For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work before purchasing it on the Kindle store; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.
The descriptive element: The last time I discussed how I use speech in my novels. This time I would like to consider descriptions, paying attention to such things as metaphor and simile.
This is something which I am not a master of, by any means. But few people really are, if you want to be honest; and one person’s full description might seem like purple prose to somebody else. It is something which tends to be subjective, rather than objective.
My first gas-lamp fantasy novel was He Sees His World In Red, the novel which introduced Briggs and Prenderghast to the world. At the start of that book there is a phrase of which I am still proud:
A vision in scarlet, a Jackson Pollock in blood…
It is the first sentence of the book. I think that it captures the tone of what I wanted to suggest, without going into too much detail – despite writing a novel with Jack the ripper as the villain, I did not want he book to be too gory. This was an adventure novel, rather than horror. Jackson Pollock, for those not into art, was the American Abstract Expressionist who used to do action painting, including dripping and throwing paint onto his massive canvases. I wanted, by referencing him, to give the impression that there was a lot of blood splashed about, in a violent manner.
The scarlet of A vision in scarlet is a play on words, referring to the assumed name of the dead woman – Scarlett – as well as the colour of blood. It is also a rather oblique nod towards the first Sherlock Holmes tale, A Study In Scarlet.
I don’t go overboard in describing a scene. Sometimes, perhaps, I don’t provide enough of a picture, wanting to get the plot moving forwards. Perhaps it is because I have the scene fixed in my mind. I know what things look like. But I don’t always pass on perhaps as much information as I should. But it would be as bad to have the book wallow in too much in the way of descriptions. Ideally, if you can frame a scene in a few words, letting the reader paint his own picture of the scene inside his mind, then that is the best. You don’t need to describe every nut and bolt on the body of the bad guy’s ornithopter, just how big it is and its rough shape and colour.
In Rex Mundi I described just as much as is needed to keep the tale going, when Briggs and Prenderghast get aboard such a craft. But it helped that they did not see it from the outside. I could just say what they saw from the inside, without worrying about its shape.
I try and keep descriptions short, anyway. this next tract is from Shadows and Ghosts, when the protagonist has arrived at the seemingly deserted town of Paradise, and is outside the police station:
Keys turned, removed from ignition. Sanders got out. Car door slammed; another three slams. Footsteps on the road, a rough surface in need of re-tarmacking.
The door to the Paradise police cruiser opened (left unlocked, foolish). Sanders reached in. Pressed on the horn, held it down for a count of sixty, a full minute. If there was anybody in town they should come now. He waited. But nothing.
Dust; dryness; silence.
Dust, dryness, silence are but three words. But they should be enough to set the scene for the reader. Try to conjure up similar, simple images in the mind of the reader if you can. Short descriptions mean that you aren’t going to slow down the plot.
In terms of simile I don’t overuse this tool. But, occasionally, a phrase will come into my head which I want to incorporate into some tale.
In my horror novel The Book of Gana’Ot I use the phrase And there the book was, nesting on old sepia photographs like a malignant cuckoo. A cuckoo, of course, is an intruder into the nest of other birds; and that strange tome the Book of Gana’Ot might be considered to be an intruder into our reality. It is something which should not be there. Anyway, I liked the phrase. So why not use it?
A lot of the similes which I use have been used before, many times –such as like a rabbit in the headlights, in the Varnae trilogy. There is nothing wrong with using these, as readers will be familiar with the meaning. Just be careful not to overuse them. Balance them by using new and original creations of your own. Even something like Gold hypnotised them like a mongoose was supposed to be able to hypnotise a snake (from Lucian) while familiar, is at least my own words, rather than ones borrowed from somebody else.
Metaphors are trickier than similes. Just avoid mixing them – unless you have the sort of fool who does that in his speech. That is perfectly acceptable, and I’m sure that we all have known somebody like that.
They are clutching at straws just as the Titanic sinks – and I must learn to stop mixing my metaphors so is, in fact, a line from the thoughts of my protagonist in the novel Roots.
I may come back to metaphors at a later date. But I think that’s enough for now.