Friday, June 22, 2012

Using Visuals When Writing



One of the things I really need when I'm working on a story is something that I can actually look at, that will give me an idea of how something looks, works, is sized.  Several series of books are chock-full of photos and explanations, and they are invaluable.

The Shire Egyptology series is a good example.  It is published in the UK and each book covers a subject - food and drink, household pets, medicine, textiles, weapons and warfare, Akhenaten's Egypt...  They are not written by the same person.  The photographs and explanations are especially useful.
Their website is here

Ancient Military history is covered by the Men At Arms series published  by Osprey (here is a sample of one of their books on New Kingdom Egyptian military). 



I have similar sources for other books; one series set in 1830's Paris was helped immensely by a book of old photographs.


 



Time-Life books put out Echoes of Glory in two volumes.  This is one of the most useful books I have ever encountered.  It is separated into sections covering edged weapons, firearms, soldiers' life, the home front.  Modern photographs of arms and equipment are paired with period depictions.  It has been invaluable to me, being, as I am, rather visually oriented.


In Mourningtide, I write of the effect of the death of a son and brother on his family.  One of the characters is Ramesses, the younger brother of the man who died.   He became the pharaoh Ramesses II, one of the great rulers of his age.  I have seen his statues and photographs of his reliefs, but finding anything that has him pictured as a living person in the flesh is difficult.  Fortunately, I have succeeded.

Here he is, Ramesses himself, as depicted by Yul Brynner in the movie The Ten Commandments.  He is not a prince in this photo - the golden headband with cobra and vulture tends to indicate that he has succeeded his father.  I find it a very enlightening photograph, something that I will have to refer to over and over, I think. 

One more item for my toolbox...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How on Earth Do You Write - Some Observations



Snippets from discussions on process and necessities in writing:


I seldom visualize the beginning of a novel. Usually I have an idea for a happening or series of happenings upon which the novel is based. Writing their progression almost always leads to clarification of their point of origin (as to the story flow..)
cough! cough! Gosh, I'm sorry. That was a horrible bit of talking.

What I mean is that the flow of the story helps to clarify things that have caused its course.


An example: I'm working on a story right now involving the death of a young man and its effect on his family, including a younger brother and his father, who receives the word late. My first image of the story was the young man's death and his father's initial reaction. As I filled that in, I was able to picture how the fellow ended up in the position in which he was killed.


Ultimately, I realized that the best way to start the story was to show the father taking leave of his sons, with some instructions to the older one. The older son (who dies) has shown uneasiness with his situation, which ultimately leads to his death. It works, but my first image was of the father's initial, anguished reaction.

Another story involves a colossal statue crashing down into the middle of a festival throng. The mystery progresses from there. In that case, that scene is chapter 1 - but there is a prologue set several decades before the provides clues to the mystery. 

Must Do's

From what I'm reading, we all have some sort of 'routine', however loose, and some sort of absolutely must do's, no matter how loose they seem.

It's delicious when an idea catches hold and the words come flowing out faster than your fingers can move. But why, oh why, does this happen when you're going hammer and tongs with something that absolutely must be finished within a certain time frame?

You give a shout of joy and then start swearing. Or, I do.


My 'Absolute Must' is that I must somehow, in some retrievable way, capture the idea, the snippet of speech, the scene setting, the plot twist. Thinking 'I'll remember this, certainly!' doesn't work. I speed-jotted a scene that I was delighted with in the manuscript that I am finishing up. Delighted - and I tried to tell a friend just what happened in the scene.  Here's what I said...

He goes on to patrol the upper path, and she goes with him because she believes he needs the company after the extreme danger and stress of the morning.

He says... Well, he tells her... Um. He apologizes. She says he doesn't have to. No, wait! I forgot! She insists on going with him because she is a soldier's widow and knows about how things work.

Gah! I'm telling it wrong.

Anyhow, he tries to apologize and her heart turns over. I think that's how I phrased it...

What did he apologize for? Why, for being emotional a couple days before. You mean you couldn't figure that out? What the heck?

Well, anyhow it was a great scene and I captured it before I forgot it. What do you mean I've forgotten it? I have it written down! 'Mind like a sieve???' Now just a minute! OK, OK, I'll let you read the scene once I print it.

Sheesh!"


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Refreshment for the Soul

Someone sent me a link to this presentation some years ago.  It is a virtual tour of a Chinese landscape scroll 'Along The River During the Ching-Ming Festival'.  This is a theme and depiction that is considered a classic, and the Imperial Palace Museum has at least six similar scrolls.

This one has been digitized (if that's a word) and the link will take you to a panorama of the scroll.

Move your mouse to the left and the scroll will unroll before you.  You can control the speed.  From time to time you will encounter an area enclosed by a square.  If you click on it, the scene will open into a three-dimensional, animated vignette.  It is very cleverly done, and too beautiful not to share.

Here is the link:

Along the River during the Ching-Ming Festival

...and here is a snapshot from the scroll:

Monday, June 11, 2012

In with the new...

I have at least two projects underway in any given time.  This has several benefits:

  1. It helps to minimize the strange sense of grieving I suffer from when I've finished a story and am no longer dealing with a group of characters that I have come to love.  I remember I received this advice years ago from an editor.  "Never have only one work in the pipeline," she told me.  "It'll help you cope with finishing a work."  I learned the hard way that she was right. 
  2. It helps to minimize writer's block.  I think it's sometimes the result of working too intensively on a specific project to the exclusion of everything else.  It is an excellent way to burn out.  Switch off to something fresh and you can catch your breath, and regain your stride.
  3. It will give you an excuse not to work on something.  Actually, this isn't a benefit.

At the moment I'm finishing the first draft of Mourningtide.  I'm also working on Crowfut Gap, a novel set in Civil War Virginia, near the West Virginia border.  There's another Egyptian story, The Jubilee, which I started a few years back.  It's moving along slowly as things occur to me and I jot them down.

Lately I have been going back to a period that is slightly after A Killing Among the Dead.  Ranefer is the last of his line, a family decimated by a systemic ailment that has killed them one after another, leaving only him, the third son of a king, the brother of two kings and the uncle of another.  Egypt is crumbling; What is to be done if you are Lord of the Two Lands, and The Two Lands has forgotten that it has a Lord?

It is a bittersweet story (in its current shape) and puts an unusual twist on history as we know it.

The twist came to me as I was driving the three hundred odd miles home from Upstate New York.   I think it may work.  It might help if I stopped blogging and typed it, but I can mull it over a little more...

Only 6,800 words currently, but it should grow nicely - once I really start working on it.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

City of Refuge - Title page done









This book had a cover redesign, and I took the occasion to insert a map and expand the Afterword.  The book will be the subject of a Goodreads giveaway mid-month.  Meanwhile, I redid the title page:
 
That involved a fair amount of work.  I also put in images in the prologue, the first chapter and the Afterword.  Final proofing is underway.
 
Here is the cover