Music Remembers

Baseem split the cherry between his fingers. Red juice stained the grooves of his thumb and dripped off the end of his fingernail. He rubbed the pads of his fingers together, mashing the berry into a raw, bloody pulp. When he was finished, he flicked the mangled remains off the side of the deck and held his hand up for me to see.

Ya amar, do you hear it?” he asked.

My flute felt cold between my fingers, and I lowered it to my lap. “Hear? Don’t you mean see?

“No, hear. I have wondered if you can hear it too, the way I can. If when you press your lips to your reed and blow you can hear the colors, or at least imagine them before they erupt like spitting embers from your instrument.” He rotated his wrist in front of his face, studying the red seeping down his palm. “When you played the friscalleto, I heard this precise shade. Cherry red. Like the wine we acquired from Donnalucata. Like the poppies that covered the hills beyond the beach. Like the fire that —”

I turned my head away, and I hated myself for the bitterness that glassed my eyes. “I hear no colors, signore. I am afraid that the visual arts are not my area of expertise.”

“Ah, but music is the highest of all visual arts,” Baseem said, his eyes smiling. “You know better than anyone, Ludovica, that music remembers. Music is memory. And what is memory if not visual?” He crossed the deck towards me, taking heavy, deliberate steps with the heels of his boots. “There is an aching in your compositions. A red. A remembrance. You must hear it.”

Mama’s ribbon. Papà’s steamed crab. Cosima’s rosary beads. Orazio’s blood.

I flooded my face of expression.


An excerpt from a work-in-progress.

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How To Describe Characters Like A Boss

Jasmine had an hourglass figure and blonde hair. She was beautiful. She had smooth, flawless skin and big, baby blue eyes that were a window to her soul. She stood in the doorframe like a model.

Yuck yuck yuck yuck yuck. Blech. That has got to be the most disgusting, shallow character introduction I have ever written because that, my fellow scribes, is an example of everything you should not do if you want to describe characters like a boss.

The above paragraph showcases what I consider to be the five venial sins of writing description. I call them venial because while it is very easy to lean on these tactics as a crutch, you are not doomed to a fiery pit where all bad writers go for using them. Hark, the Stellular Scribe sings, for I bring you glad tidings! There is hope after all, so long as you refrain from the following:


1. Describing Inactively

 

Jasmine had an hourglass figure and blonde hair.

Even if your sole goal is to write a piece without narrative or plot, simply slapping on any ol’ description out of context won’t give an accurate portrayal of the character. Remember, describing looks should serve to enhance the reader’s image of the physical, mental, and practical aspects of the character. A character isn’t her appearance. A character is active and engaged in the story. The way the above sentence sits, Jasmine seems like more of a storefront display than an actual person.

Also, hourglass figure is a horrid cliché and it should be discarded immediately.

Solution: Describe Actively

Jasmine twisted her blonde hair with a lazy finger. Her free hand rested in the curve between her hip and ribcage.


2. Writing Vaguely

 

She was beautiful.

There’s nothing wrong with calling a character beautiful or ugly or old or young. But that’s only in the subjective sense — perhaps when another character is describing her or she is being observed on the basis of beauty alone. Here in this introduction of her character, “beautiful” is too general. A bird can be beautiful. A couch can be beautiful. What determines her beauty?

Solution: Write Specifically

She looked at him much like an artist critiquing a student’s painting — with an air of impressment, but mostly fond amusement at his folly. There was something stunning about the way she studied him.

(Ha! Bet you didn’t see that one coming. Remember, physical characterizations don’t reveal everything.)


3. Overstuffing Adjectives

 

She had smooth, flawless skin and big, baby blue eyes that were a window to her soul.

You’re introducing a character. Not playing thesaurus bingo. Tacking on adjective after adjective can make the description feel forced and unrealistic, and it will quickly cause the reader to lose interest. You are no longer writing about a person — you are writing a laundry list.

In the end, you’ve got to pick the most important traits and stick with them. In our example, describing Jasmine’s “eyes” makes much more contextual sense than informing the reader on her “smooth, flawless skin.”

Solution: Less is More

It was as if her eyes, sheer as sea smoke, revealed her every judgement.


4. Abusing Clichés

 

She had an hourglass figure […].

She had […] eyes that were a window to her soul.

Clichés are the devil. Ok. Maybe they’re not that bad, but it can begin to feel like torture for a reader to read the same recycled, thrown-up, washed-out descriptions over and over and over again.

Solution: Avoid Clichés At All Costs.

That’s right. Just don’t even touch them. Not. A. One.


5. Characterizing Flatly

 

She stood in the doorframe like a model.

And we’re back to describing a storefront display. Try to reveal some emotion in your descriptions. These are people you’re writing about, and most people aren’t very hard to read. Everyone reveals emotion in some way or another.

Solution: Characterize Emotionally

She leaned against the doorframe almost like a model posing for a magazine cover shoot — but somehow, she looked effortless. Completely unaware of her own natural grace. Bored, even.


And thus we go from

Jasmine had an hourglass figure and blonde hair. She was beautiful. She had smooth, flawless skin and big, baby blue eyes that were a window to her soul. She stood in the doorframe like a model.

to

Jasmine twisted her blonde hair with a lazy finger. Her free hand rested in the curve between her hip and ribcage. She looked at him much like an artist critiquing a student’s painting — with an air of impressment, but mostly fond amusement at his folly. There was something stunning about the way she studied him. It was as if her eyes, sheer as sea smoke, revealed her every judgement. She leaned against the doorframe almost like a model posing for a magazine cover shoot — but somehow, she looked effortless. Completely unaware of her own natural grace. Bored, even.

Voila! Now we have a character who the reader can care about, someone he will want to know more about.


Go forth and spread the good news, dear scribes — so that everyone can describe characters like a boss!

© 2016 Stellular Scribe

Godspeed and Gunfire

Bang.

“Godspeed and gunfire, my friend,” he says, wiping his wet hands down the front of his shirt. “Or is it…hellfire? Hell, does it matter? There’s no hope for us now, so if the devil smites us so be it.”

He gives you a sideways look, his hooded eyes bright and provoking. “You don’t honestly believe in that crap, do you? In hell? The devil?” His eyebrows lift as he tucks the pistol into his suspenders. “Oh, look at your face. You do. God damn, then this must be awkward. Sorry — gosh damn.

You think of something to say. You can’t. Everything’s still fuzzy.

Shit.” He only now seems to realize the mess on the front of his shirt. “This is a new shirt. Freshly pressed, too. Think this can come out? Always heard cold salt water did the trick. Anyway — I wouldn’t worry about all that eternal damnation stuff if I were you. You know what they say: hell’s a party.”

You don’t know who says that.

He’s rambling now, in that off-center, manic way of his. “Hell’s one hell of a time. It’s where all the fun people are at. And if not, hell is empty and all the devils are here. So it can’t be too bad.” He shakes his leg out, like a dog, and turns away, away from you, away from the mess. “Godspeed and gunfire,” he whispers, moving a hand through his unkempt hair. “Bang, bang, bang.”

You reach after him. He can’t be like this. Not now.

He twists on his heels, and you are suddenly reminded of just how tall he is, how impressive and sharp-edged and outlined by shadows. “What? You’re not going cold on me, are you? Remember, you wanted this too. This isn’t all on me. If I’m going, I’m dragging you down into hell with me. Godspeed my fucking foot. You signed off on that pipe dream the second you came to me, eyes bleary, acting all broken and shit. Oh, help me. God, help me. It needs to end. Make it end. Well, Hallelujah, you got what you wanted. It ended at the end of my pistol, and now all I’ve got is a stained shirt to show for it.”

This isn’t what you wanted. This isn’t what you agreed to. This is ugly and wrong.

His eyeteeth glisten when he smiles. “If you think about it, I’m kind of like your guardian angel. What’s the prayer? Ever this day, be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Well, here I am. At your side. To light — ” His suspenders snap against his chest as he extracts his gun. “– and guard –” He lifts the pistol, index finger rubbing the trigger, teasing it. He laughs. “To rule –” The gun is now in front of him, pointing at his own face. “– and guide.”

He turns the pistol directly on you.

“Godspeed and gunfire, my friend. I hear hell’s a party.”

Bang.

© 2016 Stellular Scribe

 

Writing Kindling #8

Writer’s block may seem like a terminal illness, but sometimes the smallest of sparks can “kindle” your craft. Today I bring you a list of ten 1-2 sentence writing prompts that will help build up your white blood cells and give writer’s block a good kick in the pants. Copy them, tweak them, consider them, leave them. It’s up to you!


  1. The audience gasps as one.
  2. I stir the tea leaves furiously.
  3. My old house looks haunted tonight.
  4. That night, I slept under the dead tree.
  5. The steamboat’s engine shuddered to a halt.
  6. My voice rings against the ceiling beams of the church.
  7. I don’t remember the impact, but I remember the pain. And then I remember the black.
  8. He planted a light kiss on the urn, and hid it away under his bed.
  9. “Hail Gary, full of paste,” the little boy prayed fervently into his steepled hands.
  10. I squished the spider in the bathtub with my shampoo bottle, and I’m quite proud of myself.

I’d love to hear what you come up with. Feel free to share your writing in the comments!

Happy writing!:)

We Must Be Like Song Writers

I’m a bit of an instrumental music junkie, but as a writer, I can’t help but admire a song with really well written lyrics.

There’s more to writing than simply finding the right words for the right context. A well crafted paragraph must contain fluidity, musicality, melody. The sound a word makes must be taken into account when judging how it will flow in your sentence; the syllables and consonance and assonance are subconsciously noted when listening to a beautiful word. I’ve heard it said that the most aesthetically pleasing phrase in the English language is not “love” or “compassion” or “mother” — it’s “cellar door.”

Say it out loud now, without attaching any context or meaning to it. Cellar door.

Of course, we can’t disregard connotation when writing a piece of fiction or non-fiction, so we must be like song writers  — deliberate in our meaning, yet fluent in our presentation.

I’ll throw to the wind an old favorite of mine.

Like faithful oxen through the chalk,
With dragging tails of history walk.
We soon confuse the compass and the cross.
Carefully and cursively we fill our traveling diaries with loss.

The above are lyrics from “History Book,” a song by the (now broken up) band Dry the River. It’s a song about young lovers growing up and carrying the past with them.

Let’s take it apart, shall we?

The Technical: The very first line — Like faithful oxen through the chalk — is iambic tetrameter with consonance on the repeated th– and f- sounds. The second line — With dragging tails of history walk. — follows near suit. We soon confuse the compass and the cross. Carefully and cursively we fill our traveling diaries with loss. — these lines are ripe with alliteration, repeated s- and c- consonants, careful stressing of syllables, and all around listening pleasure. Seriously. Listen to the lead singer open with these lines, and your ears will melt down your neck.

The Connotation: The image of oxen dragging tails through chalk as they migrate for days upon days is a powerful one. Like faithful oxen, the lead singer croons, because he and his lover are akin to those ancient, nomadic beasts. They have travelled far; they have learned much in the ways of love and individuality and life. They have gone on so long, that they can’t tell the difference between the compass and the cross. What is guiding them anymore? Religion or their own intuitions?

I’m not saying you have to make everything a symbol (please don’t do that) or fling alliteration about all willy-nilly (the absolute worst), but writing and thinking like a song writer can help you feel present in your work. By weighing sound and subject, you can tell a story while setting a melody.

© 2016 Stellular Scribe

Writing Kindling #5

Writer’s block may seem like a terminal illness, but sometimes the smallest of sparks can “kindle” your craft. Today we have Francois Schuiten’s depiction of “Pélléas et Mélisande.”

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Ask yourself: Who is she? Where is she going? What is she feeling? Write about who she is, what situation she is in, and what she will do next. It can be a poem, short story, long fiction, anything — let the kindling commence!

I’d love to hear what you come up with. Feel free to share your writing in the comments!

Writing Kindling #4

Writer’s block may seem like a terminal illness, but sometimes the smallest of sparks can “kindle” your craft. Today, we have a painting by Randis Albion called “Deep Diver.”13a0d68eb7d6ae145efad58e76e5d6a0

Ask yourself: Who is he? Where is he? What is he doing? What is she feeling? Write about who he is, what situation he is in, and what he will do next. It can be a poem, short story, long fiction, anything — let the kindling commence!

I’d love to hear what you come up with. Feel free to share your writing in the comments!