Monday, April 26, 2021

Make-a-Monster 101

When you write a story about monsters, legends, and myths, you have to decide whether you’ll use the traditional information or not.

Part of your decision will be determined by the choice of magic or reality.  Are your creatures real in the sense they make scientific sense and follow the rules of the real world, or are they magic based so they can break all the laws of science and the real world?

Another part of your decision is whether you embrace all the “facts” about your creature or not.

Take vampires.  Some of the common folklore traits are

  • They are undead humans.
  • Bright sunlight kills them.
  • A stake made of a specific wood will kill them if it goes through their heart.
  • They prey on humans by drinking their blood.
  • They have fangs.
  • They turn into bats or some other creature.
  • Their reflection can’t be seen in a mirror because they have no soul.

In a reality-based story, some of these facts can be worked with.  Vampirism could be a type of blood virus, for example.

Other facts like shape changing won’t work without some serious fudging of science, and the matter of changing mass must be considered.  If a vampire can change into a bat, the bat must weigh the same as the vampire so the bat would need wings as big as a small plane’s to get off the ground.  

And then there are facts that make no sense whatsoever in the real world or a world with magic.  

If a vampire can’t be seen in a mirror because it doesn’t have a soul, does that mean that your clothes, toothbrush, and the wall behind you in the bathroom mirror have souls?  

I don’t think so, either.  

In defense of those who came up with this silly vampire notion, until the last two centuries, most people didn’t have a mirror, and the mirrors that were around were tiny and blurry.  

If you decide to change any of the important facts about your vampire or other creature, you need to give the reader some reason for your decision.  Your vampire can tell his new ladylove that he’s perfectly capable of walking in the sunlight, and the belief that he can’t has been a standard misinformation campaign by vampires for thousands of years so they can walk among humans without discovery and can take prey during the day without the prey being aware of the danger.

Whether you use the traditional traits or not, be sure to think very carefully about them so they make sense within the world you have created for your creatures.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Across a Crowded Room

 QUESTION: I have a scene in a restaurant where staff is coming and going. How do I describe that? Do I mention all the movement?

This is really about viewpoint. You are describing the scene from your viewpoint character's perspective. What will she see?

Imagine this. You are in your favorite romantic restaurant. Across from you is your special someone or your favorite sexy actor. You are eating your meal, flirting, and talking. Would you be aware of who is coming in and out of the room?

Your character in a similar situation would do the same thing.

Imagine this. You are in that restaurant with that sexy lover, but someone wants to kill you.

You would be very aware of who is coming and going in the room, and so would your viewpoint character.

If it's a situation that's emotionally neutral like a banquet meal with servants coming and going to bring food, you can say something like "A steady stream of servants, each with a large tray of food or an empty bowl, moved through the room tending the tables.”

Then, unless there's a reason to mention the servants again, or a servant again, you don't mention them. The reader will fill in the visual blanks.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Description and a Character's Profession

I've written several blogs on how viewpoint affects what you description in a scene. For example, a character who is analytical will view a room differently from a creative person.

The profession of a viewpoint character also affects how you describe what the character sees. In one of my novels, the main character is a landscape artist. I kept a list of paint colors beside me as I wrote her viewpoint because she'd be precise about color variations. She'd see another character's eyes as cerulean blue, not blue. 

If that viewpoint character had been an expert on antiques, the other person's eyes might be the color of Delft blue china. 

Using this kind of description also makes writing love scene description, particularly evoking the intense emotions of sexual pleasure, a bit easier and less cliche-ridden. I've used space imagery for a heroine who was an astrophysicist, shapes and forms for an architect, and colors and textures for that landscape painter. 

An expert will also see something differently than the rest of us. Imagine a mechanic looking at a car engine, now imagine someone who knows nothing about engines looking at it. The terms used to describe the engine in viewpoint will be as precise or imprecise as the character's knowledge.  

Don’t be ridiculously precise, however, by naming too many parts or scientific elements because most readers’ eyes will glaze over.

Always remember that description is as much about the viewpoint character as it is about creating a picture in the reader's head.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Description: From Specific to General

To give the reader the right image of what is happening, you should always be specific.  This is particularly important in the first description of a person, place, or thing.  

Look at the sentences below, and the introduction of the heroine’s dog, Digby.

Eager for their run, Digby whined and tugged on her leash.  

Jane laughed and began to jog down the greenway that ran behind her apartment.  

The dog kept pace until they reached the wooden bridge across the creek, then the golden retriever jerked to a halt and growled.  

Sentence one is fine.  “Whined” and “leash” tell the reader that Digby is a dog; however, the reader has no sense of what the dog looks like.  It could be a poodle or a Great Dane.

Sentence two is okay if bland.

Sentence three, however, starts with the general term “dog” which still doesn’t give the reader a clue about the dog.  Not until the end of this sentence does the reader learn that the dog is a golden retriever.  By this time, the specific jars the reader who may have already visualized the dog or has decided the dog isn’t important because of the vague description.

How could these sentence be improved?

Eager for their run, Jane’s golden retriever Digby whined and tugged on her leash.

She laughed and began to jog down the greenway that ran behind her apartment.  

The dog kept pace until they reached the wooden bridge across the creek then jerked to a halt and growled.  

The reader instantly knows Jane’s dog is a golden retriever so the writer can now use more general terms like dog. 

Just a few words used at the right time makes a difference between pulling the reader into your story or throwing them out.