IMAGE AND SYMBOL Imagery

Imagery is the most important element of descriptive writing, since it makes possible the communication of what one sees, hears, feels, smells and tastes.  An IMAGE is an expression in words of a sense experience.  Settings of stories are made up of sense perceptions. Images are more than a descriptive function; they also convey feelings to the reader and create an atmosphere appropriate to the major elements of the story – plot, character and theme.  Images can convey strong feelings such as inhibition, tension, passion etc.

Dark colors convey a feeling of doom or danger.  A red rose can be more than part of a garden description, it can be used as a symbol of beauty or love. Darkness can be literal or suggest evil.  The act of planting and caring for flowers can be symbolic of maternal instincts.

 

A SYMBOL is an emblem or sign representing something else through association. For example, an insurance company uses the Rock of Gibralter to suggest reliability.  A film studio is represented by Liberty holding the Torch of Truth etc.    John Hersey’s novel, “A Bell for Adano” shows the human need for a symbol of peace and sanity, when the people of the Italian town prefer a replacement for the bell which the Fascists took from  the Mayor’s bell tower, to food and clothing.

A symbol can have different meanings to different people and you must think through your symbolism before planning your story and know how and when to introduce it.  A bridge may represent the transition between ages, between wealth and poverty, enslavement and freedom.  A bridge was used as a symbol in “Land Without Moses” by Charles Curtis Munz – about the oppressed sharecroppers and their toll bridge (symbolising that the down-trodden must pay a high price to achieve liberty).

“The bridge Over the River Kwai” suggests British superiority and knowhowm transforming defeat into victory.  Thornton Wilder’s “Bridge of San Luis Rey” says in its last line: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead; the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

Effective symbolism must also be emotional; universal enough to apply to the reader’s problems; subtle but unmistakable; graphic and vividly described; planted early in your story, then referred to later; important to the plot and solving a crucial problem.

Many authors make effective use of symbolism.Paul Gallico used “The snow Goose” to represent a staunch spirit in a crippled body.  Poe used a raven to symbolise death; Coleridge an albatross for conscience; Shelley freedom with a skylark and Maeterlinck chose a Bluebird for happiness.In the beautiful O. Henry story “The Last Leaf”, a girl with no will to live likens her life to the last ivy leaves clinging to the wall outside her window. When the last leaf falls, an artist neighbor paints a leaf on the wall outside her window, and belkieving it has clung on bravely through the storm, she recovers her will to live.

 

Happy writing!  You can buy my new novella “Searching for Susan” on Amazon or by contacting me at  dwaysman@gmail.com

 

 

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CREATING CHARACTERS

We spend most of our working hours with people – fascinating, maddening or unpredictable people.  It is through our understanding of others that we mature. A person reveals his character by what he says or does – in even his/her most trivial speech and action.  The way he walks or speaks, the way he puts on his coat, the way he hangs it up – or carelessly throws it down, all show something about his character.

When you write a story, the reader not only wants to know what happens, but also to whom it happens. We reveal character through what a person does, says, thinks,  how he or she looks;  what other characters say or think about a person, what the author says about him.  Each speech or action is revealing. If a girl stops to look at her reflection each time she passes a mirror or shop window, we infer she is vain.  If a man kicks a cat, we infer that he hates animals, or that he’s taking out his anger on a helpless animal, or that he’s vicious and cruel – maybe all three.  You, the author, choose the speech and actions that suggest the total character of the person.  You must give your character a motivation for his behaviour and supply a reason for his actions.

A story often centres on just one character, but the minor characters are also important.  There is continual inter-action … what do they say and think about the hero?  How do they solve their problems, and what does their solution tell you about the wisdom or folly of the hero’s solution?

One of the most graphic descriptions I ever read of a character was contained in just one sentence:  “His face was lined with broken Commandments.”  It says it all!

Successful authors are those who have created fictional people who are more real than they are themselves and often outlive them (Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, David Copperfield, Tarzan etc.) Once you have created real-life people, you are stuck with them. You can’t forget them, you can seldom control them, and you cannot kill them if they want to keep on living.  Sometimes they will upset the plot you have in mind for them and write their own stories.

Once a beginner writer sent his story to an editor stating: “The characters in this story are purely fictional and bear no resemblance to any person, living or dead.”  The editor sent it straight back with the notation: “That is exactly what’s wrong with it!”

You should know your character as intimately as you know your spouse. Before you write your story, work out a complete profile of background – birthplace, age, education, religion, experiences, financial status and politics. Understand his emotions – how he feels about people, things situations, his thoughts and philosophy.  Setting – clothes, hairdo, car, home, surroundings and environment.  How and what he says reveal his character – compassionate, impatient, selfish, critical, bigoted, brave etc.

It is also important to remember NOT to do certain things.  Don’t give them just any names. Choose them as carefully as you would for your real-life children.  Don’s use confusingly similar names like Phyllis, Philip and Filbert.  Don’t begin with minor characters, making the reader think they are going to be important. Don’t add characters unnecessary to the plot. Don’t create all-good or all-bad characters – they won’t ring true.

My latest novella “Searching for Sarah” garnered a wonderful, full-page review in the Jerusalem Post last Friday, beyond expectations.  In my next Blog, I’ll send you a link to it.

You can order it on Amazon, buy it at Pomeranz Bookstore in Jerusalem, or direct from me. Contact me at  dwaysman@gmail.com  for details.

I welcome your comments and am ready to help with any writing problems.

Keep writing!

 

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THE SETTING FOR YOUR STORY

Continuing our lessons on writing a short story, , the locale where it takes place is known as the setting.  Setting also implies location in time – the time of d;ay as well as the historic time, and even such matters as the weather, or the temperature in the room where the action takes place.  You may think the setting is unimportant, but in successful stories where everything works together , it contributes a great deal.  With a great writer like Hemingway,who had a wide choice of milieu for his stories – Spain, Africa, Michi8gan etc., it is easy to see why each story is set where it is.

 

As with all aspects, the setting may be basic to the original conception, or may be the result of deliberate choice.  Almost every American writer has set at least one story in New York, yet each treated it differently. It mis a city about which one can generalise, and this makes the city useful and effective as a setting for a limitless variety of situations and themes. There is so much mobility in a big city that it makes an appropriate setting  for any character’s rise or fall.  Because there are more people of all social classes crowded together, it enables unusual encounters – an actress and a hobo; a playboy and a shopgirl.  This also creates opportunities for depicting such themes as the injustices of social distinction, and extremes of poverty and wealth.  There are so many comings and goings in a big city (even Tel Aviv) that the author can make virtually any plot plausible.

A big city setting is ideal for themes like being lonely in a crowd; veneration for the new; bustling immorality; people selling themselves for money or power; the city’s sense of busy futility.  It can be used as a symbol of opportunity, freedom and success, and also the empty underside of these qualities.

You should choose a place you know intimately for your setting. Conrad used the sea; Pearl Buck – China; Faulkner – the South;  Steinbeck the Monterey Peninsula; Doris Lessing – Rhodesia.  They managed to create , from story to story, a world with connotations not just of the place itself, but their own individual perception of it.

Decide how the setting enhances your story, or can be made to do so.  Don’t write paragraphs of mere description – many readers will skip them.  But you can slant a description in such a way as to achieve an effect.

For instance, you could write two descriptions of the same room. In the first, emphasising the room in sunlight and picking out bright touches – a bowl of spring flowers, a bright rug etc. You prepare it as a setting for a romantic comedy or light-hearted story.  You could write a description of the same room when night approaches, emphasising dark magogany furniture , a sinister dagger lying on the coffee table and the reader would be prepared for a tragedy.

By using a basic plot and changing the setting, you can create unlimited variations.  Romeo and Juliet was set in Verona, Italy. With the same basic plot, West Side Story was set in New York.   Two different stories – both successful.

Atmosphere is also an integral part of your setting. This is time, place and mood. It is almost a character, a motivating force.  A wonderful “atmosphere” story is somerset Maugham’s “Rain”, where the inhibited Rev. Davidson reverses his  asceticism when he succumbs to the combination of Sadie Thompson and the incessant rain. “Wuthering Heights” is another example which would not be memorable without the setting of the bleak English moors.

 

Establish your dominant atmospheric mood immediately – ” Spring was kicking up its heels…” Use sensory appeals of sight, sound,  smell, taste and touch.  If you write of Winter, use more vivid words than ‘cold’.   The lash of sleet against the window; the crack of freezing ice on the river ; the crunch of snow underfoot.

Your imagery should be graphic and original.   Hong Kong – a pearl on black velvet;  A canvas painted by a demented artist scattering color indiscriminately;  an orchid on the brink of a volcano;  blood on a white handkerchief.

Weave in specific details, interesting information, unknown facts. Be accurate and authentic – with proper names of flowers, trees, birds, animals. The setting must blend and integrate with plot, characterization, emotion and action.

In my next Blog. I’ll deal with creating characters.

My new novella “Searching for Sarah” is now available on Amazon, or contact me direct at dwaysman@gmail.com    I enjoy your comments, and you can always ask me for help with a writing problem.   Happy writing!

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SHORT STORY – PLOT IS CONFLICT

At the core of a conventional plot is conflict. It can be physical, between antagonists; it can be moral or psychological; or a spiritual struggle within the character himself/herself, such as vice or virtue carried to excess. Sometimes external conflicts are just projections of internal ones.

The order in which the events take place is important.  They can be in chronological order or in flashback. When you use flashback, and reveal the outcome of the story at the beginning, this inverted order forces the reader to shift interest from what happens to why and how it happened.

The following are guidelines and not rules because, like poetry, there are no real rules. Each story depends on the author’s sensitive handling of the situation . Many writers break all traditional rules, yet come up with brilliantly-executed works. However, in general, plots should include:

  1. Abstract values representing good vs. evil in the major conflict situation.
  2. An urgent MUST with its obvious CANNOT.
  3. Contrasting characters in action, each strongly motivated in efforts to achieve a definite goal.
  4. Apparent insolubility of the problem, with an ingenious solution that is credible though surprising.
  5. A moral theme or premise to which the story action serves sd s parable, proving a worthwhile philosophy.
  6. An individual style that expresses you and yet fits the subject matter, the time, the place and the characters.

When you plot a story, try first to write a synopsis – just a brief outline. What is the problem? (This is what interests the reader). What are the obstacles, the fictional frustrations,and alternate them with temporary triumphs (providing suspense). This leads up to the crisis, and the climax which resolves the problem.

To help you, I’ll give you 3 typical situations you can use:

They were a devoted couple for years, yet when her invalid mother died and she was free to marry him, their relationship suddenly ended.

A prostitute  passes a garden where a small blind boy is playing/ She knows he is her son. Could you develop this story without sentimentality?

Nobody liked her for good reason. Yet, when she suddenly died, a number of people felt a deep sense of loss.

Play around with these ideas … you may come up with a really good story.

Happy writing!

Contact me at dwaysman@gmail.com if you need any help with your writing; or if you want to buy any of my books … a new one is coming out today – a novella “Searching for Sarah”.

 

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SHORT STORY WRITING – Lesson 2

“Fiction” is an old word in the English language, derived from the verb meaning “to form” or “to feign”. The short story writer makes, forms and feigns. Through what he has made up, he arrives at a truth, enabling a reader to do the same.

There are different types of short stories. Today’s trend is towards quality in style and how to handle the conflict.  The strictly formula story  with the inevitable happy ending has been banished.  Commercial stories are carefully plotted with well-established conflict leading to a climax. Literary stories need not have any plot at all.  The conflict is more subtle and the the problem may not be solved but left to the reader’s imagination.

Subject matter and theme also differ in commercial and literary stories. Commercial ones must have a theme that will not alienate either a body of readers or some of the advertisers in the magazine. For commercial stories – those you hope to sell to popular journals – avoid subjects like politics or civil rights; attacks on religion; the medical profession ; the institution of the family; race problems; sexual perversions and unpunished sins such as adultery.  No commercial magazine would ever publish a story about a drunken airline pilot for example.

However, for literary stories, themes are unlimited.  You can say that childhood isn’t necessarily sacred but often a nightmare; that people beat their children or their wives and often go unpunished; that evil can triumph etc. But you must be realistic and know that it is very difficult to find someone to publish this kind of story no matter how well-written it is. Sometimes it finds its way into a literary magazine of an American college, and where the only payment is a copy of the magazine.

The subject of your story should be someone or something familiar to you. Then your theme should reflect the strong feelings you have about this person, place or situation.

PLOT could be defined as two or more characters or threads meeting, weaving into a knot; then something or someone undoes the knot and brings about a solution, resolution or denouement.

Theme is derived from the total effect of all the elements in the story – it is the main, controlling idea.  There are also subordinate themes called ‘motifs’.  Your major theme could be ‘power corrupts’… power corrupts in politics, in love, in religion. You could express this through different characters – a politician, a lover or clergyman who, through wrongful use of their powers, become tyrants of their party, the bgody and the spirit respectively.

When you write, all you have to work with is your own experience, your own memories. A writer gives of himself, his history, his excitements, his heartbreaks, his dreams and his visions. Write from remembered backgrounds and remembered emotions.

A disease of the new writer is that he is convinced that his own life is far less glamorous that that of anyone else. It is sad that often rich people want to write about the drama of the slums; poor students about high society; battle scenes get penned by youngsters who fortunately never saw a war; and virgins try to write explicit sex scenes.

When you construct a plot it should be both plausible and yet unpredictable. It should have a certain simplicity to hold our attention.Too sensational a plot is unlifelike, unconvincing and melodramatic.  Plot’s job is to move the characters through action, and to make something happen to someone.

In constructing the plot, it is crucial to select only the relevant incidents to recount. It should begin no further back in time that is necessary to make the consequences of the action clear. Omit many events of little importance that occur, even during the period of the action you have chosen.

Of events that you do mention, some you will want to emphasise and others to subordinate. Those to be emphasised, you’ll render in full dramatic detail, complete with dialogue and description.  This is called ‘the close view’.  Less important events will be summarized – ‘the long view’.

Before my next Blog, you might want to do some practice.  Sooner or later, every writer must get out of his system a story in which the theme is the end of his own innocence = the day his childhood ended and he stepped, jumped or was pushed into manhood or womanhood.  It can be one’s first experience with death, sex, ridicult or anti-Semitism; with the pain of loss.  Write about the moment when something happened that made a difference in your life – that really mattered.

I’ll go into more detail next Blog.  You can get help from me, make comments or buy any of my books (a new novella coming out next week)  by contacting me at e-mail: dwaysman@gmail.com     Happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LEARN HOW TO WRITE A SHORT STORY

Why does anyone become a writer? You could reply facetiously like Michael Frome, a well-known writer on conservation, who answered: “If I didn’t write, I might have to work for a living.  Shaving every day and all that!” The truth is no-one chooses a career of writing … it chooses you. Like music or painting, writing is a compulsion for some people – it doesn’t matter much whether they are composing deathless prose or writing recipes, but they have to write.

 

In practical terms, anyone can be a writer. It’s about the only profession where you need no capital at all. The computer is a sophisticated tool, but the world’s most famous writers managed without one. But the qualities that are indispensable – you obviously need talent; and you need an ego to have the nerve to believe that anything you say, others are going to want to read. Determination and optimism because the road to success is lined with hundreds of rejection slips. You also need enormous self-discipline – there is no office to run to between 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. You must force yourself to face that blank sheet of paper every day and sit there and do battle, when outside the birds are singing; the telephone rings; there’s a great program on TV;friends drop by and there are a million delicious distractions to seduce you away from your work if you let them.

But if you don’t – if you actually start to fill the pages and know you have something worth saying, then you wouldn’t change what you’re doing if you could control empires. Writing is the supreme act of creation and, while you are engaged in it, there’s a bubbling happiness that nothing else can equal.

In the next few Blogs, I’ll teach you how to write a short story.  To be effective, it must convey something from writer to reader. There are no rules except that to qualify. it should be able to be read at a single sitting. Like a novel, it should depict character moved by plot.  It needs to maintain a single point of view to stay in focus.

Your story begins when the confusing outer show of things can be swept aside, when something happens which gives access to the secret pulse of life.  A story is a quest for life, both for the writer and the reader.

Life provides the greatest source of material. But life, with its constant needs, its weight, its multiplicity, has a certain rawness, which is its power. Your role is to refine and sift. A story is an impression of life, but never a copy. In both life and story there are moments that stand out – revelations, conflict, drama, decisions – almost as if time had waited for such a moment to happen.

First we’ll focus on the subject and theme.   The subject is almost always a character, a place or a situation… the are of focus.  The theme is the general comment on this area of human experience conveyed through such specific elements as plot, characterization, tone, point of view, imagery and symbol.  For example, the subject of your story might be a woman, whom you’ve called Karen. Your theme  might be that she has wasted her life on dreams of the past.  Your subject might be love, with the theme that the kind of love John has for Ruth leads only to self-destruction.

 

When you decide on the subject and theme of the story you want to write, respect your own background enough to write about it. It may sound exciting to write a sophisticated story about the morals of a group of jetsetters on a skiing holiday in the Swiss Alps, but if you’ve never mixed with such a clique, or even been to Switzerland, your story will be shallow and unconvincing.  You could write a really deep, compassionate story about people you know in the setting of the street or suburb where you live. It would have far more meaning and be more perceptive and enlightening for your reader.

HOMEWORK:  Write a description of someone you once met or knew who made a deep impression on you, even though your lives might have crossed only once. It can be someone you met at a party; someone you glimpsed on a bus; someone who was wise or had charisma; or even a drop-out from society, but still made a vivid impression.

Stop and think of something or someone very meaningful to you. Write down what situation, place or kind of person you would like to be subject. What would be your theme – that is, what kind of comment would you make on this subject.

We’ll move on to plot in my next Blog.  Happy writing!

You can send me comments, or buy my books by contacting me at dwaysman@gmail.com

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BIRTH OF A BOOK

Three weeks to go!  You’d think after publishing 12 other books, the novelty would have worn off.  But no – I’m still excited.  I’ve just done the final editing, approved the beautiful cover, written the dedication and acknowledgments, so the foetus is about to be born.  Like children, you don’t have a favorite but somehow your heart expands to love the new one as much as the others.

This book almost didn’t get finished.  Half-way through I got stuck and just put it aside for a few  months. Then, when we went to stay with my daughter Elana, her daughter Naomi (my grand-daughter) saw the exercise book and asked me to read it to her.  She understands English, but as a native Hebrew speaker (we all live in Israel), she finds it a bit difficult to read.  So I started to read it to her, and her enthusiasm and wanting to know all the time “what happens next?” gave me the impetus to continue with it, so each time we went to visit, I would read her another chapter – all the way to the end.  It was a special kind of bonding that developed, and because I didn’t want to disappoint her, I made sure I had another chapter ready.

When you hold your published book in your hands, it is the most amazing feeling.  I had an e-book published by Prism  in USA, titled “Autumn Blessing” but it’s not the same thrill. You can give copies to people you care about; and sign others for faithful readers who buy all your books over the years.  You can place a copy in your bookshelves next to your other books and feel that you’ve achieved something.  I was in a bookshop today buying some books by my presently favorite novelist Jojo Moyes, when the saleslady told me that by coincidence she’d just had a call from someone wanting my first book “The Pomegranate Pendant” and she’d put it away for her.  It’s a special kind of feeling to know that strangers value your words enough to want to buy your books … somehow it validates all the years you have spent creating them.

Now, at my age I probably have no more books in me, but I am so grateful that I have been writing all my life.  At age 7, I had my first poem published in a children’s paper in Australia, and told my mother I was going to be a writer.  And I have tried to live by this quotation:  “Every work of art is a self-portrait.  Autograph your work with excellence.”

 

 

 

 

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