How FF and JJ Shortened My Patience

Reading Judy Dykstra-Brown’s post, Too Much Information, reminds me of an article I worked on yesterday, so I’ll post it as my response to today’s Word Press prompt word: overwhelming.

Overwhelmed by Adjectives

My mind registered a familiar ring tone and I reached for my navy faux-leather handbag, the one I’d bought with the gift certificate Mom gave me for the trendy new fashion store that just opened up three months ago at a nearby mall. I rummaged around, feeling my wallet, a few tissues, and several small spiral notebooks I carried for jotting down bits of poetry before I pulled out my shiny pink cell phone, now steadily tinkling out the tune to Fleur Elise, my favorite of all the tone options on this phone, hit the tiny green Talk button and said “Hello.”

The caller had hung up.

Would you? If this were the opening paragraph of your story, would you keep reading?

I started a book last week and soon discovered the writer is a lover of vividly descriptive adjectives. I had the feeling of walking on a wet beach where your feet sink into the sand at every step. In Chapter One the main character gathers her things, heads to work, and arrives there. Not what you’d call fast-paced, but her home and workplace were well described.

Some readers enjoy this type of descriptive writing and will find this story interesting. They are a market, albeit limited, some writers aim to please and that’s great. But like most readers, my attention span has become short. I like a bit of description, but then let’s get on with it. Give me a quick, smooth trip, no slogging through wet sand.

May Heaven Bless Good Editors

If you’re working on a novel and intending to publish it, do run it by a professional editor. And listen to their advice — even if it hurts.

The editorial cry of, “Cut, cut, cut!” can be painful. One tactful editor a century ago told a writer, “Your work is like a rare jewel. And like all jewels, it will sparkle all the more once it’s cut.”

Mark Twain once said, “When you see an adjective, kill it.” He admitted that adjectives do have their place, but cautions writers to use them sparingly.

For a travelogue descriptive adjectives are great, but do we care that, in the opening scene, Fleur Elise is this girl’s favorite among all the ring tones on this phone, or do we want to find out who’s calling and why?

Writer Charles Todd, in the Bess Crawford Mysteries series, has achieved what I’d call a perfect balance. While including descriptions of WWI battlefield scenes and the shattered bodies brought in for Bess and the doctors to patch up, the story line moves along quickly and holds a reader’s attention.

Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild

A few months back my husband signed up with the Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild and I started following his articles entitled “How to become a ferocious self editor.” We get a demonstration of how Jerry would edit the first page of someone’s manuscript — and he does EDIT. Chop, chop, chop!

The story may start out with 200 words and end up with 50 when he’s done, but he explains each change. We hear that one adjective is usually enough. Instead of talking about the great big house, you say the great house or the big house. Better yet, eliminate both and say the cottage or the mansion. Instead of “The lonely lost lamb shook with cold and fear,” pick one good adjective and choose your verb well. “The forlorn lamb shivered.”

Friday Fictioneers: Putting It Into Practice

This is a group hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Every week she posts a photo as the group’s writing prompt and we’re to post a hundred-word story in response. I’ve been finding these a real challenge!

A hundred words means barest bones. Every superfluous word goes. Every line that can possibly be omitted is.

My opening paragraph contains 102 words, the entire allotment for a for Friday Fictioneers story. Action sum total: a female answers her phone. For an FF story I’d boil it down to:

I grabbed my ringing phone from my purse. “Hello.”
Mom’s voice sounded worried. “Sue, I can’t reach Patty. Have you seen her lately?”

Word count: 23. And go on from there. In the final edit I might even have to cut out the purse, though its mention tells readers she’s on her cell phone and not at home. This type of editing is terrific practice for writing tight, which is mainly the writing that sells these days.

As a reader, are you fond of description in your stories, or do you prefer the “cut to the chase” version?

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Storms And More Storms

Winter “Clipper” Roars Through

Yesterday morning our weather had warmed up here in Sask — temp got up to -9̊ C. Which brought in a fast-moving storm by evening with howling wind gusts that rattled our windows something fierce. I was afraid the power might go out, so I placed candles and flashlights in strategic places, just in case. Thankfully we haven’t had a lot of snow to blow, and not a lot came down during the “clipper”, or it would have been much worse for drivers.

This morning dawned clear and sunny, but the temp has dropped to -31̊ C, below -40 with wind-chill factored in. I call that “bitterly cold”! So I’m happy to stay inside all day, thankful I don’t have to pump gas or do any other out-in-all-weathers job.

Today’s Word Press prompt is someday. Very fitting.

Someday it will be spring. The grass will green up, the trees will bud and blossom, perennials will poke through. Someday. Meanwhile, today I plan to edit this book I’ve been working on, for teen boys.

I also posted Winter’s Day Dreams on Tree Top Haiku.

Book report: Hurricane
© 2003, 2008 by Terry Trueman
HarperCollins Publishers

Speaking of a book for teen boys, I read one yesterday that I thought was terrific. In the book Hurricane, by Terry Trueman, Jose, a young teen from a small Honduras village, stays at home with his mother and younger siblings in their small village while his dad, older brother and sister, have gone to the city. The day starts out rainy, nothing too unusual. Unknown to them, this is the forefront of Hurricane Mitch, the storm that devastated Central America in 1998.

They initially have to contend with the worsening storm, trying to keep their belongings dry under the leaking roof, and wondering about their missing family members. I small battery radio tells them about the damage Mitch is doing all over their country.  Then before the night is over Jose hears a great rumbling sound and mud from the loggers’ clean-cut patch on the mountain above comes pouring down on them, burying most of the village in sludge.

The author has done a great job of depicting the feelings of a boy caught up in a tragedy. We understand his amazement facing a sea of mud, overwhelmed by the cries of survivors needing help. We see his efforts together with neighbors digging in the mud for their loved ones and for food. We feel his revulsion at finding dead bodies — and sympathize with his constant fear that his father and siblings have been swept away, buried in other mud somewhere. Will they ever be found? Sandwiched in between are his flashbacks to the good times and questions about the future.

The author does all this in a refreshingly “clean” story with very little profanity and no immorality. Jose’s family, God-fearing Catholic people who believe in prayer, are trying to apply faith and trust in the midst of tragedy. This is a book I’d give to any reader, teen or adult.

Character Study

Day after day I see him there, drinking his coffee and ostensibly reading his book, yet glancing up at times as if watching for someone to arrive or something to happen. I’ve noticed he seldom turns a page. And he always sits facing the street. Has he heard the rumors and wants to see for himself if they’re true?

man-reading

I chat with him now and then as I bustle around clearing off tables. Just letting him know I’m friendly. Nothing wrong with that, is there? His answers are always upbeat, respectful. That’s worth a lot in this day and age, let me tell you. Sometimes I think we could hit it off, both older and alone and all.

Yeah, he seems nice and easygoing, yet there’s a certain something in his eyes. Watchful. Almost wary.

In momentary flights of fantasy as I wipe tables I picture him as an undercover agent keeping an eye on what’s going on across the street. Gathering evidence, ready to catch the guys hauling the stuff in — or the customers sneaking it out in secret pockets.

Maybe he’s one of these writer types, watching the pedestrians, doing character studies for his next book? (Wonder which character I’ll appear as? The femme fatale? Yeah, really!)

Or maybe he’s just a regular retired guy who’s taken early retirement and he likes our coffee. As I load the dishwasher, I decide to ask him if he’s ready for another cup. But when I turn around, he’s gone.

Word Press daily prompt: Gone

Metaphors–Prose & Haiku

Today The Write Practice post dealt with how to create colorful metaphors. I went about this exercise seriously, cutting paper into 16 bits for my abstracts and 18 for my objects. Maybe I’ll keep adding bits to the bowl and write a few more, but here’s the metaphor that came of today’s match-up: fear = book.

My book of Assorted Fears fell open this morning at the chapter, “Nobody loves me.” It’s a depressing read, but I skimmed through the pages anyway, went down the bullet point lists of why nobody should. Then I turned to the pages of Convincing Evidence. The ink was dark and damning, many remarks recorded in boldface type. I read half a page before my eyes got blurry, so I slammed the book shut, crawled back into bed and pulled the covers over my head. Someday I’ll burn that book, I vow.

Reading through another blog I noticed the word “dizzy.” Right then some muse gave me a nudge and popped a picture into my mind, which resulted in this verse. I find haiku so suited to metaphors.

child on a swing
twirling herself dizzy
fallen leaves skitter by

The Bravery Test

“Once we knock we have to listen close to hear when Old Tom’s coming,” Andy explained. “As soon as we hear him we hightail it as fast as we can. ‘Cause when he opens the door he’s roaring mad. And if he catches you…”

Debbie stared at her nine-year-old chum. “And this is your test? Come on, Andy. Why should pestering an old man be such a big test of bravery? Don’t you have anything else to do in this small town?”

“Aw… You don’t have to be such a city snob. This is a test for all us town kids. It shows you’re really brave if you can bang on Tom Ford’s door and get away before he catches you.”

“But you know he never will.” She folded her arms across her chest. “You should pester some teenager who really could catch you. That would be a lot braver.”

“Yeah, but you can’t sneak up on them so soon. And if they did catch you, they might give you some real hard whacks. Old Tom can’t anymore. He just thinks he can.”

“Aha! That’s why you pick on him. It’s not so brave to pester somebody who really can’t get you back again, you know.”

Andy scowled at her. “You haven’t met Old Tom yet. He picks on us. He’s always threatening to catch us and make us stop. If he wouldn’t make such a fuss and come after us, it wouldn’t be half so much fun.”

“But any person would start yelling after awhile if they had to jump up from whatever they’re doing and go answer the door — maybe even hoping for a visitor — and find out it’s just children playing pranks again. I sure hope you don’t start doing this to my grandpa, ‘cause he’s got arthritis and it’s hard for him to get up and go to the door.”

“We’d never do it to your grandpa. He always talks to us when he sees us on the street — and he gives us candy. Old Tom just growls at us and never gives us anything, not even at Halloween.”

“Ah!” Debbie remembered how her grandpa would walk down the street with his pocket full of candies. She thought he gave them away for fun but now she knew the truth. They were bribes. He didn’t want to be pestered every evening like Old Tom. Grandpa was a smart man.

Two days later Debbie was bouncing her rubber ball down the sidewalk and happened to be right next to Old Tom’s yard when some big boy walked by. Before she knew what he was doing, the boy had grabbed her ball.

“Hey!” Debbie squealed. “Give it back! Please.”

“Ha,” he said, looking around for a target. “Hey! You want to meet Old Tom, don’t you?” And with that he hurled the ball into Tom’s yard.

Debbie watched it sail through the glass-less window of the woodshed beside Tom’s house. It hit the inside wall with a loud thump and landed with another bump somewhere inside. Fists clenched, she whirled around to face the bully, silently fuming.

“Ha-ha-ha,” he mocked. Then he went on his way.

Debbie turned back to the woodshed and noticed the big padlock on the door. No way could she just sneak in and retrieve her ball without Old Tom knowing.

A few minutes later Debbie was still pacing back and forth on the sidewalk, wondering what to do, when Andy came along. She told him what happened.

“If I were you I’d just leave it there. He may have heard it banging around and will think you threw it in there yourself. Then he’ll be really mad.”

“But I don’t want to leave it there. And I sure don’t want him to think I threw it in just to annoy him.”

“Who cares what he thinks,” Andy replied with a sneer.

“Well… Maybe I do. And I do want my ball. My teacher gave it to me for my birthday.”

“Okay then. Let’s see how brave you are. Go knock on his door and ask for your ball back. You’ll see what we mean. Just don’t let him grab you, or he’ll shake your teeth right out of your head..”

“I don’t believe that.”

“Gene says so and he should know. Old Tom got hold of him once when he was a boy my age.”

“So Gene doesn’t have any teeth now?”

Andy thought of Gene chomping on steak at the town BBQ. “Yeah, he still has some.”

But Debbie had started down board walk leading to Tom’s door.

“You’re really going to do it?” Andy backed behind a tree where Tom wouldn’t see him, ready to run, and held his breath as she knocked on the door.

Debbie forced herself to stand there and tried to stop trembling. Soon she heard footsteps inside, approaching the door. She heard some angry mutters, too, which made her tremble even more. Then the door was jerked open and one of the biggest men she’d seen in a long time was scowling down at her.

He seemed surprised to see someone standing there. “What do you want?” he demanded.

Her voice was shaky but she tried to answer politely. “Excuse me, Mr Ford, but some boy grabbed my ball and threw it into your woodshed. Would it be okay with you if I…if I…unlocked the door and got it.”

Tom looked confused for a moment. Then he smiled. “Sure. I’ll just grab the key and we’ll go open the door.” As he led her around to the woodshed he asked, “You’re not one of the local kids, are you?”

“No. I come to visit Grandpa and Grandma Tucker every summer.”

“Ah.” He turned the key in the padlock and it popped open. “Good people they are. Raised their family well. Decent kids, all of them.”

Light fell on the wood stacked inside and she saw her ball. “Got it,” she said as she grabbed it. “Thank you so much!”

“Sure. Anytime,” Tom said with a nod. “And when you get home, say hello to your dad from Tom Ford. I used to hire him to chop firewood for me. He’s seen the inside of this shed lots of times.”

Andy was standing on the sidewalk with his mouth open when Debbie came up to him, smiling and bouncing her ball. “He actually gave it to you,” he exclaimed. “Guess you’d really pass the bravery test.”

“He’s not such a meanie,” Debbie answered. “If you guys would just stop being mean to him.”

Daily Word prompt: Test