Archive | January, 2012

Season of Details

28 Jan

My sore spot is details. It’s not that I don’t notice little things in my life; it’s that I immediately move on the bare bones of what I need to know to get through the day. Rarely do I stop long enough to absorb the environment around me. As far as sharing the details in my writing, I tend to forget that I am the tour guide into another world, my world of fiction.

Reading Season of Ice has inspired me. (It also scared me. It brought out this fear that I won’t do as well. Or that I will never make it as a writer.) The difference between this story and many others is the author’s attention to details. Donald Maass tells us, “Details are an automatic voice all by themselves. They might seem to limit a novel’s appeal, but in fact they bring it to life.” (Maass, 122) Genesis Sommer, the narrator in Season of Ice, is a real person. What I mean is, while I was reading, I forgot it was fiction. Even though I have very little in common with her as far as life experiences, I was able to identify with the character. It did not limit the novel’s appeal, but rather enhanced it. I read the following passage recently, and I swore Maass was talking straight to me.

“Some novelists imagine it best to have a narrator as…a universal American into whom all readers can project themselves…. Even the most ordinary people have a life that’s unique. The details that make it so are a secret source of what critics glibly refer to as voice.” (122)

The key is to choose wisely which details to include. Too many, and you’ll bog down the story. Not enough and you risk alienating your readers. Season of Ice has the perfect blend.

I think my favorite scene was when Mike Sommer’s mother was praying for her lost son at the lake’s edge. It is a powerful and beautiful scene, completed by relevant details. Do we care what people are wearing in this scene? No. We care more about the raw emotion, and the way this distraught mother interacts with the environment that has taken her son.

Mémère was breaking through the groups of people, moving in swift steps toward the shore, looking at nothing but the water in front of her. “Please my Lord!” she continued to plead.
 By the time she reached the water’s edge, she stood no more than twenty feet from us. Prayerfully, she knelt, cupped her hands together, and dipped them into the icy froth. “S’il vous plait, mon Dieu, aidez-moi a trouver mon fils. Aidez-moi a trouver mon fils. Mon fils,” she cried.
She lifted her hands out of the water. Droplets ran down her arms.
(p 67)

In this passage, we learn the setting details without detracting from the emotion. We learn the distance of which the girls are from Genesis’s grandmother, and also where Mémère is standing. We learn that Mémère is French, since it is natural for people who are upset to return to their primary language. She is praying to God, both in her words and in her actions.

Another of my favorite passages is the very first paragraph of the book. It tells us where the story takes place and when it begins. It is winter in northern Maine.

In the beginning there was snow. Torrents of tiny flakes blew in off the lake, pricked my skin before they melted on my hands and face and tongue. I live in Sebaticuk, a small town in northern Maine on the shores of Moosehead Lake. I no longer think of that massive body as just water but rather a whale of sorts, a creature that I cannot tame and whose belly I cannot see. (p 1)

In addition to the seamless integration of necessary details, there is an element of foreshadowing. From the beginning I had a feeling that Genesis’s father was gone for good. He is in the belly of the whale, and unlike Jonah in the Bible, he doesn’t resurface alive.
Genesis’s reactions to her father’s disappearance throughout the book are more great details that get the readers to identify with her. Her thoughts and actions are relatable to anyone who has dealt with grief. For example:

At that moment, I had the strangest feeling, as if it wasn’t my father out there, but someone else we were looking for – a cousin, or Perry, or one of my father’s friends, and that when I got home, Dad would be there, sitting at the kitchen table with Linda, rubbing her back like he would do and drinking a beer or coffee while we all waited for daybreak and for the snow to clear.
“Gen?” Officer Whalen asked tentatively, “You okay?”
 I didn’t answer him right away. I was standing there perplexed because I couldn’t decide whether my dad would be drinking beer or coffee on a night when someone was missing and the whole family was worried, and I wanted to know, didn’t want to move until I’d figured it out. (p 27)

An overloaded mind tends to hyper-focus on one thing in order to cope with the stress. Most people have experienced it at one time or another, I believe. This scene evokes empathy from those who have been through a traumatic event.

There are many more examples – I have sticky notes on so many pages – but these are the most memorable and favorite examples to me. These are some of the details that make this story come alive, both visually and emotionally.

Works Cited

Maass, Donald. The Fire in Fiction. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009.

Les Becquets, Diane. Season of Ice. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2008.

Backstory

25 Jan

Today, I did something I thought I’d never need to do: I created a timeline of my protagonist‘s life. Well, not completely, but it was a start. Why did I do it? To understand her better. I only had half a picture of my girl’s current situation. She was angry, confused, lonely, and upset — and I didn’t know entirely why. I needed to know the story before The Story. Not to inundate readers with it, but for my benefit.

Sometimes the writer needs to get the whole story down in order to give the reader the best part.

Fear No More

23 Jan

“The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.” – Sven Goran Eriksson

 

I’m not sure why I’ve procrastinated writing this personal statement, but I think it has mostly to do with fear — it’s certainly not a lack of motivation — and I don’t think I’m alone with this feeling. As human beings, we all have internal fears. Fears of change, of rejection, of failure — each of us just seems to deal with these fears differently. I’ve always admired the people who face their fears head on with no holding back, like facing a fear of heights by skydiving. Me? It’s usually a more gradual approach. Last fall I rode up the Mount Washington Auto Road, and my husband, who was driving, seemed to enjoy laughing at my extreme discomfort at being so close to the edge of the mountain. I thought I might pass out! I wasn’t impressed with the lack of guard rails, or the fact the road was so narrow that every time two cars had to squeeze past each other, it was a delicate, stressful maneuver. By the time we got to the top, I started to feel a little more free and happy that I made it (even if that involved a little hyper-ventilating along the way). Needless to say, however, I am still afraid of heights. Regardless of what my husband thinks, fear is a natural response to danger, either real or imagined. While this emotion can be useful for certain times, I believe too many people experience it regularly, and for no good reason. I’ve let a fear of failure paralyze me.

I am no longer afraid of change (another painfully slow process), but instead I’ve let doubts about my abilities to write choke my dream of being a successful, published novelist. I am facing that doubt now; I refuse to let it stop me any longer. I intend to reclaim my purposeful dream again. I also intend to get the most out of this program, and of life. It’s time to bring back the passion! I am ready to take the next step and begin phase two of my life.

I have another fear that is bigger than my fear of failure, and that is of staying “average” and living an institutional-like life. A desire to live bigger, better, and with more passion drives me. It was lost for a while during some difficult life trials, but its back. I believe I have a special purpose to write, and that I have much to contribute.

I want to stand out, not in an attention-grabbing, star-of-the-show way, but to reach people and connect us through my writing. It’s difficult to describe that in a way that’s not cliché, but it’s true for me. It’s long been my desire to express myself through writing. In the 1998 film Ever After, Drew Barrymore’s character Danielle talks about her father, “when I was young my father would stay up late and read to me. He was addicted to the written word and I would fall asleep listening to the sound of his voice.” I feel that I too, am addicted to the written word, having a passion for reading and writing since I was young. When I was six I wrote my first fiction story about a princess and a unicorn (as any girl that age would). Shortly after that, I wrote a true story about my cat catching and eating a spider (my hero!) in the bathroom.

I believe in the value of the written word to individuals, and society. Isn’t it amazing that so many great works of literature are still around today! We need to study language to write better, to communicate more effectively, and also to teach the next generation how to carry on these important lessons. In my personal search to find my writing “voice”, I’ve found that learning to properly use grammar will give me a better ability to express my ideas, beliefs, and stories. Each one of us has different points of view, with different personalities and senses of humor. Sometimes, the best way to reach a large audience to share your experiences with is to communicate through the written word. I find it so exciting to broaden my scope of understanding by reading what others have written. It is a way of connecting to humanity as a whole, and to realize that in the grandest scale, we aren’t really that different after all.

So I guess I’m still trying to figure out why I’ve been standing in my own way. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” Oh how true this is! I am surrounded by people who believe in me, who believe I can do this. I’ve discovered I not only have an intense desire, but also a need for this program, to thrust me into a world that I’ve only dreamed about; a move from wondering and wishing to a plan of action. I want to learn, to grow, to network, and gain some confidence. I don’t need the approval of others to write, but knowing that I don’t know everything I should, I can’t wait to get started!

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