Tag Archives: National novel writing month

Literary devices part 5 – The Mood; setting, diction and bounce

Setting the Mood

So here we are again, well into NaNoWriMo!

Today we’re going to take a look at how to set the mood of your writing, from simple scene setting, diction to dialogue, and how it wraps up. We’ll also mentioned briefly what to avoid (hopefully in a nice way). So, onward…

The Oxford Dictionary defines mood as:

“The atmosphere or pervading tone of something,” or “As modifier (especially of music) inducing or suggestive of a particular feeling or state of mind.”

When writing this can be as simple as the physical setting of your piece or, on a more complicated level, it could be represented by the thoughts and actions of your characters. If you’re writing a single short story the mood may not change. Conversely a novel will likely guide the reader through several different moods and back again repeatedly as the story arc unfolds.

We can look at mood in two different ways; mood in a narrative may possess a prevailing emotional aura of a words, or it could be a grammatical mechanic, such as the continued definition by the Oxford Dictionary:

“A category or form which indicates whether a verb expresses fact (indicative mood), command (imperative mood), question (interrogative mood), wish (optative mood), or conditionality (subjunctive mood).”

It’s quite a clunky definition but it can’t really be said in any other way!

So how do we create mood when we are writing, and how do we maintain the mood as we continue into a section or even change the mood? There’s quite a bit involved and some of it will come naturally to many writers – mood setting is as subjective as taste, colour and smell – people experience things differently (particularly between cultures). Let’s see where we can go with mood!

The Setting

It is traditionally accepted in any story that the physical setting of your writing is the best place to start. Here we subject the reader to their core senses, from sight and sound to smell and touch, hopefully generating an emotional response in their juicy brains by whetting their taste for the atmosphere we’re trying to create. Role-players and games masters will likely be familiar with this concept since it is vital to creating the atmosphere in their collective story. Let’s get a bit of practice in!

Start by choosing a place to describe, literally any place at all – I’m going to choose a beach and then I’m going to describe this beach in two different ways. Here’s our first example of this beach:

ocean waves

“A terrible leaden pall hangs over the foamy brine as waves invade the beach in broken lines. Amidst the slate shingle, broken and rusted metal fittings lie discarded, cold from bygone and indifferent currents. A shattered wreck of an ancient boat lies upturned, its hull pitted and bleached by the elements. Lurking amidst the waves, clusters of seaweed hide, biding their time.”

Our second example is hopefully lighter:

“A warm breeze filters through blue Elijah grass as rhythmic waves rustle to and fro against the smooth shingles of the beach proper. Scattered about the foreshore are tiny treasures from mariners-old, the largest, an upturned boat, its hull home to ancient barnacles. From the silvery water wave great tendrils of seaweed.”

In these two examples we can see there is a very different mood. The first is darker and foreboding, the second is warmer, happier with reflections to a merry past. In both examples I give the sense of colour, temperature and weather to hint at the atmosphere, helping to set the mood. In the second I described the same place in detail, but in lighter, warmer thoughts – gone is the grey sky and invading sea and in their place are blue grasses with calming and rhythmic waves. Even the old boat is seen in a different light, more as a refuge for nature than a wreck.

These examples don’t necessarily need to cover the same details re-skinned to change the mood, it’s just easier to give an example that way.

TL;DR: By focusing on different objects in a little more detail than normal we can show the reader important factors that suggest the mood to the reader, rather than simply telling them about the mood

Word choice or diction is important in describing the setting. Diction is simply the choice of words and phrases a writer uses. By using different words, we can show or hint at different mental states, creating different responses between scenes if necessary. In the first example I’ve used; terrible, pall, hangs, broken, rusty, discarded, shattered, ancient, pitted, and biding, among others. These are all words with a negative connotation, invoking old, war-like and dark emotions.

In the second, I use words like: warm, rhythmic, smooth, treasures, home and wave. These all have a positive connotation, inspiring thoughts of comfort, relaxation and home.

Finally, when your characters are interacting in this setting, think about how they act. Using verbs, how do the characters move about the setting? Some very simple examples of this movement are creeping or tiptoeing.

When a character walks, we don’t see or feel much for the action of moving. Walking is non-descript. Running is a little stronger, but could just be a form of jogging and is vague. Tiptoeing or creeping however suggests caution. Caution is a challenge which could have catastrophic effects for the character if they fail and are discovered, or perhaps they are trying to be considerate as they drunkenly arrive home one night?

What if you don’t like those words? Well, there’s always a trusty thesaurus! Instead of tiptoeing, we could use creeping, slinking, or sneaking to equally or perhaps better describe the action of moving to instantly create a mood with our character actions.

Caution however when using words to describe the setting, which go hand in hand with using emotions to help portray the mood: using words that are directly associated with the emotions of moods is likely to read poorly, such as jealous and joy etc. Try to avoid the clichés such as happy sun, sleepy moon or angry wind. Unless you’re writing a child’s story book, of course.

Be creative though, and mix up your descriptions, use some alliteration and other literary devices to add a bit of spice.

These sorts of techniques come naturally to some writers, often in a purely subconscious manner. Don’t worry too much if you struggle with this – quite often it is subjective and I firmly believe that you get better at this with experience and life generally – read more and you pick up the vibes from other authors. It’s almost likened to a shared writing experience.

A little note on tone. Tone is created by the choice of words you select when writing. Tone is the narrator’s attitude rather than the mood, which is felt rather than read.

white and black moon with black skies and body of water photography during night time

Time

Choosing the moment of your setting is equally important when writing to enhance mood. By creating the setting with a narrative arc, you can create tension or excitement. Think about it this way; your setting should have a beginning, a middle and an end just like any successful story. Start with character action, include the setting, then move onto an element of the story, finally conclude with some sort of discovery. Let’s have a go at creating an example from the one above, I’ll change the direction a little to focus on the past tense. (P.s, its just a draft which may evolve as we go on).

“A terrible leaden pall hung over foamy brine and waves invaded the beach in broken lines as people, cloaks held tight about their necks, struggled forward through the wind. Amidst the slate and shingle, broken and rusted metal fittings lay ruined, discarded by bygone and indifferent currents. The people stopped abruptly. A shattered wreck of an ancient boat lay upturned, its hull pitted and bleached by the elements. The leaders of the people gathered and spoke in hushed tones; was this the vessel they had been warned about? Lurking amidst the waves, clusters of seaweed hid, biding their time.”

This example may be a little off-putting without more context, but the elements of tension and underlying horror or fright are present without actually telling the readers they should be feeling these emotions.

We have a start – people walking, a middle – discovering the upturned boat, and finally the end – a warning or worry about the discovery. It’s not a full narrative arc with a conclusive ending, but then not every ending needs to be conclusive! Have a go carrying out this step with your own location and see if you can match a mood. Get someone to read it and ask them what they feel from it.

The great thing about these skills is that they can be used for literally any genre. We’ve seen how mood changes with simple language use to cause tension to build up in small narrative arcs, powering your reader through to the end. So, we’ve covered mood with a setting with some examples, and we’ve mentioned diction as a strong tool for creating a feeling and a sense for a location, with some character action… what is next?

Pacing & Rhythm

Pacing is a great tool for creating mood in the form of tension, or lack thereof. Short and sharp sentences are capable of producing suspense when they play out over a paragraph – but careful not to overdo short sentences as it can lose its influence quickly.

Longer sentences, with commas, help to produce vivid and deep thought as the reader takes a mental breath at each clause. You’ll often find this in prose and poetry, but it is a valid literary tool for fiction. Getting the balance right is tricky but rewarding. Take time to read each line when you are editing and feel the bounce of the rhythm. If it fits the mood, then you’ve cracked it!

marketing man person communication

Dialogue

(I’ve covered dialogue previously, but I’ll go over a few more ideas here.)

Here we’ll look at dialogue and monologue as a way of creating the mood in a literary piece.

Dialogue is communication between two or more characters, whereas monologue is simply a single character’s thoughts or words kept to themselves. Focusing on dialogue, we find that no two conversations are going to be the same, but their moods can be. As with the example above regarding setting, the same conversation can be had with different moods by use of diction and dialogue. However, unlike with a descriptive setting, dialogue uses line and sentence length, grammar and punctuation to more effect. Let’s use an example to give us a better idea:

“This looks like a place in my dreams – perfect in every detail, right down to the shingle and the distant grey storm. There’s is not a bird in the sky or a lion on the shore, only the seaweed and the growing waves,” Eric said.

“We should move no closer. If we do, there’s a chance we will bring doom upon our people. Please. Caution, my lord. This is dangerous!” said Rolf, tugging at the tails of his beard.

“No. We look closer. Move.” Said Ragnar, pointing to the boat.

OK, it’s not book-signing quality dialogue, but it’s a very simple example of the mood. We know that they have arrived in a place (in context, the beach we spoke about earlier). There is something unusual going on as Eric thinks he has seen this before in a dream.

Eric talks in longer lines and focuses on the details of his surroundings – he is not worried, more likely overcome with wonder at the similarities between the place and his dream. Ragnar seems to be giving orders, despite the advice from Rolf who seems to be worried. Rolf talks in shorter sentences, suggesting he talks quickly. We added an exclamation mark to his speech to punch his meaning, suggesting he is tense.

Ragnar uses similar short sentences but in a different form; he is curt and to the point, giving the command to get closer with a single, final word. We get the impression Ragnar is not a thoughtful leader of his people, since he seems to be single minded about the situation.

Monologues work in much the same way: whereas a dialogue involves two more characters conversing on the subject, a monologue is self-centered on the character. A key difference however is the ability for the characters internal thoughts to be at a complete juxtaposition to their environment, which can add distance between the character and their surroundings. As with any dialogue, a monologue should only ever push the story and plot forwards, otherwise we do not need to read about it!

We can see that the dialogue on its own can be successful by itself, but by combining our examples of setting and dialogue, the mood and atmosphere are supported:

A terrible leaden pall hung over foamy brine and waves invaded the beach in broken lines. People, cloaks held tight about their necks, struggled forward through the wind. Amidst the slate and shingle, broken and rusted metal fittings lay ruined, discarded by bygone and indifferent currents. The people stopped abruptly – a shattered wreck of an ancient boat lay upturned, its hull pitted and bleached by the elements. The leaders of the people gathered and spoke in hushed tones; was this the vessel they had been warned about? Lurking amidst the waves, clusters of seaweed hid, biding their time.

“This looks like a place in my dreams – perfect in every detail, right down to the shingle and the distant grey storm. There is not a bird in the sky or a lion on the shore, only the seaweed and the growing waves,” Eric said.

“Move no closer. If we do, there’s a chance we will bring doom upon our people. Please! Caution, my lord Ragnar – this is dangerous,” said Rolf, biting at the tips of his fingers.

“No. Look closer. Move,” said Ragnar, pointing.

TL;DR, the setting and dialogue should relate to each other through the mood of the piece. Cute and sunny will likely lift the mood of most people unless they’ve suffered a terrible loss, likewise, dark and chilling is not likely to lift someone’s mood unless they’re part of the Addam’s Family!

What to Avoid

So the message that should be loud and clear by now is to not tell the reader how a character feels, particularly by using words such as happy and sad. Instead, we now know to describe the feeling and the reaction to the feeling. We can describe the surroundings of of the character in the setting to support any dialogue and emotions to create the mood. And the mood should develop with the narrative arc of the section and the whole piece of your writing to keep it flowing to a rhythm.

Show, don’t tell, as they say.

If you’re really stuck

Here’s an idea to get you out of a rut. Let’s say your trying to write the mood and you’re really stuck with where to start. My advice is start with what the characters sense first, or if there are no characters, what the reader would be to sense first. This is usually, sight, sound, smell and finally tactile. Write a list of single words you could describe the setting and mood with, any words that fit or could fit. When you’ve got a good number of them, go through them and cut out the ones that seem too weak or flimsy. Now put them in order as we just mentioned (sight, sound etc). Using this as a framework, start filling it out as a paragraph… then go from there!

That concludes this installment. It’s been a busy few weeks with all our projects on the go, but we’re enjoying every moment of it!

Don’t forget to leave a comment, like, or an upvote if you’ve found this helpful. We’re all for helping!

J.D Ferris, CC

Literary Devices Part 1 – Four ideas on How to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 2 – Four more ideas on how to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 3 – How to avoid Exposition Pitfalls in your fiction, prose and poems

Literary Devices Part 4 – Dialogue techniques and capturing fictional realism

Literary Devices Part 4 – Dialogue techniques and capturing fictional realism

NaNoWriMo started today! Hu-rarrgh! So let’s get down to business, because I know for a fact you’re just taking a break from smashing today’s word goal, and research counts, right?

Today we’ll be looking at dialogue and how dialogue not only gives your characters depth and well, character, but also helps you advance the plot of your story.

I’m going to split this episode into two sections; literal advice on dialogue and then characterisation, which is a deeper and heavier topic which I will touch on.  I won’t cover grammar here because that is a lesson all of its own, but I’ll include some links for you to look at.

Dialogue is the verbal interaction between two or more characters which your reader is privy to. If the character is talking alone, we call it a monologue. Both of these are useful as writing techniques and I’ll cover a few interesting ideas soon. First, I want to show you an example of how dialogue can work:

“What are we watching tonight?” asked Jude.
Sarah shuffled the DVDs on the shelf to get a better look. “Star Wars, tonight?”
“Amazing.”
“We could watch Indiana Jones if you’d like?” she said.
“Nah, Star Wars. With popcorn.”

This is pretty basic dialogue, it’s OK but it doesn’t really make for good reading and frankly, its dull. I’ll rewrite this section and you can see for yourself how a little conflict can really give it more energy and readability.

“What are watching tonight?” asked Jude.
Sarah shuffled the DVDs on the shelf to get a better look. “Star Wars, tonight?”
“That shit, again?”
“We haven’t watched any Star Wars since Sunday night,” she said.
“Yeah, I know. And the Sunday before that and the one before that! Don’t you ever try something new, Sarah?”

This rewrite has conflict, unlike the original draft. It’s pretty mundane stuff but actually gives a little bit of purpose to the dialogue – we learn more about the characters in the same amount of text without really having to change much. Dialogue is plot, plot is confrontation, confrontation is dramatic and therefore entertaining to read. If your dialogue does not advance the plot or aids in creating your character, remove it. It isn’t helping.

So, onto the juicy stuff.

Part One – Literary Tactics on Dialogue

Organics

The primary rule here is that fictional dialogue of any sort is not directly transposed from real-life dialogue. It doesn’t work, because when we talk naturally we interrupt ourselves with filler noises while we think or sigh and make gestures with our bodies. With this in mind, keep your dialogue concise, meaning you should cut it right back to the essentials only. If there is no character advancement or plot work going on, get rid of it as it doesn’t make for good reading.

While we’re at it – we don’t always use social niceties when we talk. I am forever just shouting a colleagues name, sometimes getting it wrong on purpose. It’s also not organic to greet someone formally every time they come into the room to talk. This leads nicely into using incomplete or cut back sentences. Rather than ask:

“Do you want to drink some beer with me?”

We would simply say:

“Want a beer?”

It is implied that by asking about the possession of beer, you’re likely to share it.

Tags and Vacuum Speech

Tags are really simple devices to break up the dialogue. In real life we don’t just face each other and speak blandly forwards, often we are pausing or watching the other person for reactions. Stephen King makes it very clear that simply using the word said is more than enough of a tag to help the reader keep up with the dialogue. He said, she said, or using the character name sparingly is enough of a tag to help the conversation flow.

Be careful with tags though, as they can easily become overused and distract the reader with a speedy battle of paddle war. To get around this, using descriptive tags can alter the pace of your dialogue. Descriptive tags are little actions which we all do when we talk; preparing food, typing away at a computer desk or lighting a cigarette. These descriptions give a sense of life and purpose to the characters. Caution though, avoid adverbs (usually ending in the suffix ‘ly’) such as frighteningly. Rather, describe these actions and emotions with the characters reactions.

Line Punch

Another easy little device is to alter the length of lines in your dialogue. Shortening lines in a dialogue adds some punch into the conversation by allowing the reader to break or rest for a brief moment. Overextending the reader is usually a result of boring, lengthy lines of dialogue which feel faked.

If one character is talking with lengthy lines and the responses are single words or short and sharp lines, we may assume that the second character is being evasive or unhelpful.

Tension can also be built up as dialogue lines become shorter, suggesting the conversation is reaching a climax where neither character is prepared to talk further, possibly resulting in conflict.

Part 2 – Characterisation & Dialogue

Collins English Dictionary describes characterisation as:

“Characterization is the way an author or an actor describes or shows what a character is like.”

The key words here are describes and shows. As with any writing devices, it is always preferred to show the reader rather than tell them (especially when it comes to exposition). For this reason you must consider your character in detail and then use their dialogue or monologue to effectively portray who they are. This is tricky, but with some background notes you should be able to overcome dry dialogue. The following are not in any particular order of importance.

Emotional conventions are habits learned from background and upbringing. They will add life and realism to your characters with proper use. In some cases however it is always best to avoid stereotypes, even mild ones, as these may seem trite.

books on bookshelves

Education

Education is an important consideration. Educated people behave differently from those with a poor or no education. Characters are likely to appear less aggressive (although appearances can be deceptive) with an education, avoiding direct confrontation and possess a wider vocabulary than others while likely to use correct grammar. Educated characters are also likely to use literary devices like rhetoric to convey their meaning and intent. Conversely, those with a poor education are more likely to use colloquialisms and repeat themselves..

Gender (Stereotypes)

Gender in dialogue only really refers to the stereotypes. Generally female dialogue is considered to be wandering and generally less competitive with a focus on establishing common ground, than male dialogue. This doesn’t mean your female character has to be these things, of course not. However it does highlight how readers perceive female dialogue to be. Finally, it is considered to be widely accepted for a women to be more emotional in public, whereas men are often ridiculed or treated with a measure of discomfort for showing strong emotions in public. Play around with these ideas, and be happy with how much you include in your dialogue. Stereotypes can be ignored!

Family & Religious Background

Every family is unique with its little quirks and traditions and sometimes religious practices plays into those quirks. Where family promotes its own habits of emotion, religion often has social constraints and these will help define your character and their dialogue. Usually a strong religious background will prevent cussing or taking a deities name in vain. A character with strict parents, for example a stern military figure, may remain taciturn and stoic during most of the dialogue and may struggle with showing emotions. Those with a formal upbringing are less likely to interrupt others and use formal titles when addressing figures of authority. Think about where your character has come from and who they are forming a dialogue with.

three women wearing turbands

Ethnicity

Ethnicity is a tricky element of a character. As mentioned previously, it is best to avoid stereotypes, but then again, they exist. Ethnicity tends to be tied closely with the previous sections of characterisation. Consider for a moment a high powered business man standing before a board of shareholders. Chances are you imagined a white caucasian man in a suit. Now imagine this business man has received news of the death of a friend, does he; break down in tears or does he clench his jaw, finish the meeting and go home to his den and drink whiskey in stony silence?

Consider a street vendor who sells food receiving the same news, surrounded by his community and friends. Is he more likely to break down in tears than the previous example? Likely, yes. In some cultures it is perfectly acceptable for anyone to drop to the floor in tears, or wail freely. The point we’re trying to make here is that emotion and dialogue are connected, and different ethnicity’s will react to strong emotion or sudden change with different responses. Linking back to education, you may find that the business man will respond to grief with definite terms and phrases, whereas the street vendor is likely to repeat themselves and stammer, vocalising their dismay openly and sporadically.

Circumstances

Circumstances alter our dialogue drastically and are strongly linked to the timing of the characters dialogue. Consider the following lines:

“An hour into our night patrol and suddenly we’re taking fire, tracer rounds lighting up the ridge dead ahead. A storm of bullets was tearing our position up and I had trouble shouting out call signs – I had to check for injured but I couldn’t move my damn lips!”

This is an example of character describing a previous incident. When reflecting, people tend to focus on giving the reader a sense of backstory and details which had likely been soaked in subconsciously. If the action was taking place in real time, either through a flashback or direct descriptions the dialogue would be very different. Keep the context, cut the dialogue right back to something simple, your character probably doesn’t have time to think of a full sentence:

“Taking fire, find cover!”

Or in our previous example, no dialogue at all. Sometimes silence is enough for the reader to get the idea.

Concluding this episode

Some of the best advice you can get is to break the rules, play with your dialogue and proof it many times. If you’re not happy with, move on and come back to it. If you’re unsure, read out the lines as if you were acting and see if the dialogue for each character sounds different enough to be real.

Here’s a nice link for grammar in dialogue. It’s nicely worded, but be aware that dialects of English, such as UK and US English will have a few different ideas. Personally I think if you stick to one type you’ll be fine!

Finally, if you can get a copy, this is the best book I’ve seen out there for UK grammar.

J.D Ferris, CC

Literary Devices Part 1 – Four ideas on How to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 2 – Four more ideas on how to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 3 – How to avoid Exposition Pitfalls in your fiction, prose and poems

Literary devices part 5 – The Mood; setting, diction and bounce

NaNoWriMo Day 1: Unexpected Lessons.

The first day is done. Well, there’s plenty of daylight left but I powered through last night and got to my word count by about 4AM. It was nice to feel so motivated, so I kept telling myself that I could write this piece afterwards to document my experience, which got me to the end. You have to find ways of justifying the effort to yourself, especially if you have problems with motivation like me. We’re getting there.

I had the bare bones of my story in my mind and some scant notes, but I didn’t really know how I was going to flesh out the character development. So that was my goal going into it, using the narrative ideas I’d come up with as a vehicle to develop those ideas, I found that not knowing myself really helped me present those ideas to the reader in a cogent way, and by the end of the first 1680 words, I found that I knew who my protagonist was, what she cared about and developed her relationships with her parents.

It’s quite amazing what you can get done when you sit down, have a plan, and put the work in.

I hope this article format is interesting. If anyone has any questions or wants to talk about their NaNoWriMo experience, I’d be happy to start a dialogue.

Our Discord Server: https://discord.gg/PGj8yYS

Literary Devices Part 3 – How to avoid Exposition Pitfalls in your fiction, prose and poems

Exposition is a literary device defined as the author providing information to the reader. The mistake of many new fiction writers is to immediately give the reader all the information. Right away. All at once. Page after page. This sort of exposition is dry, boring and likely results in your book being put down after a few minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, exposition has its place in the world; scientific articles, news reports and encyclopaedias are typical examples. It is considered a formal, matter-of-fact writing style and is sometimes given the name direct exposition. Direct exposition is considered a poor style of fiction writing – readers can’t handle all the information in one go, or the immersion of the story is broken by poorly disguised or placed information.

So, how do you get your information across to the reader?

The key is to trickle your amazing world history (or whatever) into the story as you go, ideally before the reader needs to know this information. Building up this way is simple and discrete and does wonders for your readership.

Jo Walton suggests that the best way to get information flowing throughout your work is to scatter it discretely, allowing it to seamlessly integrate rather than dumping it in. You can achieve this through various actions; dialogue between characters, flashbacks in which the story unfolds much like in movies and TV series, character thoughts and feelings, even describing news reports in the background of the situation. We call these forms of exposition indirect exposition.

The details, let’s get into more detail!

Dialogue is the verbal exchange between two or more characters. It can help you slip in some subtle exposition if the topic of the conversation relates to the information you’re trying to include. It’s as simple as discussing past events, concerns for the future or predictions based on a character experience.

Flashbacks are the author or narrator taking the reader backwards in time to describe a previous situation pertinent to the plot of the main story. They give the reader a sense of time and depth to the characters involved and can offer insight into possible future events beyond current time in the story. Tension can be generated when the reader knows a little more than the characters do. Don’t overdo flashbacks though, they can become tedious if they’re the only source of indirect exposition.

Thoughts and feelings are personal views belonging to your characters and are used in much the same way as a flashback, usually from an internal perspective:

“Why didn’t she turn left? Twenty years of living on the estate and she’s always turned left – she couldn’t help it.”

In-story media or news can really kick your exposition home. All that needs to happen is for a character to interact, either seeing, hearing or indeed taking part in the media platform:

“Chelsey grabbed the remote and flipped the TV volume up. She couldn’t believe her eyes – the stock market had collapsed. All the money they had invested, all the effort and pain they had endured to get their business working had been for naught. Economic war, the news presenter said, was leading to air, sea and land deployment of US troops on EU soil.”

Finally, a worthy note on narrative backstory.

Narrative backstory is when the author promotes some of the history or relevant information at the start of the story. You would normally find this sort of prologue in older fiction, usually pre-1950’s (the height of pulp fiction). It can work in modern fiction, but should be used sparingly – there’s a reason it’s not as popular anymore! However, if a character is recollecting the events or situation it allows for the reader to come to an understanding of the personal effects of this backstory. You will find that authors like H.P Lovecraft often wrote in the fashion of a personal journal or statement of the narrator, which adds a personal feel to a classical plot.

That wraps up today’s literary devices article! If you’ve been affected by any of the content of this article, or if you know of anyone who has, please get in touch and we can discuss the ideas more!

J.D Ferris, CC

Literary Devices Part 1 – Four ideas on How to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 2 – Four more ideas on how to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 4 – Dialogue techniques and capturing fictional realism

Literary devices part 5 – The Mood; setting, diction and bounce

Literary Devices Part 2 – Four more ideas on how to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Getting closer to NaNoWriMo!

We’ve got some more unusual literary devices for your perusal today. We’ve scraped the barrel and hoisted the sales to bring these weirdly named tricks to add some flare and depth to your writing styles. See if you can make use of them in your month of writing – the fun unfolds!

Anadiplosis

Is it Ana-dip-losis or Ana-di-plosis? I’m going with the latter! This odd sounding technique is actually very simple – when you break a sentence down into clauses, you can choose to end a clause and start the next clause with the same word. It’s a really simple technique and adds weight to the authority of your tone. For example:

“That man speaks in lies, lies carried from the grave!”

Those smart ancient Greeks like to use this method, it pops up everywhere. My favourite example:

“The mountains look on Marathon – And Marathon looks on the sea.”

They’re quite simple to create and can be used in fiction, prose and poetry. This isn’t to be confused with a chiasmus which inverts the meaning between the clauses of a sentence – more on those later!

Bathos

Bathos uses a dwindling cohesion of metaphors and descriptions to show growing passion of the topic – it’s also used to create silly comedy. I am not a comedian, but here’s the best example I can come up with:

“He urged his friend to stop, to think about the children, to really consider what he was doing – how could he use French mustard on roast beef?”

OK so my example wasn’t great, but used properly bathos can create a strong contrast in the tone of your piece or add a delicate level of wit to something which is actually quite serious.

Chiasmus & Antimetabole

These two are so close together as literary devices that they are often used interchangeably. They’re not entirely the same however. They are used ideally in speeches or perhaps opening lines as rhetoric. When a sentence is repeated by its reversal, to convey an idea or define a point, it is called chiasmus (ki-as-mus). In an antimetabole (anti-me-tab-o-lee) however the words and grammatical structure are also reversed. My example of an antimetabole is one which I have to say a lot during my day job:

“I work to live, not live to work,”

All I’ve done is swap the word work and live around in the second half of the sentence to change the meaning around. For a chiasmus I’ve had to take an example from online, because it’s pretty difficult to distinguish the two types (and some are listed under both literary devices!):

“Never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you.”

Thank goodness for examples!

Dactyl

Sounds a bit like a dinosaur type creature, right? Well, Dactyl is an old Greek word for a finger and here’s why we use it to describe this literary device: a dactyl plays on a single word of three syllables, with the verbal accent of the first syllable emphasised over the second and third. The technique is used mostly in poetry (some say overused) to the point where its kind of normalised now. The opposite to this is the anapest, which puts the emphasis on the second two syllables rather than the first.

So, a dactyl in poetry (which is in itself a dactyl, PO-e-try) can consist of a series of dactyls in order to provide a meter for the reader, some say this gives the poem or piece of work a galloping effect -which people then link to The Charge of the Light Brigade, a famous and overused example online:

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward

All in the valley of Death

You could argue that a dactyl can build a rhythm in your written work when the time is right, whether that’s a galloping charge of mounted soldiers or the specific beat of a drum, dactyls can be used as a literary device to help convey strong imagery.

This wraps up today’s unusually named literary devices. We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about some weird but cool and subtle tricks to add life to your fiction. Let us know if you have any success or if you’ve got any questions. Maybe you can improve on our descriptions? We’d love to get you involved!

J.D. Ferris, CC

Literary Devices – Four ideas on How to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 3 – How to avoid Exposition Pitfalls in your fiction, prose and poems

Compelling Kennings – The must use old tongue for Fiction, Role-Play Games and Insults!

Have you used any of these recently?

Fender-bender, book-worm, rug-rat, pencil-pusher…

You’re using kennings, albeit modern ones.

To some readers a kenning will be a familiar concept. Here in the UK we use them daily, although most of us won’t realise that we’re using them. They have a definite taste of the old world and find their use mostly in poetry for effect, or the sort of language your grandma might use.

What is a kenning?

Wiki defines them as:

“… compound expression in Old English and Old Norse poetry with a metaphorical meaning.”

Not too helpful, thanks Wiki! A better definition by Dictionary.com:

“A conventional phrase used for or in addition to the usual name of a person or thing, especially in Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon verse, as ‘a wave traveller’ for ‘a boat.’”

So, we’re using two or more words to describe something, usually a noun. It seems an odd thing to do, but when you think about it, before radio and visual recordings we only had books (which most people couldn’t read) or we had spoken stories. Kennings, as far as I can tell, are stylistic choices much like a film director uses special effects to grab our attention. Kennings make you think pretty.

If you’ve ever used the phrase ‘as the crow flies’ you are describing a distance measured only in a straight line – it could be a mile directly, or it could be several miles if you follow roads and pathways. See? It sounds better, no? Apparently, we use kennings daily.

The term Ken is still used in certain parts of the British Isles, mainly in the northern regions, such as Scotland where its term is used to describe an understanding or mental perception. It’s use in English is less common, but in archaic dialects it means to acknowledge or confess.

brown book page

The best source of kennings?

Beowulf is a prime example of a collection of expressive kennings. It can be quite hard to follow without context, meaning kennings need to be backed up with a story. Here we have feed the eagle, which in old Norse terms equates to kill you enemies – the understanding would be that birds of prey are not shy of feeding on carrion, those fallen in battle. The whale road simply meaning the sea is a nice mental picture that pops into our mind even though we know what the sea looks like. To the ancient Norse or Saxons, the relevance was much stronger on account of their reliance on sea travel and whaling.

What can we use them for?

I’m suggesting you have a look at kennings when you write. If you’re writing something unusual, or in a fantasy genre, kennings can add a bit of vocal flavour, form part of a riddle or puzzle. The same can apply to role-playing games.

Kennings arise from the poetry of the old world, dialects and stories from skalds (Norse story tellers) and become commonplace between people who are isolated from the rest of the world (a bit like Iceland or Greenland). It adds a lot of immersion if people in your setting or game session refer to simple things with their own words. This works for titles, places of taboo, legendary figures or important tools to a culture.

It also means you don’t have to create languages up!

Things I will be using Kennings for in the future:

  • Names of magical items
  • Titles and names of great beasts or creatures, like Dragons!
  • Fancy slurs for rough and ready fictional characters
  • ‘Old-tongue’ for archaic dialects (see what I did there?)

Here’s a few more examples of modern terms we use today, which you may not understand if you’re in a different dialect bubble to mine – you can see how kennings influence our daily lives still:

  • Hot-potato – when there’s something no one wants to go near or touch!
  • First-Lady – the president of the US’s wife or the president of the US if she was a lady?
  • Tramp-stamp – tattoo, usually on the lower back of a woman.
  • Granny-chaser – I won’t explain this one.

So, as you can tell, they are not always glorious or quaint metaphors, some being quite distasteful! But the use of kennings has not gone away in thousands of years. What started as an oral story telling tradition has thankfully found its way onto paper and into books and is now digital too. Kennings have survived where cultures and societies didn’t.

photo of sea near cave
Iceland – no wonder they needed creative kenning

It seems the Kennings are still a huge part of our language and will probably remain to be so until we stop language altogether.

Have a go yourself, see what you can come up with!

J.D Ferris, CC

Opening Lines from stories of the last century – why you should master them!

“Frank; what can be more self-inspiring than the opening lines of your own novel?” – I’m not sure I cracked this first time, but here’s how your opening lines can be great if you’re willing to learn from the some of the classical heroes of literature.

All the best first lines in literature are vivid, granting us a clear image which kicks starts the story in a tone that carries us forward.

But how do they do it? What sort of ideas can you use to inject a fist full of Bruce Lee punchiness to your opening lines? Well I’ve got some ideas for you, with examples from my favourite fiction authors in horror, fantasy and adventure fiction, proving that one hundred year old ideas can still be used across genres and in modern writing.

What is a perfect opening line?

The perfect opening lines need to grab us, they need to open their broad arms and tell us that we’re to expect something more, warm arms that wrap around us and make us cosy up to the fact that we’re going on a journey. They may not need to set the tone of the whole story, but they need to grab us and either draw us in with succulent words or punch us in the face and toss us into the inferno.

Your ABCs

Some simple tips for your opening lines:

The most basic step is to name a character. Naming someone makes aspects of the content real for us from the moment we start reading. Got that Frank?

Now that we have named that fellow, it helps to see what they’re doing. Creating an action provides us with the sense of motion of going forward, even if it’s the most mundane action in the world like breathing. Frank, put that coffee down and come over here.

Next, we’re going to dabble in a bit of emotion, ideally something we can all relate to. Since we’re all humans (I guess you may not be?) we all feel, and we want to be sympathetic with the character. Sit down Frank and wipe that stupid grin from your face.

Combining these elements may not give the best or most exciting opening, but many great authors use the same ideas and ramp them up to a magnitude of thousand. We’re going to take a look at how writers tackle their opening lines, some modern and some from nearly a hundred years ago!

Howard's Conan

Here’s a classic example from The Pool of the Black One by Robert Howard, original author of the Conan tales circa 1920s:

“Sancha, once of Kordova, yawned daintily, stretched her supple limbs luxuriously, and composed herself more comfortably on the ermine fringed silk spread on the carrack’s poop-deck.”

In this grandiose opening line, we get a name, a title of sorts then an action followed by a second action and so on. I love this opening line because we get so much in one sentence that there’s no question who we are looking at; a woman with a mysterious background who is at ease and likely familiar with the finer things in life, probably a pirate!

But what if you want to set the tone in more depth?

To really highlight a sense of foreboding some authors use a hindsight perspective. This hindsight gives the reader a sense of time passed and already conjures notions in our mind that we’re to expect more. This perspective makes us ask questions without really giving us enough details. We simply want more. I draw your attention to Herbert West – Reanimator by Lovecraft, from the same era as Robert Howard:

“Of Herbert West, who was my friend in collage and in other life, I can speak only with extreme terror.”

This is a classic opening from Lovecraft which crunches familiar ideas together in a great juxtaposition; ‘friend in collage and other life’ and ‘extreme terror’ are not usual bedfellows. When I first read this line I was a little stunned – what happened to these two friends to invoke such terror?

Lovecraft’s voice here is very formal, we’re probably reading a journal or a confession, but also remarkably relaxed, as if the author has come to terms with whatever happened and reflects on past deeds.

Lovecraft also states these things as facts.

Simple facts, or even complex ones can hammer home the nature of your story. One of the strangest factual opening lines I’ve read, for its mundanity, comes from Dennis Wheatley’s The Forbidden Territory:

“The Duke de Reichleau and Mr Simon Aron had gone in to dinner at eight o’clock, but coffee was not served till after ten.”

Wheatley’s opening line gives us the very simplest of tips mentioned earlier; names and actions. What strikes interest here, other than the mundanity is the fact that there’s a gap in the timescale. Most of us wouldn’t question a two-hour gap for eating, but in this post-war era the inference is that something went on; a long discussion perhaps, or an unexpected guest. It makes us question what happened and is the simplest pull into a story.

Lovecraft Stories

Being Vague

Running the same theme of factual storytelling, Anne Rice, a vivid writer with a clean voice started Tales of the Body Thief with these very simple lines:

“The Vampire Lestat here. I have a story to tell you. It’s about something that happened to me.”

If the reader is familiar with Rice, Lestat is an old Vampire with several hundred years under his belt. Lestat’s informal voice comes from his adaptation to the modern world, like we’re supposed to know him. Indeed, this isn’t the first Lestat novel but it captures Lestat’s lazy and disregarding nature of mortals (which he desperately wants to recapture). So, Rice gives us a name but there’s no action! This is fine, because in a very blatant but well executed introduction, we know there’s a story to tell here. Again, the hindsight perspective works nicely to draw us in.

One last example of using unknown past circumstances comes from Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World one of many Wheel of Time books:

“The palace still shook occasionally as the earth rumbled in memory, groaned as if it would deny what happened.”

Simple questions arise. More vague, check out the opening line to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte:

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

You can’t really get more vague – if this was Face Book I’d expect a lot of typical ‘U ok Hon’ type responses, but this is literature and we like vague; it makes us want to know; why?

What about real Action?

Hitting the reader with real, hardcore action works well in adventure style literature and can be as simple as the following, from Shadows in the Moonlight, another one of Howard’s classic sword & sorcery:

“A swift crashing of horses through tall reed; a heavy fall, a despairing cry.”

Here we are told very little, but the imagination is fired up; why are the horses crashing through a reed bed? I suspect there’s water so it’s hard work for horse and rider so must be important. Who or what fell heavily? Who cried out in desperation? Chances are this is the result of conflict, perhaps someone has escaped or is being chased? Less than fifteen words and we’re right into the action and already asking questions.

What about using the unusual?

Unusual openings are a great way to confuse and entice readers, but they must be concise so as to avoid convoluted circles which can lose your audience. I’ll draw from Lovecraft (Call of Cthulhu) and Howard (Shadows of Zamboula) for two examples.

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”

Here Lovecraft poses a statement with a hint of reflection. What contents of the human mind are we trying to correlate? The vague hints at something deep can start the mind turning! From Howard:

“Peril hides in the house of Aram Baksh!”

Here Howard makes it very clear that there’s an element of danger, whether we believe the statement or not. The fact that it is spoken word and not narrative drops us into a place of uncertainties; who do we trust, the opinion of the speaker or the fact of a statement? We also have a name and a location – the ABC’s at work. The undertone of emotion (peril, danger or horror) tempts us with the thrill of a something we should probably avoid but can’t help but read – we’re all insects buzzing closer to that blue light in a day dream. speaking of dreams, Lovecraft’s The Silver Key:

“When Randolph Carter was thirty he lost the key of the gate of dreams.”

Here Lovecraft is suggesting there is a place that is a literal door to dreams. It implies more than the normal world without having to explain with exposition what on earth is going to happen. It is unusual but also includes elements of naming and action (in the loss of something) as well as giving us a snippet of description for Mr Carter. Added to this, we ask the question: how did the character get into this?

Call of Cthulhu

Finally, formality

As mentioned before, Rice uses Lestat’s voice to bring us in close enough to get bitten by giving the vampire an informal tone. We’re expecting perhaps blood and violence right away, instead we’re given a friendly talking to, perhaps imagined on the TV screen or the phone.

The narrators voice can also be twisted to formality or otherwise to give us some perspective, allowing to see more story without literally writing it in. Another great example from Lovecraft’s Pickman’s Model:

“You needn’t think I’m crazy, Eliot – plenty of others have queerer prejudices than this.”

Here we’re being pulled into why the narrator struggles with underground transport, but we don’t really know why, and in true Lovecraftian style we’re pulled slowly and inexorably to the climax of the horror – things lurk – which the narrator never wishes to comprehend again, but we’re going to read about it and understand why.

Not Quite the beginning

A second point of interest is that Lovecraft didn’t start right at the beginning of Pickman’s Model. Rather, he started just after the beginning of the conversation between the narrator and Eliot. Yet another great way to make your start interesting. Some of the previous examples do this too – we’re trying to draw our reader in. Ever heard the phrase ‘What’s in the box!?’ well that’s what we’re tapping into when we start not quite at the beginning.

Where does the learning come in?

We’ve pointed out some great opening lines and investigated what makes them good. To get into practice of creating great opening lines you should probably consider these last few bits of advice:

  • Write your opening lines last – no one wrote a great opening line first time. Much like any other aspect of writing, you’ll probably need to plan your writing rather than trying to create the best opening line right away.
  • Read lots of great opening lines, even if you don’t read all of the book. If you have access to books, jot down a few opening lines each day and dissect them like you’re a pathologist of words. You’ll soon start to see what makes great opening lines and not. Goosebumps are a good sign!
  • If in doubt, try, try again. You’ll not this get this right first time, maybe not even second or third time. Get advice from friends and fellow authors (this bit can be hard for closet writers!) Feedback is key, as you’ll not be buying your own book!

Now that you’ve got a better idea about what makes a great introduction or opening line, have another go yourself, even if you’re nowhere near finishing your novel or story. It can be self-inspiring and refreshing to have a go.

Go forth and kindle those flaming juices of imagination!

I’m going to start on my opening line for this article…

J.D Ferris, CC