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To rant, or not to rant

I was listening to a recent Writing Excuses podcast episode and, while this might surprise some of you, the topic was really riling me up. I considered blogging about it for today, but the more I wrote and contemplated it, the more frustrated and opinionated I got. I don’t get riled up and ranty very often, and I’m almost never public about it, so I decided to forgo that blogging path. Confrontation and debate are not among my strengths.

But that left me trying to decide what to write about and it occurred to me how few people these days make this decision. How many bloggers get riled up about something and instead of taking a step back to think about how they feel rationally, they hop on the internet and just start ranting? How many important discussions and debates are derailed simply because everyone involved is too emotional to really consider all the arguments logically?

This is why I made the decision to avoid all politics and social justice topics on basically all public platforms. I know my strengths and weaknesses and my biggest weakness is keeping my emotions out of arguments and discussions. It’s the biggest reason I try to avoid confrontation most of the time. It’s just too emotionally draining.

That’s not to say everyone should avoid confrontation or that there’s no place for healthy debate. But what would happen if more people took just five or ten minutes to think about their feelings and opinions before jumping on the rant train? What if more people were able to read things that upset them and instead of immediately throwing out accusations and insults, they took the time to calm down before engaging?

Because while our feelings are real and natural, how we manage those feelings says quite a lot about our maturity, whether we want it to or not.

I suppose I’ve learned most of this through parenting and having to eat my words. A lot. Like when I tell my 7 year old that throwing his legos won’t make them work better and he brings up that time I broke the trash can because the bag tore.

Kid: 1 Mommy: 0

I’m not exactly sure what point I’m trying to make with this blog post, or if I’m trying to make a point at all, but it’s what’s been on my mind. Hopefully it’s been thought provoking. Or if not thought provoking, perhaps nap invoking. And naps are always good.

And no, I’m not going to tell you what the topic of the podcast was. You’ll just have to listen and guess which episode I’m referring to.

Ivy talks about description. Again.

Okay mortals, Moos has gotten countless questions about this over the years, so I’m gonna clear things up for you. And no, this isn’t just a recap of the Character Description post I did awhile back. This is completely different. Just read it, okay!

Description

Here’s the truth. Describing stuff is easy. The chair is blue. See? Easy.

Describing stuff well? Now that’s hard. Really hard.

Why? Because telling someone what something looks like is a simple task. Just make a list of the things you see. Bam. Done.

But that isn’t very interesting, is it? After a while, even the prettiest list of observations can begin to feel boring.

Showing someone what something feels like, however, is far more complex. And that is what makes great descriptions. Emotion.

Let’s use the example of the blue chair.

1. Be specific

“Blue chair” is neither interesting nor specific. (Now, if the chair is not important and doesn’t deserve the reader’s focus, then calling it a blue chair is probably fine. You don’t want to pay too much attention to objects that the characters won’t interact with or don’t have any significance to the story.)

The problem with using nonspecific nouns is I still don’t know what this chair really looks like. Sure, I know it’s not a red table or a yellow curtain, but that only tells me what it isn’t, not what it is. Is it a rocker, or a lounger? Is it lavender, or navy?

So let’s get specific and make it a navy La-Z-Boy. (Brand names can be especially useful, but keep in mind what brands your target audience will be familiar with, and which ones they won’t recognize.)

2. Use your senses

The second mistake most new writers make (heck, plenty of seasoned writers, too) is they describe only how things look and forget to consider how they smell, sound, feel, and when applicable, how they taste. Adding more of the senses will give your descriptions an extra zing and make your settings really come alive.

So let’s say our navy La-Z-Boy is velvet soft, smells faintly of pipe tobacco, and creaks really loud when rocked a little too hard. See, not only is this chair getting interesting, it’s beginning to feel real. Which brings us to the final step in writing great descriptions.

What, you thought we were done? Well, sure. I suppose you could stop there if you really wanted. It is pretty good description. But it’s not great yet. So if you’re happy with pretty good, then by all means, continue with your writing.

If not, keep reading to find out how pretty good description becomes great.

3. Give it meaning

This is the most difficult part, and the primary reason Moos finds description to be so much work. Whether you’re writing in first person or omniscient third, your descriptions should show the reader how the person describing the object feels about it.

For example, a cop would describe a victim’s wedding ring far differently than the victim’s partner would.

But even that can be too simple. Because not only would the cop describe the ring with the cold efficiency the job requires, but there should be the added color of how the cop is feeling in that moment. Perhaps he was dumped recently, in which case he might feel a jab of resentment at the sight of the ring before putting his emotions back in check and logging the evidence with a bit more coldness than necessary. Now it’s not just a ring, but a vehicle through which you can show the character’s emotions and personality.

“But that doesn’t work in omniscient third person point of view! None of my characters are telling the story.”

Yes, actually. It does.

Take the beginning of The Hobbit.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

Not only does this description of various kinds of holes use multiple senses and a few specifics, the way it’s written shows the narrator’s special love for hobbit-holes and perhaps a bit of disdain for any other kind of hole the reader might be imagining. As a narrator, this person doesn’t ever take part in the story, but they still express some small measure of emotion within their descriptions throughout the story.

Or how about this section from the first chapter of Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman.

“‘More along the lines of the birds they take down mines.’ Mr. Vandemar nodded, comprehension dawning slowly: yes, a canary. Mr. Ross had no other resemblance to a canary. He was huge – almost as big as Mr. Vandemar – and extremely grubby, and quite hairless, and he said very little, although he had made a point of telling each of them that he liked to kill things, and he was good at it; and this amused Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, much as Genghis Khan might have been amused by the swagger of a young Mongol who had recently pillaged his first village or burnt his first yurt. He was a canary, and he never knew it. So Mr. Ross went first, in his filthy T-shirt and his crusted blue jeans, and Croup and Vandemar walked behind him, in their elegant black suits.”

This quote is a little more subtle, but you still get the sense that the narrator pities the dimwitted Mr. Ross and is perhaps a bit judgmental of Croup and Vandemar and their high handed methods of self preservation. Again, this narrator is in no way involved in the story, but because of the feeling behind this description, these characters practically jump off the page.

So let’s apply this last step to our navy La-Z-Boy. And just for the sake of contrast we’ll write it twice. Once in first person and again in omniscient third.


The old La-Z-Boy creaked as I sank into its navy velvet, my throat clogging as the familiar scent of pipe tobacco surrounded me.


The butt print in the sagging La-Z-Boy was clearly visible from the worn velvet and the pale spot where it used to match its navy arms. Not even a thorough fumigation would have erased the thick stench of pipe tobacco, and it squealed when she sat in it, so it wouldn’t have been worth the effort anyway. And yet she smiled at the memories the old chair rekindled.


That’s a heck of a lot better than just a “blue chair,” don’t you think?

These two examples describe the exact same chair, but in vastly different ways. Because no two people will feel the same way about any object. It’s those feelings that your descriptions should focus on. Your reader shouldn’t just be able to see what you’re describing, but feel something about what they’re seeing as well.

And that, dear mortals, is how you write great description. A fun exercise that Moos uses to practice is to look around and pick a random object. Then describe that object three times from the perspective of three different people.

Now, if you don’t mind, I have to pull Moos’s head out of editing chapter one.

Again.

Ivy out.

Moos’s Musings: Ready Player One

First of all, apologies. I seem to have mistaken Tuesday for Wednesday, and then I had to rewrite half of this post due to syncing issues, so perhaps we can just pretend today is Wednesday and this post isn’t a day late. Yeah? Awesome!

As Ivy mentioned this past weekend, I’m starting a new blog segment that I’m calling Moos’s Musings. In these posts I’ll share my thoughts and opinions on some creative work I’ve read, watched, observed, etc. It may be a book, a movie, a new creative tool of some sort. Works I’ve consumed that I happen to have an opinion on.

Now considering I don’t consume nearly as much creative work as I used to (and among those that I do explore, even fewer I have conclusive opinions on), Moos’s Musings won’t come up every week, maybe not even every other week. I will try to share one every month if I can, but I’m not going to form opinions on things just to have something to share with all of you. As Ivy would say, “I ain’t got time for that!”

So, if I happen to see a movie, read a book, or try something new and feel like sharing my thoughts, I will do so with a new Moos’s Musings. Because mooses do like to muse on occasion.

Let’s get started!

Ready Player One.

By Ernest Cline

First, rather than write my own, poorly paraphrased description, I’ll just quote Goodreads. No one knows the book better than the author after all.

“In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.”

Good, now we’re all familiar with the story. Let’s get to the musing. And don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers.

Plot

While the plot isn’t exactly what makes this book stand out, it was executed quite well. It’s your typical treasure hunt storyline, with the twist of being set in a virtual world (more on that later) and all the clues and challenges being centered around 80s entertainment trivia. And it’s all those 80s references that really make this book stand out. If you’re familiar with most of them, you’ll no doubt love this book, but even if you’re not, Cline wrote it well enough that you can still enjoy the story. Because he focuses on the nostalgia Halliday felt for all of these movies and games and books. And as Wade learns more and more about this time period, he gradually comes to love the 80s almost as much as Halliday did.

Another aspect I loved was the romantic subplot. While the movie, in my opinion, overdid this part a bit, the book handled it much more realistically. Okay, as realistically as you can in a science fiction novel. The book lightly seasoned the plot with a bit of romance while the movie marinated the whole thing in it. Now, I’m not saying the movie is a romance disguised as an action movie, because the treasure hunt is still the main focus, but the romance is a lot more subtle in the book.

Now where I’m on the fence here is how the book and the movie connected the clues and challenges differently.

In the book, the only sense of progession you get is that each solved clue and completed challenge brings Wade closer to finding the Easter Egg, the final treasure. While that does come with an inherent sense of progression, especially as more and more competitors come into the picture, it’s hard to relate to that progression if you don’t have a strong competitive spirit.

In the movie all of the clues and challenges are connected by a strong backstory in addition to the overall competition. While this backstory is kind of cheesy and a bit predictable, it increases the sense of progression for those of us who aren’t inherently competitive. For us, we’re waiting for the climax of that subplot just as much, if not more than, the end of the competition. Each solved clue and completed challenge not only brings Wade closer to the Egg, but also reveals another piece of that backstory.

Character

Though I wasn’t particularly blown away by any of these characters, they were all developed pretty well. No one felt flat or one dimensional, and they all grew to some extent throughout the story. Despite the fact that most of these characters spend a majority of the book hiding behind their avatars, I still got a clear sense that each of them had a lot more to them than just what I was seeing. Even many of the extras who didn’t actually effect the main plot felt real and authentic, and that’s not always easy to do.

My one disappointment with character, and it’s really more a matter of preference, is with regard to the antagonist. In the book, IOI (Innovative Online Industries) seems to be more of a “Sauron” type of antagonist. I know they’re there and that they’re a threat, but their interaction with Wade is pretty minimal. He has one conversation with Sorrento, the head of IOI, and that’s pretty much it. Wade goes back to his Frodo impersonation, though admittedly with higher stakes. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, Sauron is a classic villain. I just felt that there could have been a Gollum or two thrown into the mix to add a little more immediate tension.

In the movie, IOI plays a much more immediate role in the story. Sorrento has his own point of view and his own character arc. In the movie I got to see him affecting the plot directly and reacting to the main characters’ actions in real time. It’s not a better way of telling the story by any means, just a different way and one I typically prefer. In the book, the heros are fighting a general evil. In the movie, they’re fighting a specific antagonist.

Setting

And now for my favorite part of this book. The best settings don’t just provide a place for the story to happen, but interact with the story and the characters almost as if the setting is its own character. And Cline accomplishes this magnificently. Wade lives in what are called The Stacks. It’s a huge trailer park, only the trailers and mobile homes are stacked on top of each other so they can fit more people into smaller areas. Then there’s the OASIS. A virtual reality world where anyone can be anything they want to be. Basically social media and VR gaming had a baby, and then gave it steroids.

It’s not just that these settings affect Wade, and all the other characters. Even more, it’s the contrast and interplay the settings have with each other that make them come alive. For the average person, the OASIS is a place where they can explore and be whoever and whatever they want to be. For Wade, the OASIS is freedom.

In the real world he is judged and ridiculed for things he has little to no control over. He’s poor, he wears whatever clothes he can find, and has very few possessions. In the real world, he’s stuck living with bitter people who treat him like a rodent they can’t get rid of. But in the OASIS he can truly be himself, free of the judgment, the stigma. In the OASIS he can choose who he spends his time with.

Sure it’s full of cool stuff and has all kinds of unique features, but what makes the OASIS really come alive is it’s meaning for the characters. In a culture where people are often judged for how we look and how much money we have, Cline shows us what it could be like if we were able to look past all that and accept people for who they are instead of for how they look or what we can get from them. And yet, for all that utopian idealism, Cline takes his settings a step further because he also illustrates the drawbacks of the OASIS and the advantages of The Stacks and the real world in general. He’s not just contrasting the real world dystopia with his made up utopia as if to say one is better than the other. He’s illustrating how utopias aren’t always perfect and dystopias aren’t always bad.

Writing

There’s a bit of context that went into my opinions about the quality of the writing itself. While watching some of the featurettes on the DVD I learned that Ernest Cline hadn’t actually finished writing the book when it was optioned for the movie. Many of the milestones most writers can only dream of, happened for him before he’d even finished writing the book. As jealous as that knowledge makes me, it also means that he had deadlines earlier in the process than most writers too. I can’t imagine he had much time to get used to writing under a deadline, and all of the ways the writing declines in quality, in my opinion, point to this as the cause.

First, he begins the book with a ton of exposition. It’s essentially an explanation of the setting, the conditions of the story, and all of Wade’s reasons for being in the situation he’s in. While this isn’t in itself a poor writing decision and in fact is often the norm for science fiction, I found it a tad boring. It’s the kind of intro I like to call “here’s what you need to know before I start the story.” In my opinion, the actual story doesn’t start until chapter seven. However, if he was strapped for time, it makes sense that he’d write it this way as it’s much quicker and easier than trying to weave it all into the story, allowing the reader to come to understand the context gradually, like a frog in boiling water. There are other places where this flat kind of exposition crops up as well and while it didn’t pull me out of the story, those moments did stand out.

One other thing that puts a dent in the writing quality is the way he adds in some of the 80s references. While the 80s pop culture is a fun twist to the typical treasure hunt story, some of the references felt a bit forced, like he had all these references he wanted to add, but he had a bit of trouble finding room for all of them. There were many places where even recognizing all the references, the lists of computer models, video games, and movies were so long I actually started skipping over most of them. As impressive as his clearly extensive knowledge of 80s pop culture is, I think he got just a bit trigger happy with it.


Overall, Ready Player One was a really fun read and an exciting movie that my whole family enjoyed. It’s an engaging story that doesn’t make you think too hard and while the writing could have been improved a bit, I’m glad I took the time to read it.

Have you read Ready Player One? Seen the movie? Let me know what you thought!

Meet K. M. Shea

First of all, I should announce that after today I will be taking a break from interviews for the summer. I’ve had a lot of new developments in the past couple weeks and I’m starting to get a little overwhelmed. So for the summer there won’t be any Wednesday posts, unless something crazy happens and I need to update y’all.

So, without further ado, let’s get to this last and most fabulous author interview!


This week I get to introduce to you a new favorite of mine, K. M. Shea. She’s written countless fairytale retellings, the King Arthur and Her Knights series, and her most recent book, Red Rope of Fate. I haven’t explored the King Arthur books yet, but the twists she puts on those fairytales are phenomenal! I read Beauty and the Beast twice in one sitting. So if fairytales are your thing, these books are a must!

Once upon a time Elle made a mistake. A small miscalculation sends her through the roof of an enchanted chateau. Stranded until her broken leg mends, Elle is unwillingly forced to rely on the good will of the sour chateau owner —the cursed Prince Severin.

Prince Severin—the commanding general and staunch supporter of his brother the crown prince—is cursed to look like a beast until a maiden falls in love with him. He has given up all hope of shattering the curse and has only disdain for Elle.

Unfortunately, the pair can’t seem to avoid each other thanks to the meddling of the chateau’s cursed servants. Eventually Elle’s playful manners and Severin’s hidden gentleness draw the pair together.

But not all love stories can end that easily. After all, Elle is not what she seems, and Severin’s life is placed in danger when hostilities flare between his brother and the monarchs of a neighboring country. When Elle risks everything to save Severin, will he be able to forgive her for her lies? Continue reading “Meet K. M. Shea”

Ivy on Character Description

Sorry for missing last week. Okay, no I’m not. I’m a busy muse. I got plot holes to fix, characters to motivate, people to inspire.

Besides, last week was a bit stressful for Moos since her latest TurtleWriters blog post ruffled a few feathers. Her focus was completely shot after that. So I resorted to giving her a shiny new idea and it worked a bit too well. She kind of exploded and now she has a 7 page, chapter by chapter outline, plus ideas for three more books in the series.

THE SERIES!

It was just a silly idea, Moos! You were supposed to say hi and give it a quick pat. Not kidnap it, give it a mate, and make babies!

(Deep breaths, Ivy. Deep breaths.)

Anyway, I’m back and once again being forced to impart my writerly knowledge unto the masses. Moos doesn’t give me enough chocolate for this.

So, character descriptions. Let’s get right to it. Continue reading “Ivy on Character Description”

Categories Ivy

Meet Juli D. Revezzo

This week we’re getting to know Juli D. Revezzo, author of the Celtic Stewards Chronicles, the Antique Magic series, and more. If you like classic myth and legend type fantasy with a bit of romance thrown in, you’ll love these books. The intricate exploration of classic folklore will feed your intellect while the men will have you swooning from page one.

Gwenevieve Macken’s well-ordered world falls into chaos as encroaching interlopers scheme to possess both her and her land. Although she’s been trained to spot the signs of inhuman evil in men, the amassing armies take on guises she never expected.

When a foreign guardian presents himself as her only option for salvation, Gwenevieve must make a choice between her desires, and fulfilling the mythic fate to which she was born. A forced marriage to a Tuatha dé Danann warrior isn’t part of her plan. Continue reading “Meet Juli D. Revezzo”