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Blogging By the Sea
Saturday, November 19 2016

This month our Round Robin Blog Topic is: How does wording choice develop a story's character? How do you use and select your words?

Suggested by Dr. Bob: She had to be the sexiest-looking 42-year-old on the planet, the best that money could buy.-- Is this a positive or a negative when you read a book? How can such statements be used to describe character?

This is the kind of description I like best. It tells you a lot about that character without the reader even thinking about it. She’s sexy, but not young. Some of which is about her age, but sexy isn’t always about perfect breasts and a shapely body. It’s about the way a woman holds herself and moves. Sexy can also imply confidence. So from this brief description we get the idea this woman is confident about her appeal to the opposite sex. And we know she’s a hooker. An expensive one. Which might tell you something about her lifestyle and expectations. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but if I was, I’d be swiftly disabused of that as I read on. But that one short sentence sets me up to admire her at least, even if I don’t approve of her career choices.  I like descriptions that give me a sneak peek into what the character is going to be like.

An author can spend a lot of words describing a character the first time they appear in a book that really doesn’t tell you anything more than you would know if you passed that person on the street.  An example from my own book, Trusting Will, reads like this:

“The woman, who had to be Sam’s mother, was gorgeous. Stunningly gorgeous. If Will had been wearing a hat, he’d have been inclined to sweep it off his head and offer a totally uncharacteristic bow. As it was he struggled not to gawk. The long wavy blonde mane and striking whiskey-colored eyes looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t believe he’d have forgotten her if he’d ever met her before.”

As nicely put as I thought it when I wrote those words, the introduction to Bree Reagan tells the reader nothing about her character. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe we’re more interested in Will’s reaction to her at this point in the story anyway. But still – we really don’t know anything about Bree from this description except that she’s pretty. And we have little hint about who Will is either, except a healthy, heterosexual male.

By contrast, from The Night Watchman by Mark Mynheir: 

“The Guy seemed at ease with the weapon and wasn’t holding it like a novice or a gang member.”  tells us nothing about what the man looked like, his height, build, coloring etc, but what does it tell us? Mark’s protagonist Ray Quinn had once been a tough, quick-witted Orlando homicide detective and since we’re in his point of view, this brief description of the man who held Ray up tells us something important about the assailant.  Given Ray’s background his assessment of the way the man held the gun is important. He’s not a gang member and he’s not a novice. So what kind of person would hold up a seriously injured man? Was it someone with a score to settle? Someone hired to take Ray out? Or perhaps warn him off something? And just what is his connection to the plot? We don’t know any of those things, but we do know if he personally isn’t important, his appearance here is. And it’s threatening in some way.  In the very next paragraph, Ray tells us that he left this detail out of his statement to the police. In part because something he’s investigating might involve a cop gone bad. Adding that detail to the way the man held the gun and the fact that Ray didn’t report that fact leads us to surmise this little detail will be key later in the plot.

In the introductory scene from Loving Meg, book two in my Camerons of Tide’s Way series, I begin in my heroine’s point of view with a little more information that still leads more to character and hints at the plot.

“All those days ago when she’d been walking the other way with tears brimming in her eyes, she’d been naïve. Committed, eager, and incredibly naïve. She wasn’t the same woman who’d said goodbye to Ben that day. She was no longer innocent. And her idealism had fled in the face of the things she’d seen. And done. Would Ben notice? Would he see it in her eyes? Would he feel it in her touch? Would he still love her if he knew the whole of it?”

Meg Cameron is a Marine lieutenant just returned from a year in a war zone. She is already haunted by her experience and we get the idea she isn’t all that happy about the person she has become. She’s fearful that her husband might not love her if he knew everything she’s done, or thought. “She’s not the woman he fell in love with.” Shortly after this we see Meg from Ben’s eyes. We get her physical description, but the more importantly we learn Ben is just relieved and happy to have her home with no clue that things won’t be the same.  “Meg was back. Whole and unharmed. And as beautiful as memory had promised. He couldn’t wait to hold her again. He couldn’t wait to kiss her and feel her arms circle tight around his neck. To feel her lips returning his hunger and longing.” Those two very different descriptions of Meg tell you a lot about Meg and something of Ben, but more than that, they set up the whole conflict of the story.

Here are a few more interesting introductions to a key character in a book. I’ll let you decide what they might tell you.

The past swaggered through the door of Darlton’s Bar & Grille in cowboy boots.” From Deployed by Mel Odom.

“He was tall and young, and when he looked up and saw her, he took off his hat.” From High Tide at Noon by Elizabeth Ogilvie

“He was a nerdy-looking guy with glasses tied around his neck, but he had a set of shoulders on him. Forearms too.” From Deep Shadow by Randy Wayne White

And lastly, two different characters from my book, The Candidate as they arrive at a debate event. There is some physical description, but it’s the other information these introductions tell the reader that helps the reader form an idea of the character of these two very different men and how they might impact the plot:

“Rolly Miller certainly looked the part. Slender and distinguished, with steel-gray eyes and hair to match. He carried himself like a winner. He never simply arrived—he made an entrance. He was gracious in a way most men running for the highest office in the country hadn’t been for generations.”  And—“Blair Cabot was a very different adversary. Anyone in his presence felt the power of his personality. Another man who got things done. His sturdy, shorter-than-average stature didn’t command the instant impression of competence Roland Miller did. But Cabot was far more ruthless.”

What kind of introductions do you like for the characters in a book you’ve just picked up to read? Do you want to see how they’re dressed or if they are attractive or not? Or do you, like me, favor having a hint at the type of character they are? Hop on over and check out what some of these other authors think.

     Margaret Fieland
     Beverley Bateman
     Dr. Bob Rich
     Rachael Kosinski
     Judith Copek
     Helena Fairfax
     Rhobin Courtright

     A.J. Maguire

    Marci Baun

     Victoria Chatham


Posted by: Skye Taylor AT 12:01 am   |  Permalink   |  8 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, November 15 2016

The game was hard fought and the stakes were high. Both teams played with single-minded devotion to winning, both quarterbacks were great, the coaches were brilliant. Fantastic catches, incredible passing, carries that defied belief, sacks that left the offense reeling, bone jarring blocks, spectacular interceptions and so much more. But in the end, good sportsmanship meant shaking hands and congratulating the winner. The Super Bowl always has a champion, but after the glow wears off, both teams are back to thinking about next year, just like the rest of the NFL. What can we do to be better next season? Who do we need to draft to make us stronger? Who were the key players we need to keep? Who needs to go? Before too much longer practices will begin again and every player will be out there working as hard as he can to be the best that he can be to make the game and his team great.

Election Day 2016 was epic for many reasons. Among others, because no one really expected Donald Trump to win, except perhaps himself. It was epic because it was the first time since Dwight Eisenhaur that an outsider with no political experience became president-elect. And the loss for Clinton was epic as well - in her own words, "it hurt, and it will hurt for a long time." Both parties fought a hard campaign. Both put their heart and soul into doing everything they could to win the election. But in the end, there was no tie - there had to be a winner - just like the Super Bowl. Good sportsmanship demanded Hillary call to congratulate Trump and Trump to find a way to compliment her and all she gave to the fight. In the months to come, both parties will review the results, decide what needs to be done differently, who they need to listen to and why, and how to be stronger and better in the future.

It's also up to us. We are all Americans. We need to shake hands, congratulate the winner, compliment the loser and then begin to work together. The losers are grieving, perhaps more than any other election, at least in my memory. And the winners, are stunned. Some of the losers are not being very gracious in their loss, screaming "NOT MY PRESIDENT!" Well, sorry to tell you, but he is. Unless you're planning to renounce your citizenship, Donald Trump will be your next president. Likewise, some of the winners are not being very good sports either. Some of them aren't even being good citizens. What we all need to be doing once the mourning and the celebrations are over is pretty much what the NFL players do once the celebration and all the replays are over after the Superbowl.  While Trump is deciding who he needs to draft to fill out his team, we need to get back to business, working as hard as we can to be the best we can as Americans, as friends, as neighbors and as families. We need to leave gloating and fear behind and reach out to understand our opponents.

If you are a person of faith, pray to your God, by whatever name you call him or her. Pray for our country. Pray for our new president-elect that he will choose his team wisely. Pray for all the other elected representatives, senators, governors and state congressmen that their leadership will be honest and true. Pray for understanding and acceptance for men and women of all colors, creeds, races and gender. If you have no faith, then try hope. Put the hate and the condemnation behind you and look forward with optimism. This is not a time for name-calling and drawing lines in the sand. It's not a time for running around like Chicken Little declaring the sky is falling. We are all on the same team and it's time to play as if we were headed to the Superbowl. I read an interesting mime on FB the other day before I left the nastiness behind until things calm down. It read something like this - "Hoping for Trump to fail is like hoping the pilot of the plane you are on will crash." So lets hope for everyone to be surprised. Suprised that the worst you fear does not come to pass. Pray that Trump will become a better leader than anyone expects. Pray and hope for America to be strong.


Posted by: Skye Taylor AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, November 08 2016

One of the things I like about the Wall Street Journal and Public Broadcasting is that instead of throwing 45 seconds of inflammatory information at you, or peppering you with controversial statements that are chosen more to get ratings than to inform, is that when they cover a story, they do so in depth. I’m not suggesting there isn’t any bias, but there is a lot of meat to the story and room to form your own opinion. That has not been the case with mainstream media for some years. The days of Edward R Murrow are long gone and even young journalists who start out with ideals, soon discover that with 24/7 news coverage, sensation is what sells, not just straight unbiased journalism. So it's been hard to find a balanced, even handed voice in the campaign that has dominated the news over the past several months. And if you pay much attention to social media the outrageous, over-the-top, often blatantly distorted stories are even less informative and more vicious.

But then there’s another reality. If you haven’t seen the movie, A Few Good Men, (1992) let me recap. Tom Cruise, playing the young idealistic Navy Jag lawyer, LTJG Kaffee, had Colonel Jessup played by Jack Nicholson on the witness stand. The dialog went like this:

  Col. Jessup: “You want answers?”

  LTJG Kaffee: “I think I’m entitled to them.”

  Col. Jessup:  Beginning to get angry, “You want answers?”

  LTJG Kaffee:  “I want the truth.”

  Col. Jessup:  “ You can’t handle the truth!”

Colonel Jessup went on to explain how things worked in the military, especially the military as he saw it. He understood the risks that soldiers take that those who have never been on a battlefield will never fully appreciate and he resented this idealistic young lawyer badgering him for answers that he was sure would not be understood.

Politics like war, has unpalatable truths that not everyone wants to know or hear. Among those who support Hillary Clinton, there is an incredible level of skepticism about her truthfulness, but to dig deeper into the veracity of her public persona requires a willingness to accept undesirable facts. For those who think Donald Trump is the least of the evils, it takes an ostrich to hide from acknowledging the worst of his offenses. The ratings for both are abysmally low and no one believes a third party candidate can actually win which leaves all of us making a choice whether we to admit to the uncomfortable truths or not.

But by this time tomorrow, there will be a winner – probably. There have been times in our history that the final vote came from our congress. But presumably, we will know who takes over the reins next January. We’ll also know if the new congress will be left or right leaning. If we listen to all the talking heads we’ll be overrun with conjecture about the Supreme Court, the future of our military, the continued threat of terrorism, immigration, joblessness and national debt. Conjecture that is not always the truth it is presented as. It depends on which channels you watch or what papers you read. Either way, it’s mostly heavy handed opinion. On one station the world will be a rosy place. On the other, it will be doomsday. But we can be braver than that. Find the courage to handle the truths about our country, our leaders, our government and what we as voters can do to keep America strong and confident in an ever changing world.

And even more importantly, find the open mindedness not to let the outcome ruin friendships, families and relationships with the people in your neighborhoods. This campaign has been incredibly divisive. Tomorrow morning, it will be time to mend fences. Remember the words of both Trump and Clinton at the end of the final debate when they were asked to say one positive thing about the other. Clinton waffled at first, saying she admired Donald Trump’s children, but then added “I think that says a lot about Donald.”  Trump responded with, “I will say this about Hillary. She doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up. I respect that.”

Let’s show respect for each other regardless of who we supported in the campaign and regardless of who wins. Let’s all be Americans tomorrow. Not Democrats or Republicans. But Americans - eager and hopeful for a better, brighter future for our country and all who call the United States home.

Posted by: Skye Taylor AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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