Friday, March 29, 2013

Murderous Musings Mystery Group Facebook Page


Murderous Musings now has a Facebook group page where you can go to learn more about us and our work. We welcome your  comments and participation, and would love to hear what you'd like to see on this blog site. We appreciate your input.

We'll be discussing various aspects of writing and are open to your questions and opinions. To participate, click on Facebook page, then on "request" in the upper right corner under the pictures, and "join." When approved you'll be one of our members.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lee Child is WORTH DYING FOR!


By Jackie King

I love books. Especially mysteries…all kinds of mysteries. I write cozies, but I read anything that hits my fancy.

The other day I was picking up some books and movies from the library, and as I was walking out, one of Lee Child’s thrillers reached out and grabbed me. The title was WORTH DYING FOR. Now, I’ve meant to read one of Child’s Reacher novels for a very long time, so I added this book to the rest of the stack and checked out.

I often over estimate myself, especially where time is involved and the book came due much quicker than I thought possible. (Two weeks seems like such a long time at the beginning…then passes so quickly.) I was disappointed about not getting to know the famous 6’ 5”, 250 pound hero, and decided to see if I could recheck the book.  I stuck it in my car so I wouldn’t forget.

I wanted to at least get a feel for Child’s writing, so snagged it to take into a doctor’s appointment. I settled in for a long wait (as usual) and opened to page one.

Wow! Once I fell into the pages of WORTH DYING FOR, there was no turning back. The pages turned themselves. I swear it! And for once in my life, the nurse came to fetch me way before I was ready to go into the doctor.

*****

That night was my turn to host our critique group. I read until the first writer arrived, and then threw the book on my coffee table so I could read again as soon as our work session ended. The writer who walked in the door, T.D. Hart, also writes thrillers. She glanced at the book on her way past the coffee table.

“Everyone is reading Lee Child, now,” she said.

“There’s a good reason for that,” I answered. “This book is addictive. It has a riveting plot, fascinating characters and a hero to die for.”

Being both a reader and a writer, she stopped, looked at me quizzically, and waited for more. So I gave her my slant, which was a bit different than most.

“In this book, Reacher reminds me of the old fashioned Saturday afternoon cowboy hero, who rides into town, gets involved in the town’s horrible problem, inspires the terrified townsfolk, solves the dilemma with their help, and then rides off into the sunset.

Of course Reacher isn’t a cowboy, doesn’t have a horse, and in this novel, he hitchhiked both into town and out of town. But WORTH DYING FOR left me with the same satisfied feeling that justice had been done.

If you haven’t read Lee Child, let me assure you, the experience is WORTH DYING FOR.

Cheers,

Jackie King

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

‘Welcome,’ he adumbrated lubriciously


by Bill Kirton

I thought I’d said enough about rhythm in a previous blog but recent experiences with an editor’s suggestions for (I presume) ‘improvements’ to a text forces me to revisit it. These ‘improvements’ also, once again, brought more of Elmore Leonard’s ‘rules’ into focus. First of all, there’s the problem of ‘said’. In ‘rule’ 3 Leonard advises us ‘Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue’ and 4 says ‘Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”’. That’s just the opening sentence of each and I’ll quote more later but, for the moment, let’s try to see (hear) what he means.

If you only have two people talking, it’s not really a problem. You establish the first exchange:
‘Morning Joe,’ said John.
‘Morning, John,’ said Joe.
Then you can let them chat away without needing to identify the speaker for a while. When there are more than two, however, there could be some confusion, so the word ‘said’ crops up more frequently, and I think that bothered the editor I mentioned so she tried to find substitutes. But that led to some weird effects. I’m making these up now but the examples from the text were similar:

‘Do you really want to learn this,’ his father pondered.
‘Work was awful today,’ she stated.
‘You’d better be ready soon,’ taunted Felicity.
‘Definitely not,’ Harold denied.

In each case, the thing that jumps off the page is the verb. They’re all perfectly good verbs but they’re totally wrong in the context. And the result is that they call attention to themselves and take the focus off the characters and what they’re saying. It’s the characters whose words are important, not this intrusive person who’s not just relating what they say but interpreting it. In other words, with some obvious exceptions (replied, asked, shouted, whispered, etc.) trying to supplant ‘said’ only means that there’s another person clumping about in the text, someone who has nothing to do with the action and who’s getting in the way – and it’s the writer.

The same criticism applies when it comes to adverbs and the interesting thing here is that, once I started noticing the adverbs that the editor had inserted, presumably to reinforce meaning, I began questioning and deleting lots of my own. Adverbs are like stage directions. If a character says something ‘gruffly’, ‘menacingly’ or whatever, it narrows the readers’ choices and options. When the baddy’s words are ‘If you upset me, you’re finished,’ some readers may hear them as a quietly whispered threat, others will prefer to imagine them expressing rage, and yet others may think they work best when spoken in a normal, conversational tone. The minute you attach an adverb, they don’t have that luxury of interpretation.

But there’s one other thing that came out of my reading of the editor’s revisions; it concerned rhythm but it was such a simple thing that it surprised me a bit. So … which of these lines do you prefer?

‘I’m not sure we’ll get there in time,’ said Bill.
‘I’m not sure we’ll get there in time,’ Bill said.

To my ear, ‘Bill said’ is too strong. It leaves two solid beats at the end of the line which upset the rhythm and, once more, pull the attention away from the actual line of dialogue. One of the advantages of ‘said’ is that it’s short and hardly needs pronouncing, but only when it comes before whoever is doing the saying; when it’s the last word in the sentence it has to be given more weight. Maybe I’m just obsessive about the whole rhythm thing.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Paranormal Geezer-lit Mystery



I’ve been writing geezer-lit mysteries with four published and one more due out later this year. I’ve also taken a crack at a paranormal geezer-lit mystery called The Back Wing. Here’s a preview:

In THE BACK WING, Harold McCaffrey, a grieving widower, moves into the Mountain Splendor Retirement Home and finds himself living in the Back Wing with a group of strange residents. This is surpassed only by the snooty people in the Front Wing. Harold makes friends with his fellow Back Wingers, including Bella, who has promise of becoming more than just a friend. Harold discovers that the Back Wing is actually home to aging witches, vampires, werewolves and shape-shifters.  Harold and Bella must use all their normal and extra-normal skills to solve two murders in this very unique retirement community.


Stay tuned.

Mike Befeler

Saturday, March 23, 2013

RED SKIES



   By June Shaw

My newest book that's just out is special to me. It's mainstream, set down here in sultry south Louisiana. I sure hope you'll come on down through my work:

Red skies in the morning, sailor, take warning. Red skies at night, sailors delight.

Outdoorsman Sam Halson's life has little meaning ever since his wife died and their estranged son left south Louisiana and moved her overseas.

Discovering his son fathered a boy, Sam gains new purpose-to see the only grandchild he'll ever have. But his uncompromising son thwarts every attempt.

To keep in touch with the growing child, Sam and the boy exchange letters that Sam and his daughter-in-law write.

While Sam makes every effort to see the boy, exciting newcomer Grace Owens forces him to deal with the pleasures and guilt of new love. She and the boy's mother become the strong women who strive to get their men to overcome past hurts through the child that could bind them all together-before it's too late.

http://www.juneshaw.com

Friday, March 22, 2013

CHARACTERS SPEAKING THEIR OWN MIND


 
by Earl Staggs

I usually have a good idea what‘s going to happen in my stories as well as what my characters are going to do and say. Sometimes, however, they surprise the heck out of me and come up with something of their own. That happened in my recent novel, JUSTIFIED ACTION. One of the main characters said some things I was not expecting to write.

The protagonist is Tall Chambers, and the story primarily concerns his dealing with a murder and his search for the killer. Tall is also part of a secretive agency which tracks terrorists and stops them before they kill innocent people. If they wish to die for their cause, the agency is happy to grant their wish. The worst of the terrorists is Anatole Remski. His father, a Russian soldier, married an Iranian girl, and Anatole was born and raised as an Iranian.  His specialty is killing American soldiers.

Everyone is familiar with the terrorist religious belief that it is their duty to kill all “infidels.”  For Remski, it’s more personal and goes deeper. When he let loose and expressed his feelings against America, I typed as fast as I could to keep up and put it in the book. I’m not sure I should have left it in and would like your opinion.

In the scene below, Tall has captured Remski after a raid in which seventeen of Remski’s associates were killed. Tall must turn the deadly terrorist over to local authorities, but first, wants to learn the names of the rest of them.

* * * * *

Remski’s appearance up close surprised Tall. He looked like anything but a terrorist. He was slender, no more than five feet nine inches tall, and with his smooth features and short uncombed blond hair, looked more like a mild-mannered student than a former teacher turned terrorist.
Tall smiled when he entered the room and sat across the table from him. “My name is Chambers, Mr. Remski. I have some questions for you. If you give me the answers I need, I’ll see that they go easier on you in court.”
Remski grinned, but didn’t speak at first. He held the grin and his eyes narrowed. He seemed to be studying Tall, sizing him up. “That’s very kind of you, Mr. Chambers,” he said in a soft voice with a distinct Arab accent, “but I’ll do fine without your assistance. I advise you not to waste your time, or mine.”
“I’m not wasting my time. I need the names of your associates. You’re responsible for bombings which killed American servicemen. The authorities will make you pay for that. If you cooperate, I’ll do what I can to help you.”
Remski’s grin faded, and he turned his head away. He sighed, almost as if bored. “All they have is hearsay with regard to my participation in those events, Mr. Chambers. As to actual proof, they have nothing. Besides, the killing of American soldiers in this country is not considered a crime by many people here. Weigh that against the many thousands you have slaughtered, and it amounts to very little.”
“You’re wrong,” Tall said. “Regardless of how you feel about our presence here, those who judge you will be bound by international law to sentence you in accordance with the crimes you’ve committed. As for the casualties we’re responsible for, no one regrets them more than I do, but they’re the unfortunate consequence of war. That’s very different from what you do.”
Remski turned back to him.  “Is it, Mr. Chambers? Why is it different?” His voice was strong and harsh now. His blue eyes had taken on a hardness that wasn’t there before. “Is it because you shout words like freedom and democracy while you murder innocent people? You Americans think you have a right to invade other countries and force them to change. Where is it written that your way is the way for all people? How do you rationalize killing innocent people to force other countries to do everything the American way?”
“That’s not what we do. Our goal is to help people gain their freedom and govern themselves.”
Remski smirked. “You think you’re qualified to tell others how to govern a country? Your country is bankrupt financially and morally, Mr. Chambers. Take your soldiers home. Take care of your own problems and let us take care of ours. Stop waving your red, white and blue flag while you slaughter our citizens in the name of freedom.”
“We don’t slaughter people. We’re only here to help.”
With fierce anger burning in his eyes, Remski shouted, “Do this for me, Mr. Chambers. Go to my village in Abuzak. Stand over the graves of my parents and grandparents. Tell them how you marched into their village to help them by lining them up and shooting them. Tell them they were killed for their freedom.”
Tall was caught off guard. He knew of the massacre at Abuzak. A squad of American soldiers marched into the small village looking for subversives and killed every man, woman and child they found. “I’m sorry about what happened to your family. That was a terrible tragedy and never should have happened. The soldiers who went into that village were wrong. They were tried and punished for what they did.”
Remski leaned over the table. He lowered his voice, but not his vehement anger. “Tried and punished? The soldiers who slaughtered my family, my entire village, were discharged and sent home to their own families. Their leader was sentenced to ten years in prison and was released after three years. Do you consider that adequate punishment for what they did?”
“No, in all honesty, I do not. Is that why you kill American soldiers? Because a small group of them went out of control and did a horrible act? Nothing can compensate you for your loss, but what you’re doing is just as wrong. Seventeen of your associates were killed tonight. Give me the names of the other members of your group. They don’t have to die like the others.”
Remski hung his head and wagged it. When he spoke, he seemed more in control of himself. “No, Mr. Chambers, I will give you no names. The people you murdered tonight are in the arms of Allah and will be rewarded for their sacrifice. Those who remain will continue our war against you as long as you invade our country and slaughter our families. If they give their lives, they, too, will be rewarded. You cannot stop them from doing what they were born to do.” He looked squarely into Tall’s eyes with more hatred and defiance than Tall had ever seen. “And you can’t stop me.”
“Look around,” Tall said. “We have stopped you.”
Remski leaned back in his chair and sneered. “We’ll see about that, Mr. Chambers.”
Ben Goldman opened the door and stuck his head in. “They’re here for him.”
Tall stood and watched two burly policemen place Remski in chains and lead him from the room.
As he passed by Tall, he stopped. “We’ll meet again someday, Mr. Chambers, and when that day comes, I assure you, you will die.”
            “We’ll see about that, Mr. Remski.”


* * * * *

There you have it.  Remki escapes soon after this scene, and the chase is on again.  His anti-U.S. rant, which he insisted on saying, remained. His sentiments are not those of the author, and I wouldn’t want readers to think they are. That’s why I’m questioning whether I was wrong to leave his statements in the book, or if I should have deleted them.

What do you think?











.



Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Heirs of the Body

by Carola Dunn

I'm happy to report that Heirs of the Body, the 21st Daisy Dalrymple mystery, is finished and has winged its way to my editor. It will be out in December in the US, January in the UK.

This is the fabulous US cover: 







And now it's time to tackle my taxes...




Monday, March 18, 2013

Into Thin Air






By Mark W. Danielson

I am writing this from Toluca, Mexico, at an elevation of 8500 feet.  The nearby volcano towering over the city is well over 15.000 feet.  This industrial town employs thousands, thanks to several US companies relocating here.  I am here because FedEx flies much of these products for them. 

The thin air affects the airplane as much as it does my body.  It takes a more runway to take off and land, and for non-acclimated pilots like myself, makes it more difficult to breathe    I have sported a low-grade headache ever since I arrived, and sleep is difficult.  But as with everything, the up side is character building.

Every author has heard, “Write what you know” and it is obvious when people fake it with stereotypes.  When I wrote I was in Mexico, images surfaced, and depending on one’s frame of reference, it could be luscious beaches, endless deserts, or beautiful chapels overlooking the city.  Like many countries, Mexico has a full range of topography.  Therefore, to write about it, one must visit it.      

To say Toluca represents Mexico is as foolish to think that Los Angeles or Las Vegas characterizes the United States.  The people here are polite, their city is clean, and the food and housing quality are good.  Unlike Mexico’s border cities, I have walked many parts of this city without concern.   

My point is to encourage people to write about their travel experiences so they can get a better appreciation for what they did.  Sharing them on your web site may also help people plan their vacation.  All it takes is a few minutes, and those moments will be forever locked in your mind.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Spiritual Enlightenment - The Roundabout Path To Feature Film Production

by Leighton Gage


I seldom post personal memoirs in this space.

But this one, I think, merits being shared.
And I usually post more than one photo to illustrate my posts.
But this time I cannot.
Because I don’t think The Guru would like it.

Here’s the story: back in the very beginning of the 1970’s I had a friend, let’s call him Roland, a transplanted American who lived in a big house facing Hampstead Heath.

I lived on the Continent in those days, but my business brought me to London with some frequency, and when I came, I often stayed with him.

He made his living by directing television commercials and was, in that regard, the most talented man I have ever known – a true artist who managed to turn thirty-second films designed to sell margarine, or diapers, into things of great beauty. I know that sounds strange, but believe me, it’s true.

He did it by taking great freedom with the scripts he was given, too much freedom, in fact, for many of the people who were bankrolling his efforts. Often, the films he made were rejected by the advertisers. Often, they involved costly re-shoots and re-edits in order to secure advertiser approval. It wasn’t long before his assignments slowed to a trickle.

Now, it is a characteristic of TV commercial directors that they harbor in their hearts the desire to do something “really worthwhile”. And by “really worthwhile”, they invariably mean a feature film.
Some, like Ridley Scott, go on to a brilliant career in Hollywood. Most never get the chance. Because as the great French director, RenĂ© Clair, remarked back in the 1920’s, “Money is the master of film.”

Never heard of RenĂ© Clair? Read about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Clair

But I digress.

Roland, too, yearned to do a feature, but he was never able to secure financing for his projects.

Flash forward a couple of years.

Around about mid-1973, he went to Barcelona and took a job with a Spanish production company. Those were the days when Franco still ruled, and I think Roland regarded his voluntary banishment to the benighted Spain of that time as somewhat of a disgrace, but his work in the UK had practically dried up, and he had little choice.

He didn’t write to me, or to any of our mutual friends, but he did stay in contact with his wife – who was never able to tell me, or didn’t wish to tell me, what had gone wrong in their marriage.

She moved into a small apartment and stayed on, in the UK, with the kids.

And he dropped off the map.

Years went by without a word.

And then, one day, when I had long been living in Brazil, I got a telephone call from a person totally unknown to me. How she got my number I have no idea. “The Master,” she wanted me to know, “would be in touch with me sometime soon.”

The Master, as it turns out, was the guy I’d known as Roland.
He’d gone off to India, she said, had achieved enlightenment, and now had a considerable following as well as a number of spiritual centers on both sides of the Atlantic.

About six months after that, I got a call from an old mate of mine who’d also been a friend of The Guru.
The Guru, he told me, was going to Aruba, where the mate then lived, to scout the island for a feature film he was planning. The Guru would like to see me.

So I went.

And there was Roland, sporting a magnificent beard and so closely accompanied by his followers that it was difficult to get him alone for a talk.

But, ultimately, we found ourselves together in a hotel room. We talked about his spiritual journey, but I don’t feel it would be correct to go into the details of that here.
Suffice it to say it was a truly emotional night.

That was a number of years ago.

I haven’t seen him since.

There is little information about The Guru on the internet, but I have some recent pictures, taken by that mate from long ago, who has seen him quite recently.

I wish I felt free to share them with you. He really looks the part.

The Aruba project never came off, but The Guru’s acolytes have recently constructed a state-of-the-art film production center for him in a small country in Europe.

Where he is busily at work training a cadre of film technicians.

Knowing their dedication to The Guru, and the fact that they’re willing to commit their labor and their wealth to his greater glory, I’m sure that, this time, a feature film will result.

And, knowing his talent, I’m sure it will be brilliant.

It’s been a long time coming.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Why I wrote No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy


 


by Jean Henry Mead
I was researching a Wyoming centennial history book during the mid-1980s, by reading 97 years’ worth of microfilmed newspapers. During that period I read about a young woman named Ellen “Ella” Watson, who had been hanged by cattlemen along with homesteader James Averell. The lynchers claimed that the pair had been running a rural bawdy house and taking cattle for Ellen’s services.

They called Ellen “Cattle Kate” and vilified her by claiming that she was not only a prostitute but a rustler. The Cattlemen’s Association, headquartered in Cheyenne, controlled a local newspaper and reports of the hangings were published worldwide, resulting in considerable condemnation that a woman had been hanged, despite the cattlemen’s claims.

I was mystified by the newspaper reports of 1889, when the murders took place, and decided to write a novel about it, someday. When I learned that Thomas Watson, Ellen’s father, believed the lies, I thought they must be true. A number of writers had written about the hangings from the cattlemen’s point of view, and western films had been produced, portraying Ellen as a pistol packing outlaw. That didn’t jibe with news reports from the Casper Weekly Mail, which published James Averell’s “letters to the editor,” complaining that greedy cattlemen were gobbling up all of Sweetwater Valley, so they could graze their cattle on government land, without paying for it.

James and Ellen had legally filed homesteads under the Desert Land Act, which happened to be located in Albert Bothwell’s hay meadow. Aha, I thought, there’s more to this story than the cattlemen claim. But finding out more about it would require more time and travel than I could spare at that time. Later, George Hufsmith’s nonfiction book was released and I was able to write my novel. Hufsmith had been commissioned to write an opera about the hangings, and was so intrigued that he spent the next 20 years researching and interviewing residents of Sweetwater Valley, who had intimate knowledge of the people involved as well as the real reason for the hangings.

To my surprise, Hufsmith discovered the wedding licence that James and Ellen had filed in Lander, Wyoming, and the fact that they kept their marriage secret, so the government wouldn’t take Ellen’s homestead land away from her. Only single women could own homestead land.

Because I didn’t want to end my novel with the Averell’s deaths, I wrote the story mainly from the viewpoint of a single woman homesteader, a neighbor of the Averells. From my research I learned that some 200,000 single women filed for homestead land of their own. Many of them married before they proved up on their land, but quite a few persevered, and even thrived, alone on their land.
The historical mystery/suspense novel can be purchased on Kindle and will be available in a print edition before the end of March.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

I just finished a little e-book by James Lofquist. It's called Tell, Don't Show, and it may be going to the top of my "Most Useful Books on Writing" list. It took me less than an hour to read, but it just may have changed my life.

You see, I'd fallen into a trap. I was trying to write and edit at the same time. I knew better--I've read Bird by Bird, for Pete's sake!--but the fear that I'd forgotten how to write and all I'd ever produce would be drivel got the better of me. I was struggling to bring the scenes to life before I even had scenes.

Lofquist isn't saying, "Don't write vividly," or  "Just write crap and publish it," and he's not saying "Tell, don't show" is a rule you should follow in your final draft. He's saying, just put the story down. Don't worry about being fancy. Don't worry about if it's good. Don't try to get concrete and specific; just write it as it comes. Then you have the structure of the story, and you can go back in and flesh it out, make it flow, give it depth, make scenes out of it, and bring it to life. I've heard this before, but Lofquist explains the process in a straightforward, accessible way that was apparently just what I needed to hear. The minute I finished his book, I opened my manuscript and wrote 2000 words, maybe the easiest 2000 words I've ever written.

I can't guarantee this book is a cure for all your writing ills, but if you're scribbling along and suddenly find yourself a little bit (or a lot) stuck, you might want to check out this inexpensive little book. I'm glad I did.




When the Human Heart Is in Conflict With Itself...Steve Berry

Writing Tips Steve Berry presented at OWFI, 2011.

From the notes of Jackie King:
 
Steve Berry writes dynamite thrillers. He’s also well-known for teaching others the writing secrets that have made him a New York Times bestselling author.
 
I had the good fortune to sit in on one of his workshops at the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc.’s annual conference in 2011. Earlier this week, while sorting through a myriad of papers cluttering my office, I ran across my notes. One of the star-marked tips for that memorable afternoon was his definition of the greatest conflict on which to base your plot: When the human heart is in conflict with itself. (At least that’s how I transcribed my scribbled notes.)

He also posed this question: “What would make a character do something he doesn’t want to do?”

His words gave me much to ponder. Then he added his 10 rules of writing:

1.  There are no rules in writing.

2.   Don’t bore the reader.

3.    Don’t confuse the reader.

4.    Don’t get caught “writing.”

5.    Shorter is always better.

6.        Don’t annoy the reader.

7.    Writing is rewriting.

8.    Don’t lie to the reader!

9.    Tell a good story and the reader will forgive you for any bad writing.

10.  Writing is rhythm.

Today I’m making a typed list of these rules and taping it to the wall next to my computer.

Steve Berry first published his historical thrillers The Amber Room and The Romanov Prophecy in 2003 and 2004. Originally a lawyer, Steve Berry has been writing since 1990. It took him 12 years and 85 rejections to sell his first novel. This fact encourages a huge number of still-unpublished writers.

Today Steve Berry has more than 14 million books in print. He and his wife founded History Matters, a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding the preservation of heritage.

Thanks, Steve Berry for your help to me and to hundreds of other writers.
 
Jackie King

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Detail and description


by Bill Kirton

I have enormous respect for Elmore Leonard and I’m forever quoting his 10 ‘rules’ for writers. They really do make sense, especially his exhortation to ‘leave out the part that readers tend to skip’ and get rid of anything that ‘sounds like writing’. But, while I agree in principle with rules 8 ‘Avoid detailed descriptions of characters’ and 9 ‘Don’t go into great detail describing places and things’, I think detail, even in descriptions, is a useful writer’s tool.

Whenever I give talks or workshops on writing short stories, I stress how great an impact you can create with details, and the thing I quote isn’t a story but a song. It’s Ode to Billy-Joe – the Bobby Gentry hit from what feels like 2 centuries ago. I’m sure you know it but, just in case there are some who don’t, it tells the story of a small, domestic tragedy (Billy-Joe McAllister has jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge). But the thing that gives it its impact is the ordinariness of the context in which it’s happened and in which the story’s being told:
Poppa said to Momma as he passed around the black-eyed peas,
‘Billy-Joe never had a lick of sense. Pass the biscuits please’.
It’s the apparently trivial details of the ‘black-eyed peas’ and the ‘pass the biscuits’ that make the suicide so poignant. They make it real. Stendhal, who figures quite often in things I say about writing and novels, called them ‘petits faits vrais’ (little true facts) and said they give authenticity to a story.

I’m sure Mr Leonard would agree that there are plenty of exceptions which disprove his ‘rules’. His first, for example is ‘Never open a book with weather’. But the first words of Bleak House are ‘Implacable November weather’. Then, after brief mentions of muddy streets and smoke, comes the wonderful (and often-quoted) passage about fog:

‘Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls deified among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck.’

That’s much more than weather. The first time I read (or heard) it was at school, when football (and not even girls and certainly not literature) was all I cared about, but it’s stayed with me – its rhythms, its sinister threats, its oppressiveness – and all deriving from its visual impact. Detailed descriptions for their own sake get in the way. They may be beautiful sunsets, wonderful vistas across the glens, tumbling seas or simply navy-blue serge trousers and waistcoats, but if they hold up the pace or keep the people out of the picture, they’re intrusions. But if you use them consciously, deliberately, they don’t just have an effect on characters, they can create them, too.