Color My Mood–Monday Meanderings

Image: silkhlens.com

Image: silkhlens.com

(Note: If you’re looking for The Sunday Whirl, find it here.)

As a would-be artist and a former museum docent, I enjoy playing with the elements of art in my writing–both in fiction and poetry. A favorite is to use color to create mood. In art, abstract expressionists often use color as the primary tool to convey their “story.” There are many interpretations of the meaning or symbolism accorded to each color. I’m offering a few of my own:

Yellow is a happy color and can be used to liven up a scene–to make it joyful, while Red signifies anger, passion, love. Think about it: when you’re feeling intense emotions, such as rage and close your eyes, sometimes your visual field appears red.

Blue and Green convey calm and  peace.

Black represents the unknown or fear while Brown is a grounded, earthy color.

Violet or Lavender speak of spirituality while White is used to represent truth and innocence.

I’m including a short description from my novel, “Winter is Past,” that strives to convey a mood using color.

In the dim light, the church, clothed in red, marked the joyous season of Pentecost. The altar was covered in an abundance of flowers—gold, yellow, orange and red gladioli—tongues of flame marking the climax of the Pascal season. Helene’s mood, however, was somber, spiraling into blackness. The red surrounding her spoke to her of blood and death—the death of her spirit. She suppressed a sob…

Do you have an example from your own writing you would like to share? How do you see color as it influences mood? Join in, using Mr Linky at the bottom of this post, or comments, if you prefer.

Happy Hour--Mixed Media--V. Slotto

Happy Hour–Mixed Media–V. Slotto

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Write2Day–Setting and Description

Writing

Image via Wikipedia

As writers of fiction and poetry, I believe part of our responsibility to readers is to allow them to travel places they have never been or to revisit places that are familiar, thus evoking memories or heightening awareness.

Long descriptive paragraphs of setting often disenchant today’s readers who are used to momentary flashes of multiple images across a screen within a few seconds (Does this relate to the high incidence of attention deficit disorder in our culture?) but the fact remains that setting and the use of sensory description enriches the reader’s experience. One way to use this technique without losing our audience is employ it as a device to break up dialogue. Here’s a very brief example from my recently-published novel, “Winter is Past”

“I wonder how Michael’s handling it. Do you think I should I call him?” Josh asked me.

“Will it help?” Based on Kathryn’s assessment, I had my doubts.

Josh shook his head and fixed his eyes on a quail eating seeds he’d planted in the flower garden. “Maybe not, but I can try; I’ll call after we eat…”

Even more valuable, in my opinion, is the writer’s ability to convey emotion through setting. Consider this brief passage from the same novel as a means of eliciting fear, sadness and powerlessness:

I trotted after Kathryn who jogged along the brick path beside our house. My eye caught sight of a tiny wren, cowering in the dense foliage of a rambling juniper shrub. Overhead, a majestic red-tailed hawk circled, squawking a message of certain doom at the tiny bird. I felt tears well up in my eyes then turned my attention back to Kathryn who now disappeared through the redwood gate.

In previous posts, I’ve described a practice I use off and on. In your writing journal, at the end of each day, describe 5-10 things you have noticed throughout the day. Return to these lists for ideas to supplement your own writing then return to a scene you have written in which you have “told” rather than “shown” an emotion. Try rewriting it using a bit of scenery or a background activity to elicit that same feeling. This is helpful to keep in mind when you are rewriting/revising your work as well.

So, for today’s prompt, write a poem or a piece of short fiction that features setting and/or description. You may want to post a bit of dialogue that you’ve broken up using the above-mentioned technique.

How to participate? Simply post your submission on your blog, then access Mr. Linky at the bottom of this page. Add your name and the direct URL of your post, and voila–you’re in. Kindly take the time to visit and comment on other participants.

I will be on the road for a couple of days, so I may not be able to visit your posts right away. Thank you for participating and have fun writing.

Spring Muse

Tulips

Spring Muse
in response to the July Challenge offered by Blaga at http://brokensparkles.wordpress.com/  for which we are asked to showcase our favorites for each season of the year.

This QUOTE by Canadian author Margaret Atwood reminds me that one of the joys of Spring reentering the world of gardening—close to the Earth Mother we watch new life emerge in an array of color.

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. ~Margaret Atwood

Out of so many POEMS inspired by Spring, I chose this one by Katherine Mansfield because of her descriptions and personifications.

Very Early Spring
by Katherine Mansfield

The fields are snowbound no longer;
There are little blue lakes and flags of tenderest green.
The snow has been caught up into the sky–
So many white clouds–and the blue of the sky is cold.
Now the sun walks in the forest,
He touches the bows and stems with his golden fingers;
They shiver, and wake from slumber.
Over the barren branches he shakes his yellow curls.
Yet is the forest full of the sound of tears….
A wind dances over the fields.
Shrill and clear the sound of her waking laughter,
Yet the little blue lakes tremble
And the flags of tenderest green bend and quiver.

My husband and I love to watch classic MOVIES. Singing in the Rain, featuring the song and dance of Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds is one of our favorites. To me, the WORD rebirth sums up the spirit of the season. These two favorites joined to inspire this haiku.

Singing in the Rain
celebrate rebirth with joy
song dance love stories.

I turn to nature to find my favorite SONG and it is that of birds: mockingbirds, tanagers, mourning doves, all varieties of song birds. Another haiku:

Mockingbird rejoice
sun’s gentle rays awaken
greet morning with song.

I can’t resist an opportunity to promote my upcoming BOOK, Winter is Past, that celebrates hope and joy that follows a season of loss.

Chilling winter winds
give way to hope and new life
when Winter is Past.

There are so many ANIMALS that return from warmer climates, that waken after a winter hibernation, or give birth to their young during spring. Out of these, I have chosen the lamb. One year I was making an eight-day silent retreat in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, in a monastery planted in the heart of farm country. This is what happened:

On rolling hillsides
pregnant ewes give birth to lambs
dabs of white on green.

I’ve lived in many places and each TOWN, or city or rural area has their own beauty during Spring. I could write about Paris’ enchantment, Richmond’s (Virginia) azaleas, Washington D.C.’s cherry blossoms, Michigan’s tulips or Reno’s fickle spring that, some years, lasts only a few days. What I’ve come to realize is that my favorite place to be in spring is wherever I happen to be.

Stay in the moment
spring offers beauty to you
wherever you are.

In my tradition, spring is the season in which we celebrate Easter…a feast of rebirth, new life, resurrection. After the deprivation of Lent, the penitential season the helps one to prepare for this day, everyone looks forward to their favorite FOODS. For many, that’s candy.

Celebrate Easter
choc’late eggs and jelly beans
savoring sweetness.

One of my greatest joys is to see FLOWERS begin to blossom or break through the frozen soil. Among my favorite are tulips in all their many colors.

Break out of hiding
in an array of color
paint our world in joy

How can anyone summarize spring in a single IMAGE?

Feast for our senses
Sun returns to warm spirits
invites us outdoors.

Wordsmith Wednesday–Chapter and Scene Endings

Picture of an open book, that does not show an...

Image via Wikipedia

You’re a writer, so you must be (better be) a reader, first and foremost. How often do you succumb to a late night reading marathon and regret it the next morning when you have to drag your weary bones out of bed and face the day? Chances are, the author of a book that keeps you turning pages into the wee hours of the morning has mastered the art of chapter/scene endings.

I learned a bit about this from my good friend and writing buddy, Judy. She’s written a medical thriller and I write literary fiction. During one of our critique sessions, she told me there was nothing at the end of the chapter that made her want to read on. I had pretty well wrapped up an event without any inducement to the reader to want to know more. I countered that literary fiction is different from genre fiction, but as I thought about it, I had to refute my own argument. True, the conflict might be internal rather than action-oriented, but it’s still critical to leave the scene and/or the protagonist hanging off the proverbial cliff.

You can achieve this in a number of ways, but here are a few that I have found helpful.

  • Interrupt the action: avoid allowing a scene to come to a logical conclusion. Set up the narrative so that the reader knows something important is about to happen, but leave her dangling. Here’s an example from “Winter is Past” in which Claire has to make a phone call that she dreads facing:

I punched in the numbers and held my hand on my chest as though to slow down my racing heart. Maybe she won’t be home, I hoped. She answered on the second ring.

By leaving the call incomplete, I invited the reader into the next scene. If I had continued through to its conclusion, that would allow her to close the book, turn off the light and go to sleep–maybe never to return.

  • Close the scene with a question. I find this works well in literary fiction where, as you know, the protagonist is plowing her way through a series of internal conflicts. Let’s look at another example from “Winter is Past.” Claire’s mother is on the verge of disclosing a family secret:

“I’ll do better now, I promise. It’s just that . . .” she fell back into silence. “Oh, never mind. It’s not important right now—we’ll talk another time.”

When? I wondered. And about what?

  • Complete the chapter scene with a promise. In this example, one of the characters is withholding information from another:

The dogs nabbed milk bones from the floor as I released control and eased into my husband’s embrace. “What do you have planned?”

“I’ll tell you in the morning. Just get a good night’s rest, okay? Come on, dogs; last call to go outside.”

  • Interrupt a scene in the middle of an unresolved emotional climax. Raise the question, What is she going to do about it?

By the time I met Josh downstairs, that dull ache had returned to the back of my head. I faked a smile that made me feel like a clown hidden behind makeup. “Let’s go,” I said, trying to squash the emotions still raging inside.

By way of a writing exercise, browse the work of your favorite authors and just take a glimpse at the chapter endings. What techniques have they used to keep you moving through the book? Now, look at one of your own manuscripts and see if there’s anything you can apply to your work to keep the reader turning the page.

Wordsmith Wednesday–Symbolism

Pink Tulips Lit by Afternoon Sun

Image by danagraves via Flickr

Our writing prompt on Monday asked us to look at symbolism in dreams and this got me to thinking about the value of symbols as a tool to enrich our creative writing, whether prose or poetry.

Let’s take a look at the definition of symbol as found in dictionary.com:

  • something used for or regarded as representing something else; a material object representing something, often something immaterial; emblem, token, or sign.
  • a word, phrase, image, or the like having a complex of associated meanings and perceived as having inherent value separable from that which is symbolized, as being part of that which is symbolized, and as performing its normal function of standing for or representing that which is symbolized: usually conceived as deriving its meaning chiefly from the structure in which it appears, and generally distinguished from a sign.

Here a few examples of how cinema and fiction have used this device.

  • Remember the role of music in Jaws? There are a few bars that are repeated as a herald of an up-coming shark attack and every time the viewer hears those chords, he grips the arms of the chair.
  • I recall a movie from when I was quite young (don’t ask me the name) when the scent of gardenia forwarned that someone was about to die.
  • The entire premise of Moby Dick is based on the whale as a symbol of a life-goal that as yet to be achieved.

I offer you another example from my second novel, The Sin of His Father. This scene takes place immediately after the protagonist’s mother has died. On her deathbed, Matt’s mother tells him a secret she has kept from him–that he was conceived in rape. He is standing outside the nursing facility where she had been a patient:

Across the lawn, large crows helped themselves to bread crumbs. Matt knew that it had been Edward Riley, a resident of the facility, who’d scattered them. One of the birds interrupted breakfast to stare at Matt—Matt would have sworn it was so—and his skin tingled at the thought of stories his mother used to tell him of dead people coming back as black birds. Beside the predator, strewn feathers told of a smaller bird that had lost its struggle to keep on living. Matt’s grief came pouring out. That it was because of a fragile creature stunned him at first before he recognized the similitude. Like the wren, his mother fought her whole life for food and survival. She’d known a dark monster, too. Not one that would destroy her suddenly, mercifully, but one that most likely haunted every moment of her adult life. One that tore her down from the inside-out and in the end defeated her.

In prose, symbols should emerge from the writing process itself. It’s important not to force it. That is to say, most often you don’t choose a symbol and write your manuscript to fit. Just the opposite. The symbol grows as you seek to express a character’s feeling in metaphor.

The opposite may be true in poetry where the poet chooses a symbol first and takes it from there.

If you are looking for help in finding an effective symbol, a website or book dealing with dream imagery can help.

You may be surprised to find that a theme grows out of your choices of symbolism, even though you are not conscious of it. That happened for me the first time I brought the opening chapters of Winter is Past to a workshop. One of the other participants pointed out the role that tulips in Claire’s garden played:

My breath fogged the window panes but in amber light cast by late afternoon sun I saw tips of irises. Spent gold and purple crocuses spattered the flowerbed in between tulips that had tried to open, but had frozen, stunted in their voluminous leaves.

This image recurs in the novel as Claire struggles to come to grips with her own insufficiency until the flower at last comes into full bloom.

  • Can you give examples of how you’ve used a symbol in your own prose or poetry?
  • Did it develop on its own, or did you choose it consciously?
  • What other works can you cite that use a symbol to create texture and atmosphere?

Next week I will be traveling so this article will not be up on Wednesday and I trust, if I can’t make it happen, you will understand.

Happy Writing…enjoy the process.

Wordsmith Wednesday–Creating Complex Characters

I took this photograph while climbing Angora R...

Image via Wikipedia

One of the reasons novels (or short stories) are rejected is that characters lack depth. If you have a protagonist who’s too good or a villain who’s all bad, your reader will be unable to relate to them. In an earlier post we talked about the importance of bestowing a few flaws or weird mannerisms on the hero and of making sure that the antagonist has some endearing charcteristic…or at least something in his background to arouse a little sympathy.

Another way to create a complex character is to play with his or her emotions. Think about it. Do you know someone who’s always happy and optimistic (Pollyanna, maybe?) or a person who emanates only negativity? Not likely. Consider your own feelings. Sure, you may love someone dearly, but at times you will experience hurt or anger in response to a word or action. We live with conflicting emotions all the time, all at once. In crafting your characters, be sure to consider ambivalence, moods and conflicting reactions.

Another important point: show emotional complexity. Don’t just tell us about it. Expose your fictional character through dramatization so that your reader will feel that she is a part of the story.

I’d like to share an example from “Winter is Past,” that shows a range of emotions in just a snippet of a scene:

Josh drove up Mt. Rose, while I soaked in the beauty of junipers, conifers and wild bursts of early fall color splashing the sides of the highway. When we crested the mountain, crystalline splendor greeted us. Lake Tahoe splayed like a sheet of glass on the horizon. A late-season  cut through the stillness, sending ripples of contentment across the surface of the water and into my spirit. I wanted to hold on to the moment and never let go.

“Did you ever ask your mother anything more about your dream?”

Josh’s question jolted me out of my reverie. I blew out a lungful of air. “Nope. I’m waiting to see her face-to-face.”

“I think it’s gonna be important to get a grasp on whatever happened.” Josh signaled a right turn and eased onto the road circling the lake and headed toward North Shore.

“Why do you say that?” A gnawing feeling stirred in my gut. I stared straight ahead at the winding road.

“No special reason—but something weighs on you and I think you need to figure it out.”

“Weighs on me? What the hell do you mean by that?” I turned to face Josh. He’d thrown a stone onto the surface of my peacefulness, casting waves that spread into the center of my being.

“Easy, honey,” Josh patted me on the knee as though I were a little child. “You’re the one who keeps bringing up some elusive memory—it’s like you’re possessed by fear.”

“Don’t you think there’s reason for fear?” I looked straight ahead again, my eyes following the broken white line that separated us from on-coming traffic. Anger began to build up inside me.

You may want to take a scene that’s given from your own work, assess it in relation to character complexity and see what you can do with it. Try it…it’s fun!

Note: If  you’re looking for One Stop Wednesday or Sensational Haiku Wednesday, they are posted under separate entries! Thanks for stopping by.

Wordsmith Wednesday–Setting and Description Revisited

As a writer of fiction and poetry, I believe part of my responsibility to the reader is to allow her to travel places she has never been or to revisit places that are familiar, thus evoking memories or heightening awareness.

Long descriptive paragraphs of setting may disenchant the reader of today who’s used to momentary flashes of multiple images across a screen within a few second. (Does this relate to the high incidence of attention deficit disorder in our culture?)

Above all, setting and the use of sensory description enriches the reader’s experience. One way to use this technique is to break up dialogue. Here’s a brief example from my novel, “Winter is Past”:

“I wonder how Michael’s handling it. Do you think I should I call him?” Josh asked me.

“Will it help?” Based on Kathryn’s assessment, I had my doubts.

Josh shook his head and fixed his eyes on a quail eating seeds he’d planted in the flower garden. “Maybe not, but I can try; I’ll call after we eat. Honey, why did Kathryn ask you to take her to her appointments instead of Michael?” Josh grabbed the meat with tongs, slid it onto a plate and headed back into the house.

Even more valuable, in my opinion, is the writer’s ability to convey emotion through setting. Consider this brief passage from “Winter is Past” as a means of eliciting fear, sadness and powerlessness:

I trotted after Kathryn who jogged along the brick path beside our house. My eye caught sight of a tiny wren, cowering in the dense foliage of a rambling juniper shrub. Overhead, a majestic red-tailed hawk circled, squawking a message of certain doom at the tiny bird. I felt tears well up in my eyes then turned my attention back to Kathryn who now disappeared through the redwood gate.

In a previous post, I described a practice I use off and on. In your writing journal, at the end of each day, describe 5-10 things you have noticed throughout the day. Return to these lists for ideas to supplement your own writing then return to a scene you have written in which you have “told” rather than “shown” an emotion. Try rewriting it using a bit of scenery or a background activity to elicit that same feeling. This is helpful to keep in mind when you are rewriting/revising your work as well.

Happy writing. Enjoy the process