Sunday, August 23, 2015

Some thoughts on what large, red apples and small, dark tents have in common by Margo Hoornstra

Today I offer some advice on writing for those inclined to take it.

One of the first writing workshops I attended was led by a published romance author. It was a round table where each of us shared a few pages of our works in progress. To be honest, I don’t remember the specifics of my personal critique, other than I came to realize what I had to offer was not yet ready for prime time.

That was okay, though, because I did come away with some new insight about the importance of using the senses—touch, taste, sight, smell and sound—in my stories. The following examples show how sensory impressions are brought on by descriptions, using a large, red apple as a prop.

Touch: Cool, sticky juice dribbled down her chin as she bit into the large, red apple.
Taste: Sweet and savory juices from the large, red apple flowed over her tongue.
Sight: The large, red apple sparkled with a shiny patina.
Smell: The air was infused with the crisp and pungent aroma of fresh picked apples.
Sound: The large, red apples crunched and splashed as they tumbled into the jaws of the huge cider press.

But now for the point of this post. I’m currently in the process of critiquing the latest effort from my critique partner Jannine Gallant, who, by the way, gave me permission to put up this post. She’s a very entertaining writer, which is one of the reasons I enjoy reading her work. Not to say it isn’t work for me too <grin> but back to my point.

As I happily edited along, I came across a place that brought to mind that workshop of long ago.

Here’s the set-up in my words, not hers.

The night is dark and warm somewhere out in the beautiful and peaceful wilderness. The hero and heroine have been attracted to each other from the get go. Finally, they’ve gotten around to doing something about it. They are nestled together in the close quarters of a newly pitched tent.

These are snippets of her words as the scene develops.

His warm chuckle filled the tent, taking the edge off the chill that shivered down her bare arms.
She laid a hand on his arm. Beneath her fingers, warm skin over firm muscle sent a dart of feeling zinging through her.
Down near the river a bullfrog croaked, deep and resonating. Inside the tent, her discomfort hung between them, thickening the air until she could barely breathe.
His lips settled over hers, firm and warm. One big hand moved to the back of her neck, fingers burrowing into her hair. When her mouth opened, his tongue slipped inside.

Me again. I know unfortunate location for me to interrupt, but I really do have a point to make. Surrounded by darkness in the cozy confines of a small tent like these characters are, those senses of touch and sound, smell and taste are at their height and I am right there in the midst of it, enjoying every sensuous moment.

Then she brought out the sense of sight and, I’m sorry, but I was abruptly forced to stop reading. Every author’s worst nightmare.

First the lines, then I’ll tell you why they’re culprits.

He tipped her chin upward with one finger to look her in the eye.
“Then you’ll find someone new to date?”
She shot him a quick glance.

Without night vision goggles, who among us can see in the dark? Putting goggles on these two would put a definite crimp in the romantic element of the scene, so that was out. However, something had to be done.

The fact I just returned from a ten day camping trip didn’t help her cause. Okay, our camping trip was not of the tent and sleeping bag variety. Ours was more travel trailer with all the comforts of home—air conditioning, full-sized double bed, indoor plumbing. Although we did have a power failure at the campground for a few hours, and at night. That helped me hone my senses, if you will, about how very, very dark it can be out in the wild.

Here are those examples again, along with my (suggested, of course) changes.

He tipped her chin upward with one finger to look her in the eye.
He tipped her chin upward with one finger then moved in so close his breathing became hers.
“Then you’ll find someone new to date?”
She shot him a quick glance.
“Then you’ll find someone new to date?”
She lifted her eyes toward his voice.

All of this is IMHO – in my humble opinion – but I do believe I have a point. And now you know what large, red apples and small, dark tents have in common.

My days to blog here are the 11th and 23rd. For more about me and my stories, please visit my WEBSITE


Alicia Dean said...

Ha! Love this. Great use of sensory detail on the apple. A good reminder of using the senses in our writing. And, I really love that you shared snippets from Jannine's story. She is a very good writer, and your suggestions were perfect. Excellent catch!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Lovely tutorial, Margo. I'm polishing my book right now that has a blind man as a main character. BIG CHALLENGE. I constantly have to 'put myself in the dark' when I'm speaking from his point of view. He does have a magic touch, however, if you get my drift...without stereotyping, of course. And he can look at a person; he can't 'see' but he can definitely grok that person. I'm not so good with the senses...he's making me better.

Jannine Gallant said...

Very good points, but I swear I had moonlight filtering through the mesh roof of that tent! I'll have to go in and fix it!

Brenda Whiteside said...

Thanks for an enlightening post. I was once part of a critique group where we read our pages out loud and then went around the circle to get feedback. A newbie read his pages and a couple of us suggested he needed a few more sensory tags such as scents for his particular passage. He gathered up his papers and announced he didn't want to write smells into his ms. We never saw him again.

Leah St. James said...

Great points, Margo! And thanks to Jannine for her willingness for her work to be shared!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Thanks so much, Ally. High praise when I consider the source. I have to say, Jannine is fun to critique.

Margo Hoornstra said...

It's true, Rolynn. A character who is blind. What a great way to grow as a writer. Glad I could help.

Margo Hoornstra said...

You probably did, Jannine and I missed it. I'll go back and check too. Though I have to say, I kind of liked putting your characters in the very, very dark.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Great story, Brenda. That poor man probably never did get anywhere with his writing. If I'd learned nothing else is this business, it's that you have to keep and open mind about your work, and that means being OPEN to suggestions from fresh eyes and ears.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Thanks, Leah. Yeah, Jannine is/was a good sport about this. I appreciated her willingness to help me on this post.

Diane Burton said...

Great sensory examples, Margo. Good reminder.