As I continue seeking to be better at description, I took on a new task for me: Beta Reading. It’s funny – I can see the issues in this other person’s story, but I can’t catch the same types in my own writing. I am hoping that learning to critique the writings of others will help me to become a better writer. Perhaps I can rewrite with an eye towards finding those types of issues in my own writing. Not long today…just letting you know that I haven’t stopped trying to grow.
So tonight, I’m changing gears and pictures. I’m using a picture I took of the Super Moon rising and referencing a few other pics along the way. Is the description done well, over done, or underdone. Is it appropriate for the subject? Is there anything I left out that I should have included? Did I include stuff I should have left out? No plans to use it except for this exercise, but you never know. Thanks for your feedback.
The sun’s rays slowly faded away leaving the water in darkness. Across the bay to the east the construction continued under lights that pierced through the darkness. New oil rigs would soon be heading out into the gulf. Off to the north, The Lexington was highlighted with purple lights, the ghosts of wars past flying around as if protecting her.
Off to the east, it began as a few small rays of soft orange light peeping over the horizon. The light struggled with the darkness, making little headway in its battle at first. Then, the light advanced upward conquering the nearby darkness but without the power of the morning light. Soon, a sliver of moon eased up over the horizon, barely visible at first, but growing larger and larger to menace the darkness. Darkness fled before the coming moon and the initial rays of orange soon turned into a soft, golden gleam. Continuing the struggle, the moon fought through the darkness that sought to keep it imprisoned and broke free, popping over the shore in the east. The giant golden ball spread its light over the waters that quietly lapped at the wall by my feet sharing its gold with the cold, dark waters of the bay.
A different mood today. Same rules as yesterday. Is the description 1) Underdone, 2) Overdone, 3) about right? What kind of mood am I trying to set. Here’s the picture of the study again, although we start in the outer office.
The light behind the desk made me blink. I had to avert my eyes as I said, “I have an appointment.” My comment was met by silence. I tried to look at the lady typing. I put a hand in front of my eyes and saw a tight black bun, rounded shoulders from typing, and wrinkled hands on a keyboard. I cleared my throat to get ready to remind her.
“Heard you,” she snapped. “Name?”
“Pastor Charles,” I said.
I think she turned down the air conditioning as she said, “Obviously. What’s your name?” She stared over the top of her half glasses letting me know that I was beneath her effort.
“I’m sorry. I’m Merle Ambrose,” I said hoping she might thaw out.
She sniffed. “Go ahead and sit down. Pastor Charles will call for you when he’s ready.” She looked back down at her typing. The only thing I could hear was her nails hitting the keyboard. That is until a door slammed shut and a young lady came rushing by, wiping her sniffles with her sleeve. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she headed out the door to the street. That inner door flew open as a man slammed it open to run after her. I saw Pastor Charles walking out of the darkness of the room, shaking his head.
“Pastor,” the secretary broke into his reverie. “That’s Merle Ambrose. He has an…”
Pastor Charles frowned. “…appointment. Yes, Vivian. Thank you.” He looked at me. “The study’s over here,” he said pointing to the door.
I realized that was his invitation and got up. He followed me into the study, closing the door behind him. I blinked to help my eyes adjust to the light, or perhaps it would be better to say the lack of light. The only light in the room came from the window behind the desk, but even that light flickered in shadows.
“We had the lights off for an exercise we were doing,” he explained. Then he flipped the switch for the overhead light. It didn’t help much. He walked over to his desk and sat down in an avocado green swivel chair. He poured himself a mug of coffee and the aroma filled the air. I wasn’t sure if he was going to offer me some, or not. I hoped he would.
When he turned around I saw that the golden words “Preach the Word of the Lord” stood out on the blue background of the mug. He gestured with his mug towards the couch. The ivory fabric on the couch was accented with a golden brocade. “Sit down, Merle,” he said. “I’m concerned by some of the things I’ve heard and I wanted to discuss them with you.”
I took a picture from the Internet and tried to set a mood from the picture that would go along with a story idea. The picture is of a pastor’s study and a meeting with one of the members. So, what kind of mood do you think I was trying to set? Is the description 1) overdone, 2) underdone, or 3) about right? I appreciate your comments and your help. I plan on writing the same scene tomorrow with a different mood.
Meeting with the Pastor
“The pastor’s in his study right now,” his administrative aide said as I walked in. “Administrative Aide,” I thought. “I still prefer ‘secretary.’” “That’s fine, I can wait,” I said noting that her hands never stopped typing on the keyboard in front of her.
She did stop her typing long enough to pick up the phone. She punched in the extension to the pastor’s study. “Yes, Pastor. Your one o’clock appointment is here.”
She paused, her long, manicured fingernails clicking on her desk. “Yes sir, to the study? Really?” Her eyes opened wide and a perfectly groomed eyebrow shot up over her right eye. “Yes sir,” she responded. “Of course I can trust your judgment.”
Obviously, she didn’t trust it if the look she gave me as she hung up the phone was any indication. “Follow me.” She sighed as she beckoned, taking me out of the office and down the hall. She didn’t knock, but opened the oaken door carefully, as if giving the pastor time to say “No.”
Pastor Charles was already standing to greet me. His hands were rough as we shook, which surprised me. I never figured a pastor would do physical work. “Hello, Merle. Happy to meet you face to face.”
“Thanks for agreeing to meet me, Pastor Charles,” I said. The study smelled like coffee – hazelnut if I knew my coffee aromas.
“Have a seat,” he said, gesturing to the couch beside his desk. He walked to his desk, poured a cup, and then looked over his shoulder at me. The sun shining through the window reflected off his hair, giving him a glow. “Forgot to ask,” he said. “Coffee?”
“Please,” I answered. “black.”
He handed me the cup and my hands curled around it, embracing the warmth. I sniffed the steam, trying to take the chill out of my body. The sun flickering in the window lied as it made me forget about how cold it was outside. “So what can…” he stopped when his phone rang. The strains of “You Raise Me Up” filled the room. “My wife,” he said, embarrassed by the interruption. “Forgive me.” He answered and began talking.
I got up and walked to the other edge of the room. This bookcase was filled with older volumes and the musty smell filled my nostrils. This was much like my father’s library. I shivered as I thought about that, then I realize that maybe dad would enjoy talking old books with Pastor Charles. There was always a chance.
One of the things that separates the author from a writer or a story teller is the craft. Craft inovlves the way you put together a story so that it works together, paces well, and generally flows well. It’s knowing when to show and when to tell. I am going to be working on craft as I continue my writing. The first area I’m going to tackle is description. I love reading well written description. It makes the scene come alive to me. I just have not felt comfortable writing description. When I write it, I feel like it’s overdone and “hokey” if I can use that word. The only way to work on description is to do it, so, I’m planning on working on description in a few different ways. Over the next week (?) I’ll be doing some descriptive writing. I’ll be posting it here for you to critique. I’m pretty good at taking criticism and try to use it as a springboard to grow. I’ll include my feelings about the writing after the selection. What I eventually want to hear is “Nailed it” (and not like those pinterest memes.) I don’t expect to nail it at first, so I would appreciate any feedback. If you have any ideas to help me as I go through this journey: websites, techniques, descriptive exercises, good examples of descriptive writing – please share them. I appreciate any and all help. Thanks in advance!
After posting yesterday, writer’s block set it. Some wit said that writer’s block happens when writers have nothing to say and the sad thing is, it doesn’t happen to them more often. Mine wasn’t based on having nothing to say; mine was based on grief and fear. As I studied the beta reader’s comments, there was a little bit of grief in losing the simple story I had. I knew that, for the most part, he was on target with his comments. I have heard him critique shorter pieces and that was why I was excited when he agreed to be a beta reader for me. Still, there was a sense of grief as I realized that all those plot holes and inconsistencies that I had learned to love had to go. I believe that what will rise from the ashes will be a much better story, but it will require a lot more work than a few small touch ups. And that’s where the fear came in.
I realized I needed to do a lot of foundation work before I went back to rewriting. I had to understand my characters in depth, including my living villain. I had to change the motivation for my villain while, at the same time, make his good character qualities stronger. I had to have a better explanation for the break in the family relationships of my main character. I needed to understand my world and place it in proper context on its planet – especially for future novels. I needed to understand my nameless, faceless villain and find ways to weave the background of that agency into the story so that tales of the current nature will make sense. I even realized that the changes I made for this book, would affect the other books – especially since the original title no longer made sense in light of the ideas I had for changing things.
So, I had a moment yesterday. I opened up the file for this book and stared at the character page for my male main character. I couldn’t even put down the height. I went away and looked at something else. I don’t know how many times I went to that page, and clicked away from it because of the fear of doing this right. I couldn’t work on some other writing that I had to do either. One of them is a writing challenge for 400 words a day. Later in the evening I finally passed 400 words, but not by much. So yesterday I had a moment. Today, I have hope. Today, I will begin reworking my characters and falling so much in love with them again that I want to be sure and tell their story – different as it may be. Today, I begin the process of falling in love with my better, more complex story as I progress towards becoming an author.
A number of years ago I wrote a book. I think I told a pretty good story. I wrote two sequels so that now I have a trilogy. I have no doubt that if I had tried to publish them as they were, a few people might have bought them and enjoyed the stories. I might even have made a little bit of money. But I want to publish them the right way. I want to make sure that the stories hold together. I want that world to be consistent. So, I rewrote Book 1. You’ve seen some of the ARC chapters here. I was in love with the story so the book didn’t change a whole lot – I did try to shore up some areas that I realized were weak. I sent the book out for query and to beta readers. 1 agent has already told me “No.” I expected that, to be honest. I got back the reactions from one beta reader.
While enjoying the overall story, he pointed out some weaknesses and omissions. Most of the weaknesses I think I knew, deep down. Perhaps I thought that they weren’t really weak parts of the story, especially after I tried to strengthen some; perhaps I thought that those parts were weak because of my own insecurity and that others wouldn’t see them. He saw them. So, I have a couple of options: I can choose to ignore those parts of the criticism that would require a lot of work to fix and remain a story teller, or I can choose to become an author.
The first and second draft were the basics of the story I had in me. It was a nice story. The comments from my beta reader will make my “nice” story become a much stronger book. In order to follow this reader’s advice and become an author, I’m going to need to do a major re-tooling of the book. Plot points that hinged on one aspect of my main character will need to be completely re-written. My villain will need to be shown as more sneak and conniving while at the same time his positive qualities will have to come out. I will have to throw out parts of the story that I loved. I will have to make a much more determined effort to build and flesh out the world in which this story takes place and use ::shudder:: description – one of my weakest points.
Today I begin to become an author instead of just a story teller or a writer. I won’t begin by re-writing again. I will begin by getting to know my characters even better. I will begin to flesh out my world. My hope and my prayer is that by the time I finish this process of re-tooling this writing, it will be more than just a good story – it will be a book that I can be proud of. Join me on the journey. Give me suggestions as I walk…now…onto the work.
(Edit Note: All of these posts will be found under the “Journaling” Category)