Layers of Depth – using atmosphere to emphasize emotion #amwriting

Writing emotions with depth is a balancing act, and simply showing the outward physical indicators of a particular emotion is only half the story. Every idea for a novel comes to me with an idea for the overall mood. That mood will underscore and emphasize the characters’ personal mood and changing emotions.

depth-of-characterIn his book, Story, Robert McKee tells us that emotion is the experience of transition, of the characters moving between a positive and negative. Beneath and behind the emotions that our characters experience is the atmosphere of the story, going unnoticed on the surface.

Atmosphere is the aspect of mood that setting conveys. It is only an ambiance, but it is a powerful tool for helping us show our characters’ emotional state.

When creating our characters, we find it easy to connect with vivid emotions, such as hate, anger, desire, and passion. These are loud emotions.

Volume control is a crucial part of the overall pacing of our story. “Loud” deafens us and loses its power when it’s the only sound. So, like the opening movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, we must contrast loud against quiet to create the texture of our story.

When we first begin as writers, we find it difficult to convey our characters’ emotions without telling the reader what to feel. After receiving our share of abuse from other writers, we swing toward showing their every mood in minuscule detail.

emotionwordslist01LIRF06232020Truthfully, I find detailed descriptions of facial expressions to be boring and sometimes off-putting. Every author armed with a little knowledge writes characters with curving lips, stretching lips, and lips doing many things over, and over, and over … with little variation.

A happy medium between telling and showing can be achieved, but it takes work. We must choose words that show what we mean and use the environment to convey subtle feelings wherever possible. I say wherever possible because it is not practicable to always employ the setting in a narrative. We need to get inside the characters’ heads.

Severe emotional shock strikes us, and we have an immediate physical reaction.

Visceral reactions are involuntary—out of our control. We can’t stop our faces from flushing or our hearts from pounding. Visceral feelings are emotions we feel deeply. We find it difficult to control or ignore them because they are instinctive and not the result of thought.

We can pretend it didn’t happen or hide it, but we can’t stop it. An internal physical gut reaction is difficult to convey without offering the reader some information, a framework to hang the image on.

There will be an instant reaction. How does a “gut reaction” feel? We might experience nausea, gut punch, or a feeling of butterflies in our stomach. Think about how you respond to internal surprises, and write those feelings down.

I experience severe shocks this way:

  • disbelief—the OMG moment
  • a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, freezing in place, or a shout of “No!”
  • Years ago, on witnessing a horrific accident, I experienced disassociation or a feeling of viewing the scene from outside myself. This involuntary coping or defense mechanism is meant to minimize or help a person tolerate stress.

When we write mild reactions, offering a lot of emotional descriptions is unnecessary because mild is boring. A raised eyebrow, a sideways glance—small gestures show the attitude and mood of the character.

But good pacing requires balance. Quiet scenes enable us (and our characters) to process the events detailed in the louder scenes.

However, strong emotions are compelling. Highly charged situations are strengthened by the way we write the emotional experience. The way we show the setting reinforces each physical response.

The following is an excerpt from a work in progress:

Knowledge lay in Ivan’s belly, a cold ball of disaster. He had already failed as a shaman, and he wasn’t even a true seeker. But he couldn’t let Cai down, had to prove he could resolve it. He forced a smile, projecting confidence. “Look at that view. I’d heard the lake is so large one can’t see the southern shore from Neville, but I didn’t realize its truth. It seems as vast as the sky.”

As you can see, I struggle with these concepts as much as any other writer does. This scene is set on an early spring morning with cold winds shuttling heavy clouds across a blue sky. Rain moves in later in the day, underscoring Ivan’s dark mood. Sometimes I do well at conveying atmosphere and emotion; other times, I don’t. But I keep trying because it takes effort to succeed in anything.

When I write a scene, I ask myself why this character is reacting this way. Emotions without cause have no basis for existence, no foundation. They’re a lot of noise about nothing.

The emotion hits, and the character processes it. From a different work in progress:

It would have been the first battle spell John had cast in years, but no. His battle abilities were still gone, as if the inferno he’d unleashed in the culvert had burned them away.

Timing is crucial, and this is the moment to slip in a brief mention of the backstory. That way, we avoid an info dump, but the reader has the information needed to make the emotion tangible.

On the heels of that thought, John was overcome by the remembered sounds, the roar of flames, the shrieks of the enemy …. he sagged to the curb, gagging and gasping, unable to breathe properly, panicking under the weight of it.

emotionwordslist02LIRF06232020Simplicity has an impact, but I struggle to achieve balance. When looking for words with visceral and emotional power, consonants are your friend. Verbs that begin with consonants are powerful.

Use forceful words, and you won’t have to resort to a great deal of description. Weak word choices separate the reader from the experience, dulling the emotional impact of what could be an intense scene.

If you are between projects and don’t know what to write, a good exercise is to create an intense and dramatic scene for characters you currently have no story for. Give them a setting, and use it to emphasize how they feel.

The key to writing a good scene is to practice. You may find a later use for these characters, and that scene could be the seed of a longer story. The more we practice this aspect of the craft, the better we get at it.

And the more we write, the more individual and recognizable our writing voice becomes.


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Layers of Depth: Mood and Emotion #amwriting

Readers and authors often use the word mood interchangeably with atmosphere when describing a scene or passage. Like conjoined twins, mood and atmosphere march along together—separate but intertwined so closely that they seem as one.

mood-emotions-2-LIRF09152020Mood is long-term, a feeling residing in the background, going almost unnoticed. Mood affects (and is affected by) the emotions evoked within the story.

Atmosphere is also long-term but is sometimes more noticeable as it is a worldbuilding component. Atmosphere is the aspect of mood that setting conveys.

Emotion is immediate and short-term. It exists in the foreground but contributes to the overall atmosphere and mood.

In his book, Story, Robert McKee tells us that emotion is the experience of transition, of the characters moving between a positive and negative. “Story” by Robert McKee,

Much of my information comes from seminar videos on the craft of writing found on YouTube and posted by Robert McKee. He is an excellent teacher, and his textbook is a core component of my personal library. A wonderful 6-minute lesson on the difference between mood and emotion can be found at:

Robert McKee, Q&A: What Is the Difference Between Mood and Emotion?

While emotions are immediate, they can be subtle. I look for books where emotions are dynamic, because that is when the character’s internal struggle becomes personal to me.

Mood is a large word serving several purposes. It is created by the setting (atmosphere), the exchanges of dialogue (conversation), and the tone of the narrative (word choices, descriptions). It is also affected by (and refers to) the emotional state of the characters—their personal mood.

Mood-and-atmosphere-LIRF04302023Undermotivated emotions lack credibility and leave the reader feeling as if the story is flat. In real life, we have deep, personal reasons for our feelings, and so must our characters.

A woman shoots another woman. Why? Add in the factor of her child having been accidentally killed by the woman she murders, and you have high emotion and high drama. Therefore, just as in real life, the root cause for a character’s emotions is a fundamental motivation for their actions.

Which is more important, mood or emotion? Both and neither. Characters’ emotions affect the overall mood of a story. In turn, the atmosphere of a particular environment may affect the characters’ personal mood. Their individual attitudes affect the emotional state of the group.

Because emotion is the experience of transition from the negative to the positive and back again, emotion changes a character’s values, and they either grow or stagnate. This is part of the inferential layer, as the audience must infer (deduce) the experience. You can’t tell a reader how to feel. They must experience and understand (infer) what drives the character on a human level.

What is mood? Wikipedia says:

In literature, mood is the atmosphere of the narrative. Mood is created by means of setting (locale and surroundings in which the narrative takes place), attitude (of the narrator and of the characters in the narrative), and descriptions. Though atmosphere and setting are connected, they may be considered separately to a degree. Atmosphere is the aura of mood that surrounds the story. It is to fiction what the sensory level is to poetry.[1] Mood is established in order to affect the reader emotionally and psychologically and to provide a feeling for the narrative.

What is atmosphere? It is created by our word choices and is intangible, but it affects how the reader perceives the story. The setting contributes to the atmosphere, so it is a component of worldbuilding. But we should note that the setting is only a place; it is not atmosphere. Atmosphere comes into play when we place certain visual elements into the scenery with the intention of creating a mood in the reader.

  • Tumbleweeds rolling across a barren desert.
  • Waves crashing against cliffs.
  • Dirty dishes resting beside the sink.
  • A chill breeze wafting through a broken window.

Atmosphere is created as much by odors, scents, ambient sounds, and visuals as by the characters’ moods and emotions. It is a component of the environment but is also an ambiance because it is intentional.

We build atmosphere into a setting with the aim of creating a specific frame of mind or emotion in the reader.

I love it when an author drops me into an atmosphere that colors their world and shapes the characters’ moods.

So, now we know that atmosphere is environmental, separate but connected to the general emotional mood of a piece. From the story’s first paragraph, we want to establish a feeling of atmosphere, the general mood that will hint at what is to come.

storybyrobertmckeeRobert McKee tells us that the mood/dynamic of any story is there to make the emotional experience of our characters specific. It makes their emotions feel natural. After all, the mood and atmosphere Emily Brontë instilled into the setting of Wuthering Heights make the depictions of mental and physical cruelty seem like they would happen there.

Happy, sad, neutral—atmosphere and mood lend a flavor to the emotions our characters experience, giving them emphasis and making them real to the reader.

For me, as a writer, the inferential layer of a story is complicated. Creating a world-on-paper requires thought even when we live in that world. We know how the atmosphere and mood of our neighborhood feel when we walk to the store. But try conveying that mood and atmosphere in a letter to a friend – it’s harder than it looks.

Next up: a closer examination of emotions and why showing is so much more difficult (and sometimes dangerous) than telling.

Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Mood (literature),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed April 30, 2023).


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#FineArtFriday: What Remains? by Eberhard Marx 2016

Eberhard Marx

Title: (Deutsch) Was bleibt?

Title: (English) What remains?

Artist:  Eberhard Marx

Description: (Deutsch) surrealistisches Gemälde mit der Himmelsscheibe von Nebra

Description: (English) surrealist painting with the Nebra Sky Disc

Date:   19 May 2016

Today we are looking at Surrealism in art, as painted by a contemporary German artist, Eberhard Marx. This image comes from Wikimedia Commons, as does most of the work featured here.

When viewing surrealist art, the viewer can decide the intent of each element and how they are placed in the composition. The historical importance of the Nebra sky disc, the antiquity of the disc itself, and the craftsmanship that went into its making have always intrigued me, so this painting really caught my eye.

I visited the artist’s website and found where he offers us a way to view his works:

“Eberhard Marx wishes the viewer to take a walk in his paintings. The works are not botanical gardens with descriptions, but rather a bewitched park.” [1]

I have been enjoying doing just that!

About the Nebra sky disc, via Wikipedia:

The Nebra sky disc is a bronze disc of around 30 cm (12 in) diameter and a weight of 2.2 kg (4.9 lb), having a blue-green patina and inlaid with gold symbols. These symbols are interpreted generally as the Sun or full moon, a lunar crescent, and stars (including a cluster of seven stars interpreted as the Pleiades). Two golden arcs along the sides, interpreted to mark the angle between the solstices, were added later. A final addition was another arc at the bottom with internal parallel lines, which is usually interpreted as a solar boat with numerous oars, though some authors have also suggested that it may represent a rainbow, or the Aurora Borealis.

Nebra_disc_1The disc was found buried on the Mittelberg hill near Nebra in Germany. It is dated by archaeologists to c. 1800–1600 BCE and attributed to the Early Bronze Age Unetice culture.Various scientific analyses of the disc, the items found with the disc, and the find spot have confirmed the Early Bronze Age dating.

The Nebra sky disc features the oldest concrete depiction of astronomical phenomena known from anywhere in the world. In June 2013, it was included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register and termed “one of the most important archaeological finds of the twentieth century.” [2]

About Surrealism in Art, via Wikipedia:

Surrealism is a cultural movement that developed in Europe in the aftermath of World War I in which artists depicted unnerving, illogical scenes and developed techniques to allow the unconscious mind to express itself. Its aim was, according to leader André Breton, to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality”, or surreality. It produced works of painting, writing, theatre, filmmaking, photography, and other media.

Works of Surrealism feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur. However, many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost (for instance, of the “pure psychic automatism” Breton speaks of in the first Surrealist Manifesto), with the works themselves being secondary, i.e., artifacts of surrealist experimentation. Leader Breton was explicit in his assertion that Surrealism was, above all, a revolutionary movement. At the time, the movement was associated with political causes such as communism and anarchism. It was influenced by the Dada movement of the 1910s.

The term “Surrealism” originated with Guillaume Apollinaire in 1917. However, the Surrealist movement was not officially established until after October 1924, when the Surrealist Manifesto published by French poet and critic André Breton succeeded in claiming the term for his group over a rival faction led by Yvan Goll, who had published his own surrealist manifesto two weeks prior. The most important center of the movement was Paris, France. From the 1920s onward, the movement spread around the globe, impacting the visual arts, literature, film, and music of many countries and languages, as well as political thought and practice, philosophy, and social theory. [3]

I highly recommend a visit to the artist’s website, HOME | EBERHARD MARX ( You will find many more of his amazing paintings, or you can purchase prints if something interests you.

Credits and Attributions:

Image: Was bleibt? ( English: what remains?). Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Was bleibt.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, (accessed April 27, 2023).

[1] Quote from Eberhard Marx website, HOME | EBERHARD MARX ( (accessed April 27, 2023)


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Layers of Depth – a pond filled with words #amwriting

We often talk about the story arc and its component parts and features. But I often think that while a story is shaped like an arc, it is also like a pond filled with words. It is something vast and deep, set in an enclosed space.

MyWritingLife2021BWe know our story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We sense something murky and mysterious in the middle. We instinctively know the pond is made up of layers, although we may not consciously be aware of it or be able to explain it.

Depth is a component of our story, and we will look at it over the next few posts. Depth can be a puzzle that eludes many authors, as conveying it by merely using words requires thought and a bit of extra work.

Layer one, the surface layer, is the most obvious when we look at our pond made of words. It’s what we see when we approach the shore. The surface might be calm when you look at a pond filled with water. Or, if a storm is brewing, it will be ruffled and moving.

The surface of the word pond is the literal layer. It is the what-you-see-is-what-you-get layer. This is where we find the setting, the action, and all visual/physical experiences as our characters go about their lives.

Readers choose to buy a book based on what they see when they crack it open for a brief look. They recognize what they think is there because the book is in their favorite genre, and the cover and blurb reflect that. The opening pages let them see how the author writes, and they choose to buy or move on.

Inside the book, the surface reflects the actions and events. A gun is drawn, and the weapon is fired—what happened is obvious.

We play with the surface layer by telling our story using realism, surrealism, or fantasy.

Realism is a depiction of what undisputedly is. Romance, contemporary novels, political thrillers—any narrative set in the real world without introducing fantasy elements—is realism.

desaturated alice Tea setSurrealism seeks to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example, by the irrational juxtaposition of images—think Alice in Wonderland. It takes what is real and warps it to convey a subtler meaning.

Fantasy takes realism and imagines it as a different reality and world. Sometimes surreal elements are added. But a fantasy world is usually portrayed as our reality, and the fantastical elements are depicted as commonplace and ordinary.

This will be a fun layer to explore, with lots of wonderful art to help us along the way.

Back to that pond filled with words. Beneath the surface is the wide layer of an unknown quantity: the inferential layer. This is the layer where inference and implication come into play.

Perhaps at the outset, we saw a character draw a gun. This is where we show why the gun is there. We offer hints that imply reasons for the weapon being included in that scene. We show how the shooter comes to the place in the story where they squeezed the trigger.

Infer_Meme_LIRF06292019All the characters have reasons for their actions. The author offers implications and lets the reader come to their own conclusions. The reader sees the hints, allegations, and inferences, and the underlying story of each character takes shape in their mind.

In a good story, the path to the moment the trigger was pulled is complicated. Perhaps no one knows precisely what led to it, but some characters have bits of information. Your task is to fill the middle of the pond with clues, hints, and allegations. This is where INFER and IMPLY come into play.

An author implies. Readers want to solve puzzles, but they need clues. One meaning is displayed on the surface of the story. But deeper down, we enclose the true meaning, a secret folded within the narrative.

A reader infers. The reader deduces or catches the meaning of something that is not said directly by following the clues (inferences) we leave them. In reading the inferential layer of the story, they deduce the meaning of what is about to happen and receive a surge of endorphins.

They get another surge if they guessed wrong but see how it all makes sense.

No matter what genre we write, we want the reader to feel they have earned the information they are gaining. They must be able to deduce what you imply. As a listener (reader), you can only extrapolate knowledge from information someone or something has offered you.

Serious readers want this layer to mean something on a level that isn’t obvious. They want to experience that feeling of triumph for having caught the meaning. That surge of endorphins keeps them involved and makes them want more of your work.

powerwordsWordCloudLIRF06192021This layer will be shallower in Romance novels because the book’s point isn’t a more profound meaning—it’s interpersonal relationships on a surface level. However, there will still be some areas of mystery that aren’t spelled out entirely because the interpersonal intrigues are the story.

Books for younger readers might also be less deep on this level because they don’t yet have the real-world experience to understand what is implied.

This middle layer is, in my opinion, the toughest layer for an author to get a grip on.

Below the middle Layer is Layer three, the bottom of our pond filled with words. Whatever passes from the surface travels through the middle and rests at the bottom.

plot is the frame upon which the themes of a story are supportedThis is the interpretive level:

  • Themes
  • Commentary
  • Messages
  • Symbolism
  • Archetypes

This layer is sometimes the easiest for me to discuss because it deals with finite concepts. Theme is one of my favorite subjects to write about, as is symbolism. Commentary is something I haven’t gone into in-depth, nor have I really discussed conveying messages. Archetype is another underpinning of a story.

My personal goal is to gain a better understanding of the subtler aspects of writing as I do the research for this series. Whenever I come across a book or website with good information on these subjects, I will share it.


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How Writing Advice can be both Good and Bad #amwriting

Authors who are just starting out need to learn the craft. We humans find it easy to remember simple sayings, little proverbs, if you will.

My Writing LifeThe commonly bandied proverbs of writing are meant to encourage us to write lean, descriptive prose and craft engaging conversations. These sayings exist because the craft of writing involves learning the rules of grammar, developing a broader vocabulary, developing characters, building worlds, etc., etc.

The truth is, we can’t know everything about the craft just by learning a few common proverbs. They help, but we could spend a lifetime studying the craft and never learn all there is to know about the subject.

Taken too seriously, simple mantras of writing advice are dangerous. This is because they can be taken to extremes by novice authors armed with little actual knowledge. An author with too rigid a view of these sayings will not be a good reviewer or beta reader. They won’t be able to see beyond the rules that imprison them and limit their creative existence.

  • Remove all adverbs.

This advice is complete crap. Use common sense, and don’t use unnecessary adverbs.

  • Don’t use speech tags.

What? Who said that, and why are there no speech tags in this drivel?

  • Show, Don’t Tell. Don’t Ever Don’t do it!

Nothing is more ordinary than a story where a person’s facial expressions take center stage, hollow displays of emotion with no substance. Lips stretch into smiles, but the musculature of the face is only a part of the signals that reveal the character’s interior emotions.

Flaubert on writing LORF07252022Then, there are the stories where the author leans too heavily on the internal. Creased foreheads are replaced with stomach-churning, gut-wrenching shock or wide-eyed trembling of hands.

And don’t forget the recurring moments of weak-kneed nausea.

For me, the most challenging part of writing the final draft of any novel is balancing the visual indicators of emotion with the more profound, internal clues.

  • Write what you know.

Please, use your imagination. Did Tolkien actually go to Middle Earth and visit a volcano? No, but he did serve in WWI and lived and worked in Oxford, which is not notable for abounding in elves, hobbits, or orcs.

So yes, Tolkien understood senseless conflicts and total warfare—because he had experienced it. His books detail his view of the utter devastation of war but are set in a fantasy environment. Your life experiences shape your writing, but your imagination is the story’s fuel and source.

  • If you’re bored with your story, your reader will be too.

That’s not true. You have spent months immersed in that story, years even. You know it inside and out, but your reader doesn’t.

Commonly discussed writing proverbs go on and on.

  • Kill your darlings.

Jack Kerouak on writing LIRF07252022Indeed, we shouldn’t be married to our favorite prose or characters. Sometimes we must cut a paragraph, a chapter, or even a character we love because it no longer fits the story. But have a care – people read for pleasure. Perhaps that phrase does belong there. Maybe that arrangement of words really was the best part of that paragraph.

  • Cut all exposition.

A story must be about the characters, the conflict, and the resolution. So, why are we in this handbasket? And where are we going? If we’re plucked from our comfy lives and dropped into the Handbasket to Hell, we want to know why.

The timing of when we insert the exposition into the narrative is crucial. The reader needs to know what the characters know. But they only require that knowledge at the moment it becomes necessary. The reader wants to understand the narrative but doesn’t want information dumped on them.

Bad advice is good advice taken to an extreme. The internet and social media allow us to make connections with other writers from all over the world. We gather in virtual groups and share what we have learned about the craft. Some of us become evangelical, born-again believers that the words of those great writers who have gone before us are the only truths we need to know.

While that isn’t so, we must remember that all writing advice has roots in truth.

  • Overuse of adverbs fluffs up the prose and ruins the taste of an author’s work.
  • Too many speech tags, especially odd and bizarre ones, can stop the eye. When the characters are snorting, hissing, and ejaculating their dialogue, I will put the book down and never pick it up again. My favorite authors seem to stick to common tags like said and replied.
  • Too much telling takes the adventure out of the reading experience. Too much showing is tedious and can be disgusting. It takes effort to find that happy medium, but writing is work.
  • Know what you are writing about. Research your subject and, if necessary, interview people in that profession. Readers often know more than you do about certain things.

proverbs definition wikipediaHandy, commonly debated mantras become engraved in stone because proverbs are how we educate ourselves. Unless an author is fortunate enough to have a formal education in the subject, we must rely on the internet and handy self-help guides to learn the many nuances of the writing craft.

That is what I have done. I buy books about the craft of writing modern, 21st-century genre fiction and rely on the advice offered by the literary giants of the past. I seek a rounded view of crafting prose and look for other tools that I can use to improve my writing. I think this makes me a better, more informed reader. (My ego speaking.)

But sometimes online writer’s forums are a little – shall we say dicey? We come into contact with people armed with a bit of knowledge, a large ego, and a loud voice. Be careful, and don’t share your work with any group until you have seen how they treat each other.

Some writers are fearful of what others might say. They bludgeon their work to death, desperately trying to fit it into narratives defined by absolute limits.

In the process, every bit of creativity is shaved off the corners, and a story with immense potential becomes boring and difficult to read. As an avid reader and reviewer, I see this all too often.

I study the craft of writing because I love it, and I apply the proverbs and rules of advice gently. Whether my work is good or bad—I don’t know. But I write the stories I want to read, so I am writing for a niche audience of one: me.

However, I read two or three books a week. I love books where the authors clearly know the rules but break them when necessary.

So, my friends—go forth, and write. Now, more than ever, the world needs more novels.


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#FineArtFriday: Vincent van Gogh Painting Sunflowers by Paul Gauguin 1888 (revisited)

Title: Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers

Artist: Paul Gauguin

Genre: portrait

Date: 1888

Medium: oil on jute

Dimensions: Height: 73 cm (28.7 ″); Width: 91 cm (35.8 ″)

For a brilliant look a the life and art of Paul Gauguin, see:

Why Is Gauguin So Controversial? (Waldemar Januszczak Documentary) | Perspective – YouTube

For a wonderful documentary on Vincent’s Sunflowers, see:

The Mystery of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers | Raiders Of The Lost Art | Perspective – YouTube

About this Painting, via Wikipedia:

The portrait was painted when Gauguin visited Van Gogh in Arles, France. Vincent had pleaded with Gauguin to come to Arles to start an art-colony. Gauguin eventually agreed after funding for the transportation and expenses was provided by Vincent’s brother Theo Van Gogh; however Gauguin only stayed for two months as the two often quarreled and the famous incident where Van Gogh severed his left ear with a razor occurred after an argument with Gauguin.

Van Gogh’s first impression on seeing the painting was that Gauguin had depicted him as a madman. He later softened his view. “My face has lit up after all a lot since, but it was indeed me, extremely tired and charged with electricity as I was then.”

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (UK: /ˈɡoʊɡæ̃/, US: /ɡoʊˈɡæ̃/; French: [øʒɛn ɑ̃ʁi pɔl ɡoɡɛ̃]; 7 June 1848 – 8 May 1903) was a French post-Impressionist artist. Unappreciated until after his death, Gauguin is now recognized for his experimental use of color and Synthetist style that were distinctly different from Impressionism. Toward the end of his life, he spent ten years in French Polynesia, and most of his paintings from this time depict people or landscapes from that region.

Gauguin’s relationship with Vincent proved fraught. In 1888, at (van Gogh’s brother)Theo’s instigation, Gauguin and Vincent spent nine weeks painting together at Vincent’s Yellow House in Arles. Their relationship deteriorated and eventually Gauguin decided to leave. On the evening of 23 December 1888 according to a much later account of Gauguin’s, van Gogh confronted Gauguin with a razor blade. Later the same evening, van Gogh cut off his own left ear. He wrapped the severed tissue in newspaper and handed it to a woman who worked at a brothel both Gauguin and van Gogh had visited, and asked her to “keep this object carefully, in remembrance of me”. Van Gogh was hospitalized the following day and Gauguin left Arles.

Credits and Attributions:

Vincent van Gogh Painting Sunflowers by Paul Gauguin 1888 [Public domain]

Wikipedia contributors, “Paul Gauguin,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed May 31, 201 Wikipedia contributors, “The Painter of Sunflowers,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed May 31, 2019). 9).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Paul Gauguin – Vincent van Gogh painting sunflowers – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, (accessed May 31, 2019).


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Life, Parkinson’s, and writing to an outline #amwriting

Writers live one life on paper and another in the real world. No matter what genre we write in, the real world can be more challenging to navigate, more confusing, and more important to enjoy to its fullest.

MyWritingLife2021We have gotten a grip on my husband’s battle with Parkinson’s Disease. We can mitigate his symptoms with the right diet, exercises, and medications, simple things that help no matter what your underlying health issues are.

While rough terrain and loose soil or sand are a problem, he can still go for long walks and enjoy the natural world. We choose our paths carefully and have found that bike trails and running paths are excellent places to walk.

Our small town has a large park built around an old flooded quarry. The trail through there follows an old railroad grade and is a beautiful place to walk year-round.

As I have mentioned, we are preparing to sell our house and move twenty miles north, back to the city where we were raised. We need to be where there is good public transportation and easy access to our health care providers.

We’ve been in this house since 2005, and if I had one wish, it would be to pick our house up and move it to where we need to be. We have made many memories in this house, and it’s what our grandchildren think of as home.

When we bought this house, it was the height of the housing bubble, and for many years we owed more on the house than we could have sold it for. Now is the right time to put the house on the market. It’s a good time to embark on our new adventure.

We will indulge ourselves with plays and concerts, going to parties at night – things we haven’t been able to do since the doctor banned my hubby from driving. I don’t drive at night because of my night blindness, so he always drove after dark.

In the town where we plan to move, the streets are well-lit by streetlamps, and I have no trouble seeing even in the rain. But out here in the country, the roads are pitch black. Right now, we need to be home before sunset.

This week we are making another foray, possibly getting on the list for the apartment we want. We have our eye on three places, each with different amenities. No matter where we go, we need two bedrooms, as one will be the office.

Parkinson’s Disease has made us more aware of what truly matters in life. I’m turning seventy this June, and I feel no different than when I was thirty. I don’t have as much crazy energy, but I’m still that woman. Just a little wiser.

And slower.

And Greg is still that man. His diagnosis has motivated us to make the most of life, and in our new town, we will have plenty of opportunities to do just that.

yoga04182023LIRFLSVT BIG therapy has taught my otherwise quiet and reserved husband to live large and loud. Actually, anyone can benefit from these exercises.

I have found that the more I accomplish on the packing up and sorting front, the better I write. I’m not the world’s best housekeeper. Dust is dealt with when it becomes a problem, but I cannot handle clutter. I need my space to be visually organized, or I can’t focus.

Unfortunately, clutter is the name of the game at this point. We take a carload of objects to donate and then pack a few things we don’t want to part with. Then we stack the boxes in this corner (if they are keepers) or that one (if they are going to charity).

Things that can go to the unheated storage unit will be taken there, but pictures and certain documents must be stored in a dry heated space.

On the good side, our daughter had her piano moved to her home sixty miles north of here, which gave us a place to stack those boxes that can’t go to the storage unit.

Right now, in my writing life, my work-in-progress is at a place where I am trying to push the story forward. Below is where I am at in my outline – the crossed-out scenes have been written, and I am working on the next one, which will be crossed out when I move on to the chapter that follows this section.

Second plot point in Lenn’s Story

  1. Lenn goes to the port first, then walks back up the High Street, past the Temple complex, and to the East gate.

  2. Nutter questions him about the Tax Man. Lenn explains that the man isn’t from the Temple but is a thief.

  3. Lenn, Mikel, and Callie go to the Portside Inn, get more info on the Tax Man. The local ale hound, Rahlie, is a little too interested in Callie.

  4. Lenn steps in before she can zap the idiot with her magic. Initially upset with Lenn, Callie relaxes when he tells her he doesn’t want anyone to know she is more than just a healer. He wants her other abilities to be a secret weapon.

  5. New chapter: The following day Salyan arrives with the recruits. His drama ensues.

  6. Lenn convinces Salyan to return to glassmaking despite his father’s wishes, and it ends well. Irina asks Salyan to walk to the Odensday market with her.

boxLIRF04182023Mornings usually find us wondering what we can get done that day, and evenings are often spent contemplating what could have gone better. I write whenever I can, and often end up rewriting something that seemed like a good idea at first, but which no longer works.

But no matter how the day goes, we laugh at the silliest things. And that is what life should be – full of laughter and plenty of reasons to wake up the next day.


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Creating drama by adding the unexpected #amwriting

As writers, our job is to take a one-dimensional idea and give it depth. Our goal is to make the reader believe our narrative unfolds in a real, three-dimensional world.

WritingCraft_dramatic_ironyWe add depth and dimension to our work layer by layer. Some layers are more abstract than others, but each layer adds an element that gives a sense of reality to the fictional world.

When you add a layer of the unexpected to a scene, the reader becomes interested in discovering more. They keep turning the pages.

One literary device I enjoy when it’s done well in a novel is irony. Irony can be unexpected. Adding irony or satire gives a scene an element of surprise and the reader experiences a moment of “ah hah!” The mundane becomes special.

Wikipedia says this about irony:

Irony can be categorized into different types, including verbal ironydramatic irony, and situational irony. Verbal, dramatic, and situational irony are often used for emphasis in the assertion of a truth. The ironic form of simile, used in sarcasm, and some forms of litotes can emphasize one’s meaning by the deliberate use of language which states the opposite of the truth, denies the contrary of the truth, or drastically and obviously understates a factual connection.

I love authors who inject the different forms of irony and drama or both into their work without being heavy-handed.

Politics, even on a local level, offer plenty of opportunities for drama, which is why I don’t watch the evening news. But let’s plot the first quarter of a contemporary novel about a struggling marriage. We will make one spouse the mayor of their small town and the other a lawyer working for a large corporation. The corporation wants to establish more of a presence in the community, and it’s his job to lobby for that.

What_Is_a_Litote_LIRF04152023The mayor likes their community’s small-town feeling and ambiance and doesn’t want it to change. Her husband is trapped, as his job is to ensure his employer gets their foot in the door. He struggled for years to rise to his current position and can’t imagine giving it up.

This is the source of friction in their relationship.

Soon after we establish the domestic dynamics of the couple, let’s create a scene where the mayor is doing her job, overseeing a meeting involving a committee’s conversation about what to do with a plot of land.

A third group who has an interest in the property has been deliberately excluded from the discussion. They are demanding the land be turned into community gardens. Their aggressive dialogue and confrontational picketing have led to the meeting being closed to the public.

In itself, the topic of choosing whether to fund a senior center/boys and girls club or sell it to a corporation that will hire hundreds of local people would be boring.

But by closing the meeting to all but two parties, we imply that something shady may be going on.

In the scenes leading up to the meeting, we meet the other influential people in this town. Their private conversations before the meeting will offer snips of background information as they move the story toward the scene in the conference room.

Once the meeting has been called to order, arguments will ensue as both sides present their case. Outside, the picketers who want the community gardens make their voices heard.

These dynamics offer many opportunities for ratcheting up the tension. The conversations inside the meeting and outside will be full of information only those parties have but which the reader must know. Irony could be injected in the blatant ignorance of some characters on all three sides and the comments they naively (or arrogantly) make.

So let’s add some dramatic irony to this scene. This literary device gives the reader information that at least one of the characters in the narrative is unaware of. This puts the reader a step ahead but is also a hook because wanting to see how this plays out raises the tension.

In our scene, an unknown woman makes her first appearance. She enters the empty conference room ahead of the meeting and places a backpack under the table. She isn’t involved with any of the three concerned groups, so who is she? What is her agenda? She is a member of a hidden group of anarchists who intend to bring down the corporation, and this is their opening volley.

This is where dramatic irony comes into play: the reader watches as she adjusts the backpack’s contents, sets the timer to go off at 19:25 (7:25 pm), and then departs, careful to leave no fingerprints.

Dramatic irony – the reader knows a device has been planted in the room, but the players in the scene do not.

Now every second that the conversation drags on ratchets up the tension. Each time a committee member gets up to get a glass of water or make a phone call, and the clock on the wall ticks toward 7:25, you wonder: will they escape death or terrible injury?

MErcutio quoteAnd we, the readers, desperately want our protagonist, the mayor, to get up and go to the coffeemaker. We can’t rest until we know if she either gets up and steps away from the table or someone notices the abandoned backpack and clears the meeting room.

Drama works best when presented so the reader feels the emotion but hasn’t been told what to think. We want to experience the stories ourselves.

Satire, sarcasm, irony, and understatements in conversations can lend a lighter tone to a dark passage. These lighter moments make characters feel relatable, showing them as being self-aware.

Dramatic irony is knowing something the players don’t. We know the backpack is beneath the conference table and fear the outcome.

But will that outcome be what we expect? Another layer of dramatic irony is applied when the backpack is detonated by the bomb squad, spraying the room with glitter and red paint.


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#FineArtFriday: Rhetoricians at a Window by Jan Steen ca. 1666 (revisite

Artist: Jan Steen  (1625/1626–1679)

Title: Rhetoricians at a Window

Genre: genre art

Date: c. 1661-66

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 759.46 mm (29.90 in); Width: 586.23 mm (23.07 in)

Collection: Philadelphia Museum of Art

I regularly look to art for ideas. One of my favorite images is this one, Rhetoricians at a Window by the Dutch master, Jan Steen. It has appeared here several times, but no matter how often I see this painting, I find something new to appreciate about it.

What I love about this painting:

This is one of my all-time favorite Dutch genre paintings. The vivid characters who inhabit the scene inspired some the characters who pass through my Billy’s Revenge stories, people my protagonists meet along the way. These jolly rogues have such vivid personalities that the viewer immediately feels a kinship to them. Who were they? Did they keep their day jobs?

The reading of a poem or play was clearly the opportunity for the performers to have a good time. At left, the group’s orator reads a paper titled Lof Liet (Song of Praise), while the poet who composed the verse looks on over his shoulder. From the drinker in the shadows of the background, to the grapevines growing around the window, Steen tells us that wine and rhetoric are clearly entwined.

I love the inclusion of both “the critic” who leans his head on his hand and listens analytically, and the man behind him, who is clearly “a little over the limit,” and supports himself by grasping the window frame and heartily agreeing with some point.

The actor who reads is clearly enjoying himself, as are the others.

Symbolism: Some have said the characters in this painting represent the different emotions of the human condition:

  • Sanguine, (active, enthusiastic, and social)
  • Choleric, (fast, irritable, and short-tempered)
  • Melancholic, (analytical, quiet, and wise)
  • Phlegmatic, (peaceful and relaxed)

Thanks to Eelko Kappe’s wonderful article on this painting, Rhetoricians at the Window by Jan Steen, I now have four new words to broaden my vocabulary. I may never have a use for them, but now I know what they mean!

About the Artist (Via Wikipedia):

Jan Havickszoon Steen (c. 1626 – buried 3 February 1679) was a Dutch Golden Age painter, one of the leading genre painters of the 17th century. His works are known for their psychological insight, sense of humour and abundance of colour.

Daily life was Jan Steen’s main pictorial theme. Many of the genre scenes he portrayed, as in The Feast of Saint Nicholas, are lively to the point of chaos and lustfulness, even so much that “a Jan Steen household”, meaning a messy scene, became a Dutch proverb (een huishouden van Jan Steen). Subtle hints in his paintings seem to suggest that Steen meant to warn the viewer rather than invite him to copy this behaviour. Many of Steen’s paintings bear references to old Dutch proverbs or literature. He often used members of his family as models, and painted quite a few self-portraits in which he showed no tendency of vanity.

Steen did not shy from other themes: he painted historical, mythological and religious scenes, portraits, still lifes and natural scenes. His portraits of children are famous. He is also well known for his mastery of light and attention to detail, most notably in Persian rugs and other textiles.

Steen was prolific, producing about 800 paintings, of which roughly 350 survive. His work was valued much by contemporaries and as a result he was reasonably well paid for his work. He did not have many students—only Richard Brakenburgh is recorded—but his work proved a source of inspiration for many painters. [2]

About this painting, Via Wikipedia:

Chambers of rhetoric (Dutch: rederijkerskamers) were dramatic societies in the Low Countries. Their members were called Rederijkers (singular Rederijker), from the French word ‘rhétoricien’, and during the 15th and 16th centuries were mainly interested in dramas and lyrics. These societies were closely connected with local civic leaders and their public plays were a form of early public relations for the city. [1]

In 1945, Sturla Gudlaugsson, a specialist in Dutch seventeenth-century painting and iconography and Director of the Netherlands Institute for Art History and the Mauritshuis in The Hague, wrote The Comedians in the work of Jan Steen and his Contemporaries, which revealed that a major influence on Jan Steen’s work was the guild of the Rhetoricians or Rederijkers and their theatrical endeavors.

It is often suggested that Jan Steen’s paintings are a realistic portrayal of Dutch 17th-century life. However, not everything he did was a purely realistic representation of his day-to-day environment. Many of his scenes contain idyllic and bucolic fantasies and a declamatory emphasis redolent of theater.

Jan Steen’s connection to theater is easily verifiable through his connection to the Rederijkers. There are two kinds of evidence for this connection. First, Jan Steen Steen’s uncle belonged to the Rhetoricians in Leiden, where Steen was born and lived a substantial part of his life. Second, Jan Steen portrayed many scenes from the lives of the Rederijkers, an example being the painting Rhetoricians at a Window of 1658–65. The piece is currently held in the Philadelphia Museum of Art which was established in February 1876. The humanity, humor and optimism of the figures suggest that Jan Steen knew these men well and wanted to portray them positively.

With his lavish and moralising style, it is logical that Steen would employ the stratagems from theater for his purposes. There is conclusive evidence that the characters in Steen’s paintings are predominantly theatrical characters and not ones from reality. [2]

Credits and Attributions:

This post first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy  in September of 2020.

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Jan Steen,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed September 10, 2020).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Chamber of rhetoric,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed September 10, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Jan Steen, Dutch (active Leiden, Haarlem, and The Hague) – Rhetoricians at a Window – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository,,_Dutch_(active_Leiden,_Haarlem,_and_The_Hague)_-_Rhetoricians_at_a_Window_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=355150081 (accessed September 10, 2020).


Filed under #FineArtFriday, writing

The Mushy Midpoint #amwriting

I am not good at winging it when plotting a novel. I might begin with nothing but a few characters and a loose idea for a plot, but somewhere toward the middle, I will lose momentum.

F Scott Fitzgerald on Good Writing LIRF07252022I will have to spend a day or two thinking about the story as a whole and writing an outline as a framework to guide the story. The plot points I originally planned to occur at each of the four quarters of the story will be met, but how?

In my head, I know that character plus objective plus risk equals a story. In practice, it’s more complicated than it looks.

Every story begins with the opening act, introducing the characters and setting the scene. It then kicks into gear with the occurrence of the “inciting incident,” that first plot point that triggers the rest of the story.

I’m very good at getting this part on paper. But here is where my storytelling skills sometimes fail me.

At the midpoint of my outline, another serious incident is scheduled to occur, an event setting them back even further. They will be aware that they may not achieve their objectives after all.

While I  know that bad things have to happen at this place, I sometimes can’t figure out what those things are.

In my logical mind, I know that the protagonists must get creative and work hard to achieve their desired goals. I know they must overcome their doubts and make themselves stronger.

But what are those doubts?

We have arrived at the first pinch point. The characters are on the hunt for the MacGuffin. The antagonist makes an appearance, and the heroes survive the first roadblock and—


This sudden blank wall is where creating an outline comes into play. But since I know what the ending is that I must write to, I approach this part of the outline as if I were writing a murder mystery.

When I can’t figure out the middle, I start at the end of my story and work my way backward until I have joined the dots connecting the ending to the beginning.

Crime writers ask themselves several things when they begin plotting a mystery. We can all learn from their method:

  • What crime was committed?
  • Who committed the crime?
  • How did they pull it off?
  • Why did they do it?

So, I look at what I originally planned for the ending and ask, “What led us to this point?”

e.m. forster plot memeThe midpoint of the story arc is often where the protagonists lose their faith or have a crisis of conscience. Something terrible happens, and they must learn to live with it.

What was that terrible thing?

Maybe the protagonist has suffered a terrible personal loss or setback. Because of this, maybe she no longer believes in herself or the people she once looked up to.

How was her own personal weakness responsible for this turn of events?

How does this cause the protagonist to question everything she ever believed in?

What gives her the strength and the courage to pull herself together and finish the job?

How is she different after this personal death and rebirth event?

This midpoint crisis is where the protagonist makes the hard decisions and learns she truly has the courage to do the job. The antagonist has had their day in the sun and could possibly win.

What I sometimes forget is this: plot arcs hinge on our characters and their reasons for being there. No matter what genre we’re writing in, giving the individual players strong motivations makes the story easier to write.

If I haven’t made their motivations strong enough by the midpoint, I will lose track of the plot.

At the beginning of my story, I will know what “the crime” is, the incident that throws my characters into the action. I never lose track of that—it’s the middle that gets mushy for me.

I will know who the antagonist is and why they are acting against my main characters. I will even know why it is all happening.

The part I struggle with is the how.

WilliamBlakeImaginationLIRF05072022So, starting at the end, I look at my characters’ location when the story finishes. Then I ask myself what they were doing just before the final encounter.

And before they did that, what were they doing? What did they accomplish to move the story forward to that place? What location did they begin that part of the journey from, and why were they there?

I work my way backward through each step of the problem. It’s not a perfect method, and may not work for everyone. But by working in reverse from a known point, I can see what needs to happen and begin to write the story again.


Filed under writing