Category: STYLE

The Language of Fiction is Word-pictures

The language of fiction is word-pictures © 2013 by Robert J. Ray Word-pictures, whether they stand still like photographs, or whether they roar like the wind, come from concrete nouns: “In the late summer of that year, we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.” This famous word-picture opens A Farewell to Arms (1929), a war-novel by Ernest Hemingway. There are two abstract nouns in this opening sentence – summer and year – and five concrete nouns: house, village, river, plain, mountains. There is one object – the house – anchoring  four generic landmarks: village, river, plain, and mountains. The ratio of concrete nouns to abstract is 5:2, enough concrete nouns to paint a picture that locks down the opening of the novel. The view is panoramic, like a photograph or a landscape painting. The narrator is First Person. The pronoun “we” links the narrator – a volunteer ambulance driver from the American midwest in search of love and adventure in the Great War of 1914-1918 – to  his ambulance driver buddies. The word-picture in this opening line puts an implied distance between the narrator in the village and the fighting in the mountains, where the Italians battle their Austrian neighbors. The distance comes from the active verb of perception (looked) and the adverb of distance (across) and...

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Rewriting, Editing, Scene Performance: Part One

This is Part One of a Three Part Series on Rewriting, Editing, Scene Performance ©2013 by Robert J. Ray Feedback  Congratulations. Your rewrite is done and you feel good about the manuscript. The story is solid, the subplots writhe like snakes under the surface, which is glassy-smooth. Now you’re smelling money, you’re tasting the tang of writerly fame. You want action. So you print the manuscript, find a literary agent on Google Search, and then you mail the manuscript off. Admonition: Before you send off your pages, get some feedback. The writing business is crazy. The worst mistake you can make is sending off a half-baked product. Definition Feedback comes when you hand your work to someone else and say, Can you please give me some feedback? When you ask for feedback, you give up control. Time to relax, pull out your trusty ballpoint, and take notes. Feedback opens up the manuscript, rips holes in the fabric of your prose. Better to sew up the holes now, before you send off the manuscript to an agent. There are four ways to get feedback: 1. Scene Performance. For feedback on a scene, recruit a group of friends – actors are better at scene performance than writers – and assign roles. Assign one reader for each character; assign one reader to read the narration (action and description). Keep yourself out of...

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A Review of Murdock Tackles Taos

The Man, the Modulars, the Mystery A review of Robert J Ray’s Murdock Tackles Taos Invisible to all but the most astute reader, yet tools of the trade to the writer, modular scenes are the core of the mystery novel. Modular scenes are those universal elements every mystery has or it’s not a mystery. To name a few: Crime Scene Sleuth on Stage Victim Killer on Stage First encounter—Victim and Killer First encounter—Killer and Sleuth Object links Victim’s lair Killer’s lair Return to the crime scene Killer confrontation. Modular scenes are frames that contain the story. In the hands of an amateur, the modulars are clunky and obvious. In the hands of a master, such as Robert J. Ray, the modular frame dissolves leaving character, action, image, lust and desire. Every Murdock mystery has two defining characteristics: Good writing and control of the elements. Good Writing: Buried in the action sequences in this novel there are, for example, subtle techniques of language that harken back to the rhetorical past: “He drove a Humvee. Humvees smelled of money, money in her life was like manna, manna made her thighs quiver.” In sentences such as this, Ray pays homage to Aristotle and the Trivium all in the context of a 21st Century detective novel…which, by the way, I believe Mr. Ray is in the process of reinventing by sticking with tradition...

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Frank P. Araujo ~ Addendum to the Adverb Rant

Why do we dislike adverbs so much? I know, I’ve heard all the arguments about how they slow down the action, the beauty of the language is in its raw simplicity, we should use action verbs instead of generic, and so on. However, one could argue these observations are merely matters of style and as such, these august pronouncements are just opinions. However, I think there’s a deeper reason for this that goes beyond mere stylistic choices.

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Susan Canavarro~Guest Writer

Susan Canavarro is an artist living in Florence, Oregon. Her memoir, “Fragments: Growing Up Bohemian Poor in Dementia’s House”, is available in e-book and paperback. This is her first Guest Writer appearance on our blog. I write memoir fragments. Following a few of Robert and Jack’s writing techniques, I am working on getting rid of the passive voice, replacing weak verbs with strong, using concrete nouns, shucking armored prose, and looking for metaphor. Eliminating the passive voice requires taking ownership of my thoughts and feelings and imagery. My ah-ha moment: taking ownership is scary. Taking ownership means I must stop being the victim. Taking ownership leads me to truths about myself like: I’m afraid to express myself with certainty because I am afraid of being wrong or stupid. So I hedge all writing, all painting, all thoughts using my passive voice. The passive voice is a great tool if you want to create a character like me in your novel. But I want to be strong, so out it goes! Shucking armored prose is also about taking ownership. Don’t fill up the page with abstract nouns and weak verbs like, my favorite, I’ve been thinking, or I would have thought…and for god’s sake, stop with all those adverbs! I can’t always avoid armored prose, but I’m learning not to love it. In writing The Auto/Body Connection I explored the...

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©2010-2017 Jack Remick, Robert J. Ray. All rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including text and images, without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Short excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jack Remick and Robert J. Ray and "Bob and Jacks Writing Blog" with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.