#FineArtFriday: The Lacemaker by Nicolaes Maes ca. 1656

The Lacemaker

  • Artist   Nicolaes Maes
  • Year    c. 1656
  • Medium           oil paint, canvas
  • Dimensions     45 cm (18 in) × 53 cm (21 in)

About this image, via Wikipedia:

The Lacemaker (circa 1656) is an oil on canvas painting by the Dutch painter Nicolaes Maes. It is an example of Dutch Golden Age painting and is part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This painting is typical of many paintings of women in interiors painted by Maes in the 1650s. The woman is making bobbin lace using a lace pillow that can be seen in other Maes paintings of lacemakers.

The child in a highchair was a popular subject for many Dutch genre painters, and this painting shows how it was used as a safe place to play as well as for eating. The empty bowl of porridge is on the floor along with some other items the boy has let fall. He is wearing a red valhoed or falling cap, which seems to indicate that confinement in the chair is necessary if any lacemaking is going to get done.

baby bumper headguard cap, also known as a falling cap, or pudding hat, is a protective hat worn by children learning to walk, to protect their heads in case of falls.

Known as a pudding or black pudding, a version used during the early 17th century until the late 18th century was usually open at the top and featured a sausage-shaped bumper roll that circled the head like a crown. It was fastened with straps under the chin.

About the Artist via Wikipedia

From Wikipedia: Nicolaes Maes, also known as Nicolaes Maas (January 1634 – November 24, 1693 (buried)) was a Dutch Golden Age painter of genre and portraits. In about 1648 he went to Amsterdam, where he entered Rembrandt‘s studio. Before his return to Dordrecht in 1653 Maes painted a few Rembrandtesque genre pictures, with life-size figures and in a deep glowing scheme of colour, like the Reverie at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Card Players at the National Gallery, and the Children with a Goat Carriage. So closely did his early style resemble that of Rembrandt, that the last-named picture, and other canvases in the Leipzig and Budapest galleries and in the collection of Lord Radnor, were or are still ascribed to Rembrandt.

In his best period, from 1655 to 1665, Maes devoted himself to domestic genre on a smaller scale, retaining to a great extent the magic of colour he had learnt from Rembrandt. Only on rare occasions did he treat scriptural subjects, as in Hagar’s Departure, which has been ascribed to Rembrandt. His favorite subjects were women spinning, or reading the Bible, or preparing a meal. He had a particular fascination with the subject of lacemaking and made almost a dozen versions on this subject.

While he continued to reside in Dordrecht until 1673, when he settled in Amsterdam, he visited or even lived in Antwerp between 1665 and 1667. His Antwerp period coincides with a complete change in style and subject. He devoted himself almost exclusively to portraiture, and abandoned the intimacy and glowing color harmonies of his earlier work for a careless elegance which suggests the influence of Van Dyck. So great indeed was the change, that it gave rise to the theory of the existence of another Maes, of Brussels. His registered pupils were Justus de GelderMargaretha van GodewijkJacob Moelaert, and Johannes Vollevens.[1] Maes died in Amsterdam.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “The Lacemaker (Maes),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Lacemaker_(Maes)&oldid=799625637 (accessed December 12, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Baby bumper headguard cap,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Baby_bumper_headguard_cap&oldid=914539353 (accessed December 12, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Nicolaes Maes,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Nicolaes_Maes&oldid=815679835 (accessed July 12, 2018).

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Theme and Depth Through Polarity #amwriting

In writing, theme is the backbone of your story. It is an idea thread that connects disparate events that would otherwise appear random. Themes are often polarized, and multiple themes can appear, creating opportunities for adding depth.

Polarity is a fundamental aspect of the inferential layer of the word-pond.

For example, a large theme that drives the action can be be something as common and subtle as family dynamics across generations. Those subtle tensions and interactions may not look like they are the story, but beneath the surface, families are fraught with emotions that create conflict.

In any story that explores the relationships within a family as part of the larger narrative, we begin with the circle of life – a theme that explores birth, growth, degeneration, and death.

Consider the first three installments in the epic film series, “Star Wars.” It’s an ambitious action adventure set in a science fiction universe, and Luke Skywalker must save the world. But fundamentally, it’s the story of a family.

George Lucas conceived the tale by exploring the circle of life in the fractured relationship of Luke and Anakin Skywalker, and how each man affected those people whom they came into contact with. Luke was a catalyst—his presence made things happen. Anakin embodied self-deception.

The same is true of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones book. It begins with a family and follows the circle of life and death.

If we learn anything from comparing these two epic series, it is that inside that overarching theme of the circle of life lies many common polarities.

Nowhere do we find more opportunities for conflict than within a family. Both sides of this age-old conflict tend to be arrogant and sure of their position in each skirmish.

Sub-themes in the family saga will be:

Good vs. evil

Illusions vs. reality

Jealous vs. trusting

Justice vs. injustice

Love vs. hate

Order vs. chaos

Truth vs. falsehoods

Wealth vs. poverty

Young vs. old

These same themes that we employ in the small story of one family can easily be applied to a larger, more epic saga, such as in Tolstoy’s War and Peace – the “family” is an entire nation.

Looking beyond the obvious, we find the subtle polarities to instill into our work. Small subliminal conflicts highlight and support the theme. When you add texture to the narrative, you add depth.

Take pain—in my personal experience, the absence of pain was only appreciated once I had experienced true physical pain.

It’s like everything else we take for granted: we don’t think about pain if we have never felt it.

I find inspiration in the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms. When I am looking for a way to add a particular emotion to a scene, I look up the word I want to convey and see what the opposites are. This is an affordable resource for the cash-strapped author because it can be purchased in paperback for between $9.00 and $12.00 USD.

Here are some polarities we can apply when fleshing out a character:

  • courage – cowardice
  • crooked – honorable
  • cruel – kind

Consider a scene where you want to convey a sense of danger. Go to the “D” section of the Synonyms and Antonyms and look up danger:

  • danger – safety

Just past danger we find

  • dark – light

And just beyond dark, we find

  • despair – hope

Those are three “D” words that have great opposites. In one dark scene, we can convey peril, and the feeling of hopelessness a character might feel. The light and hope we offer at the end of the story shine brighter when they are contrasted against darkness and despair.

Think of Frodo and Sam on Mt. Doom after Gollum and the ring are destroyed. Darkness and sure peril are followed by light and salvation.

Polarity is an essential tool of world building. Small polarities in the interactions your characters have with each other add to the atmosphere and serve to show their world in subtle ways.

If you can’t afford to buy the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms, the internet is your friend. A large, comprehensive list of common antonyms can be found at Enchanted Learning. This is a free resource.

I try to find ways to add depth by employing polarity. Each small polarity creates conflict, pushes my characters a bit further.

If I’m smart with the way I write it, small polarities will support and define my larger theme without beating the reader over the head.

As I say, this requires me to be skillful in the writing process, which is sometimes easier said than done.

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Thoughts on the evolution of prose #amwriting

Our prose and the way we shape it is a fingerprint. It is our recognizable voice.

I follow the careers of several favorite writers, reading everything they publish. I have done so since finding their first novels in the sci-fi section at my local bookstore in my early twenties.

Their debut novels had a kind of shine that captivated me, despite not being technically well written. That spark of genius accompanied their earliest works and carried me, the reader, through the rough patches of their narratives. These authors had a passion for their stories and an innate ability to convey a world and create memorable characters with moving stories. That gift of fire more than made up for the less than stellar moments that sometimes were sprinkled into a piece.

Early 20th Century fantasy was written by people like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, who were educated in classical literature at Oxford and Cambridge. Tolkien was a Professor of English Language and Literature at Merton College, Oxford, and Lewis was chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Magdalene College, Cambridge. They remained working in their chosen fields all through their lives, writing their greatest works while working as academics in the fields of literature and theology.

These two literary authors influenced my generation of genre fantasy writers, who emerged in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. In their earliest published works, these (now not so young) authors of speculative fiction were allowed to write literary works filled with thought-provoking plots and characters, featuring strong social and political themes.

However, these authors were frequently journalism majors, instead of literature and fine arts. Their voices and writing styles reflected that journalistic influence, getting rid of the leisurely prose and replacing it with active, verb-centric prose.

And readers wanted that.

So, in spec fic, literary prose evolved away from using descriptors, to show an active style. Journalism shaped genre writing, moving it away from the sometimes passive, heavily descriptive prose of literary fiction and into the action-based prose that is popular now.

However, journalism met and collided with poetic literary writing, resulting in a writer like Patrick Rothfuss. This shows that literary influences continue to shape genre writing, and educated readers want good prose with their action.

Several authors who  first published in those early years of my reading life  turned those early works into popular, long-running series. By reading those books in the order they were published, one can see an evolution toward active prose.

Or in the case of one of my earliest influences, a stagnation. Beloved though her early works remain, I can’t read her work anymore.

I look at my own work and see evolution. Am I growing in the right direction?

I don’t know, but I’m having fun.

I love the ins and outs of the writing process, and I love literature in all its forms. I love the challenge of trying to wrangle my words in such a way that my readers will stick with me, and maybe an editor for a magazine will like something I have produced.

I don’t always succeed, but sometimes I do. Every modest success in finding a home for a short story keeps me writing, keeps me focused on the goal of “selling one more story” or “finishing just one more book.”

The reading public is fickle. Their taste evolves and changes as “new” and different styles of prose capture their imagination. Readers are heavily influenced by what their peers are reading.

Authors don’t always know how to evolve, and their work can become dated. We have to be agile to walk the line between our personal choice of prose style and what we can sell.

But the truth is, if the subject is just past the peak of popularity, it “has been done” and will be rejected. If the subject is too far ahead of the wave or too original, it may be deemed “too out there,” and brilliant prose won’t sell your work.

Readers may discover it after we’re dead, although success after death is a small consolation to look forward to.

I don’t sell as many short stories in an average year as some other members of my writing group do. I tend to write work that is a little bit “out there” and finding the right editor is a crap shoot.

But my writing friends’ successes give me hope and they encourage me to stay in the fight.

I will keep writing short pieces and submitting them and hope my work lands on the editor’s desk on the day he/she was in the mood for something different. With each short piece that is rejected, I get a little bit of feedback that helps me know where to send the next story.

Writing has been my passion and my life. Every day I wake up, glad to go to work. Writing this blog is a joy because here I can talk about the nuts and bolts of writing craft, a subject no one finds interesting unless they are writers.

I’m on a quest to obtain that elusive magic my favorite authors seem to have. In the process, I am reading a lot of great books, many old as well as new. I’m discovering just what works for me as a reader and what fails.

In the process, I’m dismantling some passages of their work, tearing it down sentence by sentence to see what makes it tick.

I hope you will stay with me on this journey. We may not always see eye-to-eye with our companions when it comes to what we consider good literature, but hearing differing viewpoints gives us a more rounded view.

In many ways, I do my “mind wandering” here, and I thank you for the feedback you give me.

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#FineArtFriday: An Out-of-Doors Study by John Singer Sargent

Artist: John Singer Sargent  (1856–1925)

Title: An Out-of-Doors Study

Description: English: Paul César Helleu Sketching with his wife Alice

Signature bottom right: John S. Sargent

Date: 1889

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 65.9 cm (25.9 ″); Width: 80.7 cm (31.7 ″)

Today’s image, An Out-of-Doors Study, 1889, is by expatriate American artist, John Singer Sargent. It depicts fellow artist and great friend, Paul César Helleu sketching with his wife Alice Guérin.

What I love about this painting:

This painting depicts a day in the life of two great artists. The grass looks very like that which grows beside streams in my part of the world. The colors are that mix of green and brown that long grass has when summer is just beginning. The blue sky is reflected in the water. They had taken advantage of a fine day in late May or June perhaps, fortunate to have an outing before high summer turns the meadow grass crisp and brown.

The quality of light that day was perfect for a picnic beside the water. One can imagine the two artists working on their individual projects and chatting, having a relaxing lunch, and then taking a quiet walk. We can even wonder if, later, they might have taken the canoe out.

This is a pleasant scene, brightening up my dark December day.

About the artist, via Wikipedia:

Sargent’s early enthusiasm was for landscapes, not portraiture, as evidenced by his voluminous sketches full of mountains, seascapes, and buildings. Carolus-Duran’s expertise in portraiture finally influenced Sargent in that direction. Commissions for history paintings were still considered more prestigious, but were much harder to get. Portrait painting, on the other hand, was the best way of promoting an art career, getting exhibited in the Salon, and gaining commissions to earn a livelihood.

In a time when the art world focused, in turn, on ImpressionismFauvism, and Cubism, Sargent practiced his own form of Realism, which made brilliant references to VelázquezVan Dyck, and Gainsborough.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Sargent – Paul Helleu Sketching with his Wife.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Sargent_-_Paul_Helleu_Sketching_with_his_Wife.jpg&oldid=273586527 (accessed December 5, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “John Singer Sargent,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=John_Singer_Sargent&oldid=927728162 (accessed December 5, 2019).

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Revising the NaNoWriMo Novel Part 2 Word Choices #amwriting

No one writes perfect prose every time. Occasionally, even award-winning authors write an awkward description in the middle of an otherwise gripping passage. Consider this pearl, a quote from one of my favorite books dropped in the middle of an otherwise powerful, well-conceived battle scene:

A screaming black arrow knocks down yet another attacker. [1]

The narrative is written in an unusual mode, one this particular author, L.E. Modesitt Jr., uses in many of his books: Third person present tense. I have read this book several times, and there are several proofing errors, but that line in the final battle has always tripped my eye.

It’s a “first draft” telling line, a signal to the author indicating an intensity of emotion he wanted to convey in a ship-to-ship battle. I suspect he was in the zone and writing as quickly as he could. The many proofing errors in this book, much as I love it, told me that editors, even those working for a publishing giant like Tor, are fallible human beings. When an author is pushed to become a book producing machine, proofing and editing can suffer.

So how could we write a scene about a hazardous inanimate object and convey a sense of imminent danger without resorting to words that don’t quite fit? First, we must understand that these are the places where getting the prose right takes time, and sometimes, many attempts.

In a conversation, it’s easy to convey a sense of fear and peril. Danger seen through a character’s eyes is easily done—describe the shock and gut reactions and move on.

Danger described from an outside view (third person) is more difficult. In a fight or battle, sounds, visuals, and smells must be employed.

And this is where it gets tricky: for me as a reader, the best fight or battle scenes have both personal witness and third person narrative.

Hollywood has been quite good at portraying battle scenes with some degree of accuracy, although not always. In the movies, arrows arc, rain down and sometimes flash. They whiz past, and sometimes they appear in the victim’s back, seemingly out of nowhere. In the movies, they travel slowly.

But, in real life the arrow strikes the target nearly immediately after leaving the bow, even at a longer distance. An arrow is not as fast as a bullet, but they are fast.

My friend Michael, who is an archer, tells me that arrows, both ancient and modern, do make a sound, depending on how they are fletched (the feathers). The hissing sound as it passes the human ear varies from nearly inaudible to soft, depending on who fletched them and what style of fletching they used.

What you will hear is the snapping sound the bow makes when the archer lets the arrow fly, followed closely by the sound the arrow makes when striking a hard target. An arrow striking a soft target like a human or animal would make a sickening sound, but one that is not loud.

In my opinion, screaming is the wrong sound for arrows.

But it is an appropriate sound for the victim that was shot by the arrow.

There must be a certain amount of telling. What is the balance between telling and showing?

In describing, we must choose our words carefully. Examine the logic of your descriptions. How do we both show and tell in a balanced way?

In War and Peace, Tolstoy conveyed the feeling of each cannon ball hitting the ground and exploding, without resorting to clichés and awkward descriptors. Andrew Kaufman is the author of Understanding Tolstoy and Give War And Peace A Chance says:

“You see, hear, and feel everything in Tolstoy’s world: glistening sunrises, whining cannonballs, exhilarating troika races, glorious births, brutal deaths, and everything in between.” [2]

Good, immersive prose requires showing in such a way that the reader isn’t blown out of the scene. This means a small amount of telling is required. For that, we’ll go to Tolstoy’s War and Peace again. This quote, written in the same third person present tense as Modesitt’s quote, is an observation, a way of both telling and showing the reader what is goes on in the subconscious mind.

“When a man sees a dying animal, horror comes over him: that which he himself is, his essence, is obviously being annihilated before his eyes — is ceasing to be.” [3]

In that one sentence, Tolstoy shows us that in Napoleon’s time, soldiers weren’t the only casualties of war. A cavalry is made up of soldiers on horses. This means that living animals went to battle and were killed too.

Tolstoy gives us the visceral experience of witnessing a horse’s death but allows us to contemplate what death means on a human level. He uses powerful words that evoke deep emotion: dying, horror, essence, annihilated.

Witnessing the death of a horse brings us closer to understanding how frail a soldier’s grasp on life is when in the midst of a battle.

Modern writers would cut the words obviously being, but despite having been written 160 years ago, the sentence has power.

Word choices are especially important in action adventures. Strong, powerful words can make or break a sentence. To revise properly, we must step back from the manuscript for several days or even weeks.

Then we come back to the manuscript and consider the visual logic of our descriptions.

We move verbs to the front of sentences, placing them before the nouns so that most sentences lead off with action words.

In the second draft, we eliminate the many insidious forms of was and to be. They’re insidious because they’re signals to the author, saying that something needs to be made active. But they can slide under the radar in the editing process and end up in the final product.

It takes work and perseverance, to find the words that correctly evoke the emotions we want to convey.

But that is what good writing is about.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Quote from The Magic Engineer, by L.E. Modesitt Jr., 1994; A Tor Book, Published by Tom Doherty and Associates, LLC. Fair Use.

[2] Quote from Andrew Kaufman, The Only Classic Needed for Modern Times © 2014 Off the Shelf, Simon and Schuster, Inc. Fair Use.

[3] Quote from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, PD|100. First published by The Russian Messenger (serial).

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Revising the NaNoWriMo Novel #amwriting

Many new authors are basking in the glow of not only having met their hoped-for word count of 50,000 words in the month of November but exceeding it.

A large number of new authors have emerged from this manic writing rumble with a finished novel—something they never thought possible. But now, what do they do with it?

NOW is the time to go back and look at what you have written.

First, protect your work.

Create a new file folder in your writing files for all the background documents you will need as you get down to the real work of writing your novel. These include the original manuscript as it emerged from your head and any research. This file is where you will save future versions and also any cut scenes. I title my background file this way: Book_Title_Background

In this background file, save a copy of your original manuscript in its bloody, raw form with a file name that denotes exactly what it is.

  1. If you are using MS Word, your manuscript title will look like this: Book_Title.docx

Saving the original draft in a separate file on a thumb drive or in a file storage service such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive means you have a fallback manuscript in case something happens to your working files.

Now that we have Version Control out of the way let’s move on to rewriting.

In the rush of laying down the ideas in the first draft, we will have written some scenes that will need to be moved to a more logical place in the story arc or cut completely. Still others don’t yet exist and will need to be written so that the ultimate outcome makes sense.

This is a good time to draw up a brief outline that shows you at a glance what you have written. The act of writing this outline will take the better part of a day but will speed the revision process up by a month or so.

The outline allows you to cut and paste events, moving and rearranging scenes. Making the decisions first on a small, easily manageable scale rather than the larger manuscript ensures that you don’t get confused when you begin cutting and moving scenes forward or back along the timeline in the second draft.

  1. Timeline: Make a list of all the decisions your protagonist made on their way to the final scene. Don’t omit any—you need to see her/his actions at a glance.
  2. Now, if these choices don’t seem to follow a logical path, rearrange the order to ensure these decisions follow a logical connective evolution. Randomness is not good plotting.
  3. Timeline: List the new order of decisions. Are they all necessary to achieve the final goal? Or are some fluff—scenes you wrote just for wordcount that don’t advance the plot and which the reader won’t care about?
  4. Consider cutting each fluff scene. Your readers will be grateful.

Now, look at the outline of your story structure again. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is the story about now? Is the main character still the original protagonist or has a side character stolen the show? If so, you need to choose and expand on the character that best serves the story.
  • What is the core conflict? Is it still the same conflict as when you started?
  • How high are the stakes if the protagonist fails?
  • What does the protagonist want most now?
  • Did the protagonist grow and evolve as a person? If not, why not? Or did they devolve, becoming an antihero or an antagonist? Is there a new hero?
  • Where are the pivotal places where something important to the logic is missing?
  • Again, examine what doesn’t need to be included. Remove all the scenes that impart no important information to the reader and the protagonist.

Ask yourself what would make the ultimate ending feel more logical. Insert the idea for the new scene into the outline and re-examine the logic of the story arc.

Many stories are not ultimately told in chronological order. The plot should still be the same logical chain, but the story might contain flashbacks or memories. Make a note of where these occur.

Some authors use “flash forwards,” which can easily make the story arc feel clumsy and unbelievable. Inserting a flash forward requires good planning, which is where the brief outline comes in handy. The same goes for daydreams or prophetic dreams a character might have.

Many authors reject the outline process in the first draft because they prefer to “wing it.” When I write the first draft without an outline, my story will have flashes and moments of inspired writing but will wander and skip its way to the conclusion.

For me, a manuscript that I wrote “by the seat of my pants” will always require more work than a piece written to an outline. Taking a day to write a brief summary of the entire first draft in an outline form makes the second version easier for my beta readers to read and follow.

At the end of the second draft, because I have taken the time to examine the logic of my storyline, the plot and my character’s actions will make sense to my beta readers.

They, in turn, will have good suggestions for minor changes that I will consider when I write the final version.

Next up: prose, and how your writing style shapes the narrative in the revision process.

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#FineArtFriday: Thanksgiving with Indians by N. C. Wyeth (mural, 1940)

Artist: Newell Convers Wyeth  (1882–1945)

Title: Thanksgiving with Indians

Date: 1940

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 108 ″ (274.3 cm); Width: 212 ″ (538.4 cm)

Collection: Brandywine River Museum

Place of creation: Mural, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, New York

Inscriptions: middle left: N.C. Wyeth (underlined)

 

About the Artist (via Wikipedia):

Newell Convers Wyeth (October 22, 1882 – October 19, 1945), known as N. C. Wyeth, was an American artist and illustrator. He was the pupil of artist Howard Pyle and became one of America’s greatest illustrators.[1] During his lifetime, Wyeth created more than 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112 books,[2] 25 of them for Scribner’s, the Scribner Classics, which is the work for which he is best known.[1] The first of these, Treasure Island, was one of his masterpieces and the proceeds paid for his studio. Wyeth was a realist painter at a time when the camera and photography began to compete with his craft.[3] Sometimes seen as melodramatic, his illustrations were designed to be understood quickly.[4] Wyeth, who was both a painter and an illustrator, understood the difference, and said in 1908, “Painting and illustration cannot be mixed—one cannot merge from one into the other.”[3]

He is the father of Andrew Wyeth and the grandfather of Jamie Wyeth, both well-known American painters.


Credits and Attributions

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:N.C. Wyeth – Thanksgiving with Indians.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:N.C._Wyeth_-_Thanksgiving_with_Indians.jpg&oldid=344521415 (accessed November 29, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “N. C. Wyeth,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=N._C._Wyeth&oldid=927997095 (accessed November 29, 2019).

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Write the Entire Book #amwriting

The end is nigh! NaNoWriMo 2019 is nearly over. Many books have been written, and many more are halfway done even though they have crossed the 50,000 word mark.

The truth is, ten times as many books were begun as made it to the 50,000 word mark. The reality sets in within the first week. Last year 70 writers in our region never got more than 5,000 words written.

Good first lines are critical. They have a singular duty, to involve the reader and kidnap them for the length of the book. But sometimes, the first lines are all an author has.

I know someone who began writing a novel they were exceedingly passionate about several years ago. But the first lines, introducing the characters, and the first few chapters were all that was ever written.

Yet the author of those few chapters speaks of their barely-begun book with enthusiasm as if they could pick it up and finish it any moment. When they talk about this book, it sounds so interesting; something I would love to read.

I confess I’ve become a little cynical when they talk about their plot and characters because I fear that talk is all that will ever happen. They have the entire book locked in their heads, and no one else will ever read it.

They have been stopped at the end of chapter three for five years. If they haven’t developed the discipline to dedicate an hour a day to writing by now, it’s very likely their book will never be completed.

Why does their book languish unwritten? Drama in their lives keeps them too busy to write. Once in a great while, when they’re bored and can’t find a book they want to read, they will open the file and read it. They will fall back in love with the words they have already written and talk about how they’re going to sit down and finish it someday.

But that won’t happen unless they make the time to do it.

We all have drama in our lives. For me, writing keeps the drama at arm’s length.

Participating in NaNoWriMo teaches authors discipline. You learn to write the entire book before you begin editing.

In your first draft, I recommend that you don’t spend too much time obsessing about the small things and the finer details as these will derail your work. You will never get past the first chapter if all you can focus on is writing a brilliant opener.

NaNoWriMo gives us the discipline to write the entire story as quickly as we can, at least 1,667 words a day. Once you have the entire structure of the novel laid down on paper, you won’t be left wondering where to go next, writing and rewriting the same first chapter.

When the entire story has been written, that is the time to worry about prose and phrasing. The second draft is when we write the words we would want to read.  

The second draft is when you should obsess about the opening line and first paragraphs.

If you are serious about writing, it’s necessary to read, to see how other authors begin and complete their work. It is good to read works published in your chosen genre, but to become an educated reader/author, you should look outside your favorite genre. You might find books that surprise you. You will be amazed at how much some of what you read in these new genres resonates with you even if you didn’t like the book.

This education doesn’t have to be expensive. Don’t spend your precious book purchasing funds on books you believe you won’t enjoy. Do a little advance research via the internet and then borrow the books from the library.

Published authors, whether Indie or traditionally published, have finished their work. Maybe they didn’t do as great a job as some people think they could have done, but they did finish the job.

Grand ideas about what you intend to write mean nothing if you don’t finish the job.

Do finish writing the story before you begin rewriting the first chapter.

If all you have ever written is the first chapter…over…and over…and over…, perhaps you need to set that idea aside. It may be that, at this point in your life, writing isn’t your passion, but reading is.

And without readers, there would be no need for authors.

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Subtext and First Person Point of View #amwriting (revisited)

We are winding down to the  final week of NaNoWriMo. This has been a busy month, and this week, being Thanksgiving week here in the US, is even more jammed. Today’s post is on First Person Point of View, a literary mode I have found myself using more often lately. This first posted on November 26, 2018, and expands on employing good subtext, which we discussed last week.


Third-person omniscient has been my usual mode to write in, but I’m not limited to it. When we write in third-person omniscient mode, the story is told from an outside, overarching point of view. The narrator sees and knows everything that happens within the world of the story, including what each of the characters is thinking and feeling.

This works because the narrator holds much of the information back from the reader, doling it out as the protagonists need it.

But what if we want to create a sense of intimacy, of being in the character’s head? And what if we don’t want the reader to know everything that is going on until the last minute?

This is where the literary devices of point-of-view and subtext come into play. It’s fairly easy to keep the reader guessing what is going on in either narrative mode if you make good use of subtext.

The first-person point of view is fairly common and is told from one protagonist’s personal point of view. It employs “I-me-my-mine” in the protagonist’s speech, allowing the reader or audience to see the primary character’s opinions, thoughts, and feelings.

A limited first person point of view is stream of consciousness. This is a narrative mode told from a first-person perspective, showing the thought processes as well as the actions and spoken words of the protagonist.

In real life, we can’t be all-seeing and all-knowing—witnesses are notoriously unreliable. First-person point-of-view employs the unreliable narrator which I like when the author understands how to make the subtext work.

Disbelief paralyzes me, but then my emotions coalesce into one thought—Ricky…of course.

Through the use of interior monologues (thoughts), we show the inner desires and motivations of the protagonists. We also offer the reader the incomplete thoughts they express to themselves but conceal from the other characters.

At times, we see the POV character’s rambling thoughts about a situation or person, as well as witness their conversations and actions.

How do we fit subtext into our narrative if we’re using a limited first person point of view? Subtext is the hidden story, the hints and allegations, and the secret motives of the entire cast. Subtext is the content that supports the dialogue and gives private purpose to the events each character experiences.

We don’t want to just lay it all out for the reader in the first paragraphs. Just as in all other narrative modes, in a limited first person point of view we have several ways available to reveal the subtext, the hidden motives and desires of our characters.

The Double Entendre: a word or phrase open to two interpretations, one of which is usually risqué or indecent. “My, those are some plump loaves you have rising there, ma’am.” This can be too in-your-face for many readers, especially if the author is heavy-handed. Many classic Noir detective novels of the 1930s through the 1960s employed the double entendre to convey ideas and intentions that referenced sexual matters and which the censors wouldn’t have allowed to be published.

Sarcasm: the use of irony to mock or convey contempt. “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.—Mark Twain.

In my writing, I sometimes use sarcasm as a way to show subtle aggression and tension. Also, sarcasm, especially that which is self-directed, can highlight the dark humor of a bad situation.

Lying: The point-of-view character may be guilty of habitually telling falsehoods. “Sorry I’m late. Traffic was a bitch.” But perhaps the first page showed the character oversleeping, so this lie is a clue that the character is not always truthful.

In a first person narrative, if the protagonist is shown lying to others in small, insignificant ways, the reader should consider that what he tells us may be a lie too.

We can also employ the use of allegory, words, and images that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one. Animal Farm, written by George Orwell, is an allegory that uses animals on a farm to describe the overthrow of the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, and the Communist Revolution of Russia before WW I.

Symbolism: using an object or a word to represent an abstract idea. An action, person, place, word, or object can all have a symbolic meaning. Literary Devices.net gives us these examples:

  • The dove is a symbol of peace.
  • A red rose, or the color red, stands for love or romance.
  • Black is a symbol that represents evil or death.
  • A ladder may stand as a symbol for a connection between heaven and earth.
  • A broken mirror may symbolize separation.

For me, writing is as much about rewriting as it is writing new words. Sometimes I have a story that I think might have potential, but I can’t decide if the plot should continue down the bunny trail it’s on or not. I will share it with my writing buddies to see what they think about the premise.

Usually, I get good feedback that helps me steer the narrative in the right direction when I am embarking on the second draft.

I consider all feedback good, even when the first readers of a scene or short story don’t “get” what I am trying to convey. If the readers don’t see what I mean, their comments aren’t directly helpful.

That lack of comprehension shows that the reader missed the point of the story entirely—my subtext failed to do its job. The scene or story must be completely rewritten. My protagonist’s intentions must be made clearer to the reader.

The struggle to express my ideas is just part of the process, and having good friends who are willing to read and give honest, thoughtful feedback is priceless.


Credits and Attributions:

LiteraryDevices Editors. “Symbolism” LiteraryDevices.net. 2013. http://literarydevices.net/symbolism/  (accessed November 24, 2018).

Quill Pen, PD|by author, BWCNY at English Wikipedia.

Underwood Standard Typewriter, PD|75 yrs image first published in the 1st (1876–1899), 2nd (1904–1926) or 3rd (1923–1937) edition of Nordisk familjebok.

IBM Selectric, By Oliver Kurmis [CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

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#FineArtFriday: Winter Landscape with Brabrand Church, by Christian David Gebauer (reprise)

NaNoWriMo is drawing near the end–one week remains. During that week, many of us in the US will prepare Thanksgiving feasts for our families and still try to find time to write new words. Here at Casa del Jasperson, we will host a large family gathering, but I will get some writing done before they arrive.

In the mean time, I hope you enjoy the re-run of this article detailing my impressions of a wonderful painting, Winter Landscape with Brabrand Church, by Christian David Gebauer. Much of my work deals with life in pre- and emerging industrial era societies, and paintings like this are critical to my understanding of how life was lived and enjoyed.


The above painting, Winter Landscape with Brabrand Church, by Christian David Gebauer, is a perfect illustration of a day in the life of a Danish village as captured by the eye of an artist. One of the last paintings made before Gebauer’s death in 1831, it is considered a centerpiece work of the Danish Golden Age, a period of exceptional creative production in Denmark during the first half of the 19th century. Gebauer was heavily influenced by the works of the Dutch Golden Age, a period in Dutch history roughly spanning the 17th century, during and after the later part of the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) for Dutch independence.

If you are writing fantasy, which is often set in rural late-renaissance-era environments, you can find all the details you need in the art of the past.

Artists painted details, not visible from a distance, but which combine to give the mood of the piece. They painted not only what they saw, but what they felt. They gave us a hint of how people really lived, laughed, and loved before the industrial revolution transformed the world into the modern, technologically driven place we see today.

In Winter Landscape with Brabrand Church, Christian David Gebauer shows us villagers dressed for warmth, enjoying themselves on the ice. Others are working, bringing in sledges filled with hay. A hunter and and his dogs are returning, perhaps empty handed. A bag hangs at the hunter’s side but isn’t full. The ice-fishermen are having better luck.

A woodcutter admonishes a boy, perhaps his son, to stop fooling around. His machete hangs in his right hand, as he fights what he knows is a losing battle. It’s evening, the day has been long, and children who have worked all day just want to play and have fun.

The sky takes up fully half of the painting–the church and the people are small beneath it. Beneath the powerful sky, there is an air of busy enjoyment to the painting. The hilarity of those skaters unable to keep their balance is juxtaposed against the hard-working laborers and the cozy prosperity of horses pulling laden sleds.

The entire story of one winter’s evening in this village lives within this painting, all of it captured by an artist nearly two-hundred years ago.

Is there magic here? Maybe. Is there life and passion? Definitely. There is a story in this image. Certainly the details will emerge in my work in the form of setting and atmosphere.

Regardless of how I use it, this window opens onto a time I can now visualize more clearly, less blurred by my modern perspective.


Credits and Attributions:

#FineArtFriday: Winter Landscape with Brabrand Church, by Christian David Gebauer by Connie J. Jasperson first appeared on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on 08 Dec. 2017.

Winter Landscape with Brabrand Church, Christian David Gebauer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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