Friday, September 21, 2012

Standing behind Deidre . . .

I'm taking daily lessons on how to improve my ability to fully realize a scene. The resulting writing exercises may or may not add to my current revision of Years of Stone, but, like journaling or morning lines, keep me focused.

This came about as I began the hopefully last round of revision and perhaps another six months of work. After reading that so important first chapter, the critters over at the Internet Writing Workshop said I needed more sense-based imagery to flesh out the story. I talked with my hubby, a sometimes ferocious critic but always supportive, about different strategies and we came up with this scheme.

My first exercise on Wednesday was to hover in my imagination 20 feet above the foundering ship and describe what I see. What I realized immediately was that I couldn't SEE the ship! I didn't know what type of ship, how large, how many crew, how far out from land she had run aground. Aaargh! No wonder those sensory details were missing! So I wrote a little and jumped back into research.

Allen:  "That's cheating! You can't rely on research. You must force yourself to use your imagination, write from what you see, what you imagine you smell, taste, hear, touch." (I told you he could be ferocious.)

Me: "But I'm writing historical fiction. How can I write without knowing absolutely . . . etc, etc."

Source: D'Entrecasteaux National Park
That led to more conversation. We are both stubborn. It's my book, and I will do research. But I will also approach these exercises to focus on spinning out the story that uses the five senses. So today's exercise -- to stand behind Deidre and write what I see -- brought this draft.

Remember, Van Diemen's Land, 1842, the ship has foundered along the D'Entrecasteaux Channel near Southport:

Deidre holds Amalie’s hand tightly as they stand in line. The sailors, their faces sweaty and fearful, rush past them. One sailor drops a coil of rope and bumps into Deidre, shoving her to the deck. For a moment, Deidre loses her grasp of Amalie. “Deidre!” Amalie shrieks. “Don’t let go!” The little girl presses against Deidre and winds her arms around Deidre’s waist.

First Mate Banks roars just ahead of them. “Hold tight. Easy there.”

Deidre wraps Amalie close and leans over the bulwarks to look down at the churning sea. She can taste the salt in the wind that buffets her face. The sailors have rigged up a rope chair and are lowering Mrs. Rafferty over the side, her pudgy eyes closed tightly as she moans. The sailors groan as they lower her to the sea. One of the ropes slips, and she falls the last five feet, dumped unceremoniously into the water. The sailor waiting at the side of the ship tries to pull her out of the water. He goes under, Mrs. Rafferty clinging around his neck. He resurfaces and clouts her on the chin. She slumps, her skirts spread out behind her as he wraps a rope under her meaty arms and begins to haul her to shore.

“We won’t fall, will we?” asks Amalie.

 The Captain’s longboat pulls alongside. The sailors snug the boat to the ship. Immediately the waiting women and children are wound in rope and lowered over the side. Deidre moves forward in the line, Amalie with her, hoping this time they will go in the boat.

“No more ‘else we founder,” cries one of the sailors from below, and the line in front of Deidre stops. The ship’s list has increased. Moans of fear bubble up from the women behind her. Is this the day I die?

ROW80 UPDATE: The round of 80 days has ended. I'm late with my update, having joined this writing community in the middle of the 80 days, but the postings of other writers in the midst of working toward their writing goals has been a wonderful experience. Twice a week we are accountable for what we write. The next round begins October 1. I will be ready with a new set of measurable goals, ready to read what others write, and more than ready to write on!

My update is simple. Writing goals have shifted as I realize I cannot complete the final revisions to Years of Stone in under a month (that is, before leaving for Africa). Unbelievably optimistic! But, good progress on e-publishing as The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales is up on Amazon and available in Kindle and Amazon formats. Whew! These skills were not easy to learn. I've made very good progress in professional reading, though the backlog stack of magazines is very high. And the last goal, building a marketing plan starts with a list and understanding what's involved -- and what I'm willing to do. Ordered Mermaid bookmarks! Next? Think ahead to the next three months.


  1. I'm on your side in that argument. I don't know a lot of history, by any means, but I can spot an imagined rather than researched "fact" from a mile away and it makes me feel insulted. And it makes me respect the author quite a bit less.
    So my vote is for you to keep doing it your way. Get the historical facts and then imagine away!

    1. Thanks, June. It's not really an argument as an ongoing discussion on different ways to dig more deeply into the story. I'm taking Allen's suggestions AND continuing research. For me, the two still go together, though I'm really enjoying the "free" writing. Today my exercise was "follow the captain" on the night before the ship runs aground. Learned a lot about this minor character -- and then researched even more shipwrecks!

  2. I like both approaches! I definitely do lots of research, since I write historicals too, but I'm always reminding myself to add more sensory details!

    1. Thanks for stopping by. I'll be visiting your site to see what your current project is.

  3. Def. you need to know the world - even if 99% of the research isn't actually spelt out - if it's not understood how can you imagine the scene - and there are plenty people who will pick it up when they read the book - sensory detail I have a problem with as well - keep smiling - see you in Oct.