, so how do we go about it without ‘telling’?

Let’s take a simple example. Your protagonist, Bill, is tetchy because he didn’t get much sleep. First of all ask yourself the question ‘Does it matter? Does my reader need to know this?’ If the answer is yes, then you could say this:

Bill was tetchy this morning as he hadn’t had enough sleep.

Now, that’s really boring. And if you do this all the time then it’s really, really, really boring. So how can you give your reader this information without ‘telling’ them?

Use dialogue, and use action. These two things can help enormously and will bring interest, movement and life to your writing:

‘For god’s sake, woman, why is this coffee cold?’
The mug followed its contents into the sink, the clatter drowning out the cheery tones of the radio DJ.
Emily lowered the newspaper.
‘You could always make it yourself. That would be a refreshing change. Anyway, why are you so grumpy?’
Bill sat down opposite his wife and placed his head in his hands.
‘Did you not hear it?’
‘Hear what?’
‘That bloody noise from next door. All night that same scraping and bumping. Then they started screaming at each other. I didn’t get a wink of sleep.’

I know this isn’t exactly Pulitzer Prize winning stuff, but I hope it’s a bit more interesting than the first example. After all, here we have a scene, not just a sentence. And we have also learned quite a lot – Bill likes coffee, but he expects his wife to make it (is he a sexist pig perhaps? Is there conflict in the marriage? Resentment? An impending divorce?). We also know that there are some pretty strange people living next door, who are up to all sorts of things in the night. And, of course, we also know that Bill is grumpy because he didn’t get much sleep.

Exposition through dialogue can be very effective then, but do be careful. You need your dialogue to be realistic. Don’t use it as a way of dumping information. And make sure your characters never tell each other things they already know. For example,

Bill adjusted his tie in the mirror. Emily smiled and straightened it, patting him on the shoulder.
‘Don’t look so nervous. You’ll be fine.’
‘I know, but I have to make this work. I really need this job. If I don’t get it I don’t know what I’ll do. The mortgage is due next week and we’re already three months behind. They’ll be looking to repossess if we don’t pay up.’
Emily nodded.
‘I know. Then there’s the money we owe your mum. It was nice of her to pay Tarquin’s school fees for the last two months, after all, they were about to kick him out. But we can’t keep relying on her. Not now she’s got all those medical bills to pay. How awful that she should break her hip falling down the stairs on her birthday.’

Now I know this is an extreme example, but lots of writers do this. Bill doesn’t need to tell Emily how far behind their mortgage payments are – she knows. And Bill knows his mother paid Tarquin’s school fees, and everything else Emily tells him. If your reader needs to know this information, find different ways to show it – have a letter arrive from the bank just as Bill leaves for his interview, or have Emily visit her mother-in-law in hospital and be told that there is no more financial help.

And remember, as with most things in writing, and indeed in life unfortunately, less is more. Don’t bog down your narrative and bore your reader with unnecessary detail. Show them what they need to know and let them put the pieces together.

Do you have any examples of exposition – good or bad – that will help other writers? Do share them here.

‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

snow-child

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Alaska, the 1920s. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on a fresh start in a remote homestead, but the wilderness is a stark place, and Mabel is haunted by the baby she lost many years before. When a little girl appears mysteriously on their land, each is filled with wonder, but also foreboding: is she what she seems, and can they find room in their hearts for her?

Written with the clarity and vividness of the Russian fairy tale from which it takes its inspiration, The Snow Child is an instant classic.

I dithered a bit when deciding on the star rating for this book. I couldn’t decide between four or five stars.

The writing is absolutely stunning. Beautiful, evocative descriptions of the cruel but awe-inspiring Alaskan wilderness, combine with heartfelt and touching portrayals of two lovely, kind people who are frozen by the tragedy at the heart of their lives – a tragedy that has driven them away from everything they know to the wilds of Alaska, that sees them struggling to survive, but a tragedy that they don’t speak about, despite their obvious love for each other.

The writing is warm and the author’s love for her characters really comes through. And l loved the way that the traditional fairy tale was woven through the narrative so cleverly that even now I’m still not sure what was real and what wasn’t. And the snow child herself is exquisitely written – ethereal yet capable, fragile but tough, her story is beautifully told.

The only let down for me was that it was a bit long-winded in parts. The writing is gorgeous, but it still needs to be tightened in places. And that’s what had me wavering. But in the end, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and was, at times, totally immersed in the world that the author so cleverly created. So it does have to be five stars.

5 stars

Dialogue Tags – Again #wwwblogs #writingtips #amwriting

writing-dialogue

This is a subject I’ve written about several times in the past, but it is an issue I keep coming back to, time and time again.

I’m a huge fan of self-publishing and of independent authors. I’ve read some absolutely amazing books by indie authors and have worked with some amazing authors that have self-published. There are so many great indie authors out there and many that are as good as, if not better than, traditionally published authors.

However, one thing that sets apart the majority of (but by no means all) traditionally published authors from some self-published authors and authors published by small presses is the proliferation of complicated dialogue tags in the work of the latter two. Now, I’m not saying it’s all indie authors that do this, but there is a lot of it about, and it’s usually a sign of an author who hasn’t had their work professionally edited or critiqued.

Dialogue tags are those words used instead of ‘said’ and ‘asked’; words like ‘exclaimed’ and ‘sighed’ and ‘insisted’ and, horror of horrors, ‘interjected’. Many authors that I advise not to use these complicated tags will argue that using them is the sign of a good writer, that they’re showing off their writing skills.

But they’re not.

Because the point of a dialogue tag is to signify who has spoken. That’s it. Nothing else. It shouldn’t indicate how something was said. It shouldn’t indicate the tone or the volume of the words. It should simply show only who is speaking.

Why? Well, lots of reasons. (If you are a client and you have read all this before then I do apologise.) Readers are so used to seeing ‘said’ and ‘asked’ that they skim over those words, noting quickly who is ‘saying’ or ‘asking’ and getting on with the important things. The flow of the writing isn’t interrupted, the reader reads on smoothly and happily. If a dialogue tag suddenly crops up, like ‘chuckled’ or ‘screamed’, the reader is forced to pause, to think about the tag. The flow is interrupted, and for no purpose. The reader is also suddenly reminded that they’re reading a book. They’re not actually in an eighteenth century English prison, or on a spaceship circling Mars, or on a beach in Sydney. They’re suddenly pulled out of that world and back into reality. “Look at me,” the dialogue tag says, “the author looked me up in a thesaurus because they wanted to sound interesting. Also, they didn’t have enough confidence in their own writing to know that the character’s words, actions, situation and emotions are sufficient to show that the character was shouting, or that you, the reader, were clever enough to work that out yourself.”

Think about it. If a character is speaking, and their words are cut across by another character, that shows that the second character has interrupted; you don’t need to tell your reader that they have done so. If your character is telling another character a story about their past, it is obvious that they are reminiscing, or remembering. You don’t need a dialogue tag to hammer the point home.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that most dialogue tags don’t really make sense. Take ‘chuckled’ for example. No one really chuckles a word. They might say a word and then chuckle, but you can’t do the two things at once.  Dialogue cannot be laughed, smiled, giggled, nodded or screamed. Dialogue tags only serve to draw people out of the story, to distract.

Remember, writing should appear effortless (although it is far from it) and a dialogue tag that stands out reveals the author, reveals that the world has been crafted. To paraphrase Stephen King – you have told your story well enough to believe that when you use ‘said’ or ‘asked’ your reader will know how it was said or asked.

So shut that thesaurus please, and have a little more faith in yourself, in your words and in your reader.

‘As I Lay Dying’ by William Faulkner #TuesdayBookBlog #DBowieBooks #BookReview

Faulkner

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

The death and burial of Addie Bundren is told by members of her family, as they cart the coffin to Jefferson, Mississippi, to bury her among her people. And as the intense desires, fears and rivalries of the family are revealed in the vernacular of the Deep South, Faulkner presents a portrait of extraordinary power – as epic as the Old Testament, as American as Huckleberry Finn.

I read this book as part of the David Bowie Reading Challenge.

To my shame, this is the first Faulkner I’ve read. He’s another author that has been on the edge of my radar for years, but I’ve never got round to reading him, save for a few extracts given as examples when I was studying English Literature.

This is a classic that is really worthy of the name. It’s a deceptively simple tale – a woman dies and her family transport her body back to her home town to fulfil her dying wish. But Faulkner uses this journey to take his reader on a journey too, revealing bit by bit the relationships between Addie’s children and with their father – their rivalries, their jealousies, their fears, their hopes, their dreams.

The story to me though is in a way secondary to the writing. It is so, so well-crafted that it is almost awe-inspiring. That might sound over the top, but I had to keep stopping and re-reading, and reading out bits to my poor family because the sheer skill of the writing was so amazing.

That isn’t to say that the writing is complicated. It’s dense, yes, but dense with meaning. Faulkner offers a masterclass here in saying a lot with a few words and images. Every word has a point, has a place and is needed. Nothing is wasted.

Faulkner is a writer whose works are often studied, rather than simply read. And that’s a bit of a shame. It was lovely to read this simply for the pleasure of reading – and it really is an absolute pleasure to read. Five very big stars!

5 stars

 

8 Statues of Courageous Women in History

Heritage Calling

This Women’s History Month, we’re talking about the representation and commemoration of women throughout history.

Just 2.7% of statues in the UK are of historical, non-royal women – and a number of campaigns are looking to change that. A crowdsourcing project is underway to install a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in her home town of Manchester. Campaign group Mary on the Green are fundraising to have a statue of ‘the mother of feminism’ Mary Wollstonecraft installed on Newington Green, London.

Who would you like to see commemorated in a statue? Tell us in the comments

Here are 7 statues and the inspirational women they represent:

Violette Szabo, Albert Embankment, London

220px-Violette_Szabo_IWM_photo wiki commons Violette Szabo in 1944. From the Imperial War Museum record HU 16541

Set up in secret during the Second World War, the Special Operations Executive conducted espionage and sabotage in occupied Europe. Recruits put themselves in grave danger in a…

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‘Everything but the Truth’ by Gillian McAllister #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

truth

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Do you ever check your partner’s phone? 
Should you? 
Are you prepared for the consequences?

Everything but the Truth is Gillian McAllister’s stunning breakthrough thriller about deceit, betrayal and one woman’s compulsive need to uncover the truth

It all started with the email.

Rachel didn’t even mean to look. She loves Jack and she’s pregnant with their child. She trusts him.

But now she’s seen it, she can’t undo that moment. Or the chain of events it has set in motion.

Why has Jack been lying about his past? Just what exactly is he hiding? And doesn’t Rachel have a right to know the truth at any cost?

This is such a compelling debut novel. Rachel has a secret hidden in her past; something she doesn’t want to share with new boyfriend Jack. But Jack seems to be hiding something too, and Rachel can’t help but begin to snoop around. It begins with a checking an email, then her compulsion to find out exactly what he’s hiding grows stronger – she begins to dig deeper and deeper, and what she finds has the potential to destroy their relationship, even though they are expecting a baby together.

But was what Jack did so terrible? And can she justify poking around in his past?

Just who exactly is in the wrong here?

I absolutely loved a lot of things about this novel. I liked Rachel a lot, and really sympathised with her, but I also felt really sorry for Jack, even while I felt so frustrated too – I just wanted them both to be honest. But this reaction just proves the skill of the author – you can completely see why they get themselves into this mess, and how hard it is to get out of it.

The secret in Rachel’s past is revealed very gradually, and I did feel emotional reading about it. The dilemma she finds herself in is so well-written – I kept having conversations with people, trying to find out what they would do in her shoes. That’s surely the sign of an excellent book.

I do have a couple of little grumbles. There are a few inconsistencies – more a problem with the editing though than the writing. This would normally be enough to knock a star off my rating, but I liked this book so much that I can’t. This is a really, really good read.

5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley and to the publisher for providing a review copy.

 

Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT GHOST VARIATIONS by @jessicaduchen #SundayBlogShare @AlisonW_Editor

My review of the fabulous ‘Ghost Variations’ for #RBRT

Rosie Amber

Today’s team review is from Alison, she blogs at https://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Alison has been reading Ghost Variations by Jessica Duchen

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There are so many strands to this book, so many different things that have their own unique appeal. Firstly, it is beautifully written and an absolute pleasure to read. Secondly, its subject matter is intriguing, and a book that mixes fact and fiction is something that really appeals to me. The mystery of the concerto, the story around its discovery, the back story about Schumann himself which is heart-breaking, and the historical detail that seems so particularly relevant today – all these things are brought together in an intelligent, compelling narrative.

The story is told mainly from the viewpoint of Jelly herself, a violinist from Hungary, living in London, and, later on, from the point of view of Ulli, a young music publisher, in love with Jelly, living in Germany…

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The Curse of the Camera Phone #TravelThursday #Paris

Gary and I visited Paris at the end of January as I have long wished to see Eugene Delacroix’s painting ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’ around which my WIP revolves. While in Paris we visited the Musee Rodin – dedicated to the works of French sculptor Auguste Rodin.

One of Rodin’s most famous works ‘The Thinker’ is there, set in the beautiful garden. We went out to see it. There was a little queue. We stood for a while, watching this queue. Each person waited patiently, then walked up to the sculpture, sat on the plinth, took up the famous pose, and their companion snapped away. Then they got up and walked away.

th

Wonder what he thinks about it all?

We watched for a few minutes and not a single person actually looked up at the sculpture itself. Not a single one.

We spent a good hour or so wandering through the gardens looking at Rodin’s beautiful works, then we wandered through the museum itself, looking at the interesting displays (the work that goes into sculpting – my goodness, it’s like a science!). It’s an absolutely fantastic place, one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. And Rodin looks strangely like an old Tom Hardy! But as we walked round we noticed that the majority of visitors were looking at everything through their phones, snapping away.

rodin

Tom Hardy’s future look?

The day before, we’d been to the Louvre, where all anyone seemed to want to do was to take a selfie with the Mona Lisa. Earlier that morning we’d been to the Musee d’Orsay , where again we had to keep ducking to avoid starring in other people’s photos. That afternoon we went on to Musée de L’Orangerie, home of Monet’s stunning murals. Monet envisaged the murals as providing a place of calm, of retreat, somewhere in the middle of busy Paris to sit and be quiet after a long, hard day. We duly sat and relaxed and took in the beauty of these amazing works. And across our sightline every couple of seconds someone would walk, taking a panoramic picture through their phone.

12-getaway-top-master1050

Guia Besana for The New York Times

Why do people do this? Seriously, I really don’t understand.

I do take the occasional photo, although I’m not that great at it, but to me, as someone who isn’t a professional photographer, a photo is something I use to remember a good time. The photos I’ve got of Gary and me in Paris are mainly pretty bad and are the two of us grinning away at the fact that we’re standing in front of Delacroix’s house, or the place where Jim Morrison died. I didn’t take any photos of paintings, or sculptures, because what is the point?

When you look at a painting in real life you realise how no photograph can capture what’s actually there. If I’m standing in front of a Delacroix, or a Monet, or a Rothko, or a beautiful sculpture by Rodin or even an intricate carving in the stonework of a cathedral, I know that if I take a photo of it, I won’t be able to recapture what it looks like, how it makes me feel in that moment. And it wasn’t as if these people were looking at the paintings or the sculptures for a while and then taking a quick snap. No, their whole focus was on taking the photograph. I watched one woman come in to one of the mural rooms. She put her phone to her face, and walked round the whole room, with the phone to her face. Then she walked out. Will she look at that again? What was the point of her going to see those murals?

I don’t want to sound like a snob or pretentious, but I genuinely don’t get it. The age of the camera phone seems to have reduced the beautiful things in life to a list to be ticked off. Trip to Paris? Mona Lisa – tick, here’s the picture to prove it. Venus de Milo – tick. The Thinker? Tick. The Kiss? Tick. And here on Facebook is the picture.

And it’s a picture that will show none of the real beauty of that piece of art. You can’t capture those colours, those lines in a little snap on your phone, however good your phone may be.

And, in my humble opinion, you’ve missed out completely on seeing something really worth seeing. But if you do insist on doing it, then please keep out of my bloody way!

‘Inside of Me’ by Hazel McHaffie #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview #RBRT

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Inside of Me’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

inside

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

India Grayson is a happy 8-year-old girl, adored by her father, cherished by her mother. She’s devastated when her beloved father, Victor, suddenly disappears, leaving nothing but a neatly folded pile of clothes on a windy beach in Scotland. She bargains with God: no more chocolate … roast potatoes … packed lunch … if you send my daddy back.
Now 15 and in the grip of anorexia, she’s convinced she heard his voice on a crowded London station and is determined to find him.
Isolated and overwhelmed, her mother, Tonya, succumbs to gnawing doubts about the man she thought she knew. Where was he on the night two teenage girls went missing? What was he really doing when he was away for two days and nights without explanation? Who exactly was he? What dark secrets were haunting him?
A third teenager goes missing in London in the same week India thinks she heard his voice. Can he be involved? Should Tonya share her secret suspicions with the police? Will India ever forgive her if she does? And how far will India go to be reunited with him?
The revelation when it comes is much more challenging than Tonya ever dreamed of.
Body image issues and identity crises trouble us all at times; this gripping story reaches to the core of what makes us ourselves and how we live with our doubts and conflicts.

This is a very interesting novel, with an intelligent and thoughtful storyline and some well-crafted and believable characters. The subject matter covers many areas of body image, identity, gender and family relationships, in a very sympathetic way. The dynamics of family are well-portrayed and the prejudices, preconceptions and misconceptions we have about others, even those we are closest to, are well-drawn and feel authentic.

India has many of the attributes of a typical teenage girl, by turns angry, confused, needing her parents but needing her independence too. There were times however, when I wanted to feel more sympathy for her, but found this difficult because of the way she treated her mother. And while I appreciate that many girls of this age have conflicts like this with their mothers, there seemed to be no connection at all, which spoiled things a little for me.

Victor was drawn very well and in a very non-judgemental way, which was refreshing and valuable in the current climate. I found his storyline to be the most interesting of all the characters.

I felt very sorry for Tonya and felt she was treated rather unfairly. I would have liked things to have gone better for her – she seemed to have been left with all the issues, all the conflict, all the drama and difficulty and was expected to get on with it – which she did. There wasn’t a lot of sympathy here for her, or for the mistakes she made (which we all do). However, this portrayal was probably more realistic in the circumstances, and the author has stayed true to her story, and to her characters.

There were a few little details in the plot that I felt were a little too contrived, a little too coincidental, but on the whole this is a well-written, well-researched and enjoyable novel.

10 Reasons Your Book Is Not Getting Reviewed (by #BookBloggers) #MondayBlogs #WriterTip

More useful advice for writers – if you want reviews, here’s how to approach a book reviewer.

Rosie Amber

Ten reasons your book is not getting reviewed (by #bookbloggers)

no

Do you keep submitting your books to bloggers, but are yet to have them reply with a ‘yes, I’d be happy to review it?’. Book bloggers do get snowed under, and sometimes state on their blogs that they’re currently closed for submissions. What if this is not the case, though, but you still keep getting a ‘thanks, but no thanks’, or no reply at all?

Do any of the following apply to you? If so, it might be an idea to have a rethink.

  1. You’ve sent a generic request, without finding out the blogger’s name (forget ‘dear book blogger’!), having a browse around it to see how he/she reviews, and if the blog will take self-published books, or those from independent presses; some don’t.
  2. Your request is badly written, with typos, grammatical or punctuation errors, or it’s too informal. You’re…

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