Category: word pictures

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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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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Going Cosmic with Timed Writing

Going Cosmic–The Power of Writing Practice ©2011 By Jack Remick & Robert J. Ray Writing practice, writing under the clock, frees you from the clutches of the infernal ghost in the culture machine – the editor. The editor, wrapped in rules and logic, dresses up like mom, and dad, and the third grade teacher who taught you to dot your I’s and cross your T’s, and begin every sentence with a capital letter. The editor, logic posing as a rocket scientist  puts astronauts on the moon, builds atomic bombs, creates architectural marvels out of steel and concrete and glass – but the editor cannot open the doorway to the creative unconscious. Helpless in the clutches of the ghost in the culture machine, the language dies a cold, cold death. The dead language is all around us. It is around us in Pentagon obfu-speak, it is around us in oprahesque-tele-babble, it is around us in politico-pseudo-psycho chatter, it is around us in the punchless wonders of thickly paragraphed novels marching over the edge of the world like literary lemmings – weak verb, soft noun, zero conflict, washed out, pale skinned three-legged lemmings. With writing practice, writing under the clock, you shoulder the dead language aside to discover the energy of your creative powers. The dead language: “He slipped out of the room to look for the clock, and by his...

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A Tribute to Sydney Pollack

When we taught in the UW Screenwriting Program, we were lucky enough to spend a Saturday with the late Syndey Pollack. Pollack, at an invitation from his good friend Stewart Stern, flew himself up from LA in his own Lear Jet to make himself available as a resource to budding UW scriptwriters. Sydney Pollack is a director-producer, an LA guy who owns his own production company. One of his early movies was They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969) One of his big money-makers was Out of Africa (director-producer, 1986). He directed Three Days of the Condor (1975). He produced and directed Absence of Malice (1981), White Palace (1990), Dead Again (1991), and two dozen others. His production company produced Sense and Sensibility. The format of the six-hour session at the UW was Q&A. Some of the A’s stretched out, burgeoning with promise, to 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes. The depth was astounding. So was the clarity. Here are some notes and a write-up of that Saturday meeting that we later used in our fiction—novel, short story—classes. Three lessons from Sydney Pollack that might be helpful for your fiction: 1. Template. When Pollack reads a first draft script, he asks a simple question: What is the story? He’s looking for a template, a simple thematic pattern that he can use to gauge each character, each scene, each setting, each...

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How a good writer can write better

If you want to write better, keep reading. If you’re happy writing Armored Prose, ride your computer mouse somewhere else. Writing is sacred ground. Don’t mess around. To write better, you must practice. Push yourself, write every day, using a timer, pen, paper, pencil, laptop, desktop, or PDA. If you want to write better faster, focus on your verbs.

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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.