Sunday, February 10, 2013

Purple Potatoes: Art of “Color-words”

Have you ever seen purple potatoes? I haven't. Do they taste like grapes? Maybe they taste like that purple lettuce in fancy salads. Yuck!  Lord, I hope they don’t taste like eggplant.

Purple food caught my attention recently for a story I am writing when I was building a scene, so I did some research. Did you know there are sixteen common plant foods that are naturally called purple? Surprised me.

I had never heard of purple asparagus or purple carrots. Of course, I would never eat asparagus, so that’s no surprise, but I do enjoy raw carrots and would probably try out the purple variety if given the opportunity.
"Blue" berries are purple? Who knew?
It was quite eye opening when I searched for purple natural foods. Some of the fruits and veggies classified as purple, don't make sense to me. They seem misnamed. Blueberries, for instance, fall under the “purple” label. Huh? Then why are they called “blue” berries? Same thing for “black” berries. Since when is black the new purple?

You're probably wondering about all this talk of purple food. How does it relate to writing?

Color. This blog is about what I call “color-words.” Not "color" as in color charts, rather, the expression “color-words” refers to single words or expressions that convey instant images, emotions or actions. They color the story. As we know, writers use words to paint scenes and stimulate emotional responses in readers. How do we, writers, maximize the power of such words? Consider the following scene…

Lisa parked her car and entered my apartment without knocking. I looked at her, surprised that she would assume such familiarity after I ended our relationship last night. She walked toward me with a mechanical gait and a blank stare. Her hand, hidden behind her back, worried me. As I stood up, she pulled a black, nine-millimeter handgun from behind her and raised it. I ran down the hall toward my bedroom weaving to be a difficult target. I saw small chalk explosions with each bullet impact in the sheetrock near me. My bedroom window shattered as my palm slammed into it, but before I could climb out, she called me a bastard and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked. It was out of ammo.
note: 26 pronouns and first-person, possessive adjectives in the scene. 125 words

What would happen if we put “color-words” (those creating an instant mental image, emotion or action) as the first words the reader experiences in some or most of the sentences?

Lisa parked her car and entered my apartment without knocking. Surprise brought me to my feet. Relationship talks in the last week ended just last night in a permanent split. Mechanical strides, a blank stare and one hand hidden behind her back gave ample warning. Sinister black lines of a nine-millimeter handgun suddenly rose toward me. I ran. Weaving down the hall toward the bedroom, small chalk explosions traced my erratic trail as bullets impacted sheetrock. My palm shattered the bedroom window, but before I could climb out, she called me a bastard and pulled the trigger. Click. The gun was out of bullets.

note: only 12 pronouns and first-person, possessive adjectives in the scene. 104 words

The second version of the same scene generates more imagery, higher tension and greater relief in the end with fewer words. It accomplishes this reader impact by employing “color-words” to lead off most sentences. Compare the first word of each sentence in the paragraphs.
Paragraph 1:  Lisa, I, She, Her, As, I, I, My, The, It.  (Pretty boring, huh?)

Paragraph 2:  Lisa, Surprise, Relationship, Mechanical, Sinister, Weaving, My, Click, The.  (Much better, and fewer words.)
Remember the term, "Color-words"
Create impact by opening sentences with color-words whenever possible. Sure, I overdid it in the second example above to make a point, but, just as one might add visual appeal to a meal by using purple lettuce or purple potatoes, do the same in writing by positioning those color-words for strong effect. Start the reader with an image, action or emotion in most paragraphs or sentences. From the first word, the goal is to build excitement, anticipation and connection with the reader.

Make those first words count!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Three Personal Surprises & a Bit of Growth

I've never been a big fan of typical fantasy genre stories. Vampires, witches, werewolves, and zombies--especially zombies--always seemed so ridiculous that I could not "get into" the stories. I never even got past the first chapter in any such book until recently.

Surprise #1: My attitude about fantasy stories changed in late 2011. It began with beta-reading a book, Flank Hawk, by Terry Irvin, II. I was shocked by fantastic character development that had me hooked from the second page on. Mythical creatures simply blended seamlessly into the fast-paced adventure of Krish in a world that made perfect sense. My eyes were opened to new possibilities in the fantasy genre. Thank you, Terry. Flank Hawk is currently on the market in multiple formats offered by Gryphonwood Press. It’s well worth the small investment and reading time.

Surprise #2:  This one came when I beta-read Calista's Court for Susan Hulcher (remember that name...the “force is strong” with this one!)  Her main character captured my empathy instantly. I wanted to rescue this young girl in the first few pages. As the story progressed, I found myself again led into a mythical realm, unlike any I would normally choose to read. It was magnificent. Even her gargoyles showed strong personalities that interlaced perfectly with the tale. Susan’s manuscript is currently winding its way through the literary submission swamp and will emerge soon to take its rightful place in readers’ hands.
Surprise #3:  My final personal growth came with The Secrets of Albion Falls by Sass Cadeaux. Amazing story by an amazing storyteller! Again, I found myself sucked into a story unlike any I would have chosen as recently as eighteen months ago. Author Cadeaux ripped me through a blender of emotions from anger to smiles, hope to desperation, compassion to contempt, culminating in one of the most satisfying surprise endings I have enjoyed in ANY genre. Her book just went on the market as an e-book through Amazon last week. Look it up!

Why blog about these three books?

This blog is not about the books. It’s about personal growth as a reader AND as a writer.
I hate change, always have. Yet, I readily admit, I am thrilled to have had my eyes opened by these outstanding tales. Creativity, character evolution, plot growth--these three books illustrate how ALL books should be written. They begin with a strong hook, progress through carefully crafted shifts in pace, provide back-story in metered releases throughout the tale and end in a crescendo of excitement. Oh yeah, they also leave you pining for the inevitable sequels!

But, most important, after reading each of these books, my own inspiration for writing surged. Inspiration knows no genre. Motivation to become excellent derives from touching shoulders with others who have achieved excellence. Each of these improbable (at least, improbable for me to have read) fantasy stories built my confidence, desire and enthusiasm. Genre didn't matter. Quality did!

Who knows? After this bit of growth, maybe I’ll step out of my comfort zone more often. (My wife just looked over my shoulder as I wrote that and said, “You! Step out of your comfort zone? That’ll be a cold day in...!”)
I’ll show her. I...I...I’m going to read a vampire story! Yeah, that’s what I’ll do!