Monday, 25 August 2014

Adjectives

Another blog from my archives, first written about 3 years ago, this time about adjectives.

When I was at school (a long time ago!), my English teachers insisted we used lots of adjectives to make our writing more descriptive.  In contrast, writers today are warned against the overuse of adjectives.

Various reasons are given for this: too many adjectives give your novel a ‘purple prose’ tint, or clutter the text with unnecessary modifiers, or give the impression that the writer cannot quite find the right word.

Mark Twain said: "As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.'

The question is – which adjectives should you strike out?

First there are the redundant adjectives – the tiny kitten (aren’t all kittens tiny?), the large mountain (ever seen a small mountain?), the narrow alley (an alley IS a narrow passage), the cold snow (if snow wasn’t cold, it would be water!). Omit the adjective if the noun is self-explanatory.

Secondly, there are the adjectives which, with their nouns, can be replaced with a much more descriptive word e.g. ‘a downpour flooded the streets’ instead of ‘heavy rain flooded the streets’, or ‘the witch cackled’ instead of ‘the witch gave an evil, sharp laugh’.

There are also some adjectives which have become almost meaningless and should be avoided (except in dialogue), including wonderful, lovely, pretty, stupid, foolish, pleasant, comely, horrid – and the obvious one, nice.

However, a story without any adjectives could end up as very clinical and dry. As with most things, moderation is the key. We are not advised to avoid adjectives altogether, but to avoid overusing them.

Eliminating all adjectives would be as big a mistake as overusing them. Adjectives can clarify meaning and add colour to our writing, and can be used to convey the precise shade of meaning we want to achieve. We should save them for the moments when we really need them and then use them selectively – and sparsely. Too often we feel the need to beef up our nouns in an effort to get our point across.

Compare: The dark, dreary house had an empty, suspicious feel to it, the thick air stale and sour with undefined, scary kitchen odors. Are all these adjectives necessary? A tighter, more dramatic description would be: The house had an empty feeling to it, the air stale with undefined kitchen odors.

Use adjectives only to highlight something the noun can’t highlight. We’ve already seen that the ‘narrow alley’ has a redundant adjective, but what about the ‘dark alley’ or the ‘filthy alley’?  Not all alleys are dark or filthy so in these examples, the adjectives are adding something that is not already shown by the noun.  This is the main reason for using an adjective.

And now I’m off to take my own advice, and look through my current story for redundant adjectives!

Monday, 11 August 2014

'And see the sun go down on Galway Bay'.

Continuing my 'recycling' of past blogs which I think are worth repeating, here's another 'A' blog from my archives - a scene which took my breath away.

Which shall I choose? The first sight of the Manhattan skyline as my plane came in to land at Newark airport? The perfect reflection in a still lake of the mountains in the Canadian Rockies? The contrasting bands of vivid colours stretching across the flat land of the Dutch tulip bulbfields? A beautiful deserted beach at Malibu, with the sunshine on the white sand and the surf from the blue ocean breaking on the shore? A small town in Provence, clinging to the side of the steep hillside almost as if it had grown out of the rocks? The wide expanse of grassland where Pickett led his charge at Gettysburg? The sunrise over Lake Nasser in Egypt, turning the Abu Simbel statues to gold? Or maybe the first sight of that ominous watch-tower over the railway line that led into the infamous death camp of Auschwitz? [I'd now add my first sight of the Grand Canyon to that list]

So many scenes, so many memories. But there’s a beautiful Irish song which says ‘you will sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh, and see the sun go down on Galway Bay.’

I first went to Galway about four years ago [now 7 years ago!]. We arrived too late in the evening to see the sunset that night. The following day we went south into Tipperary and Limerick and thought we might get back in time for sunset, but then we were held up in traffic on the ring road around Galway City. ‘The sun going down on the Galway ring road’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?

On the third day we were travelling down from Clifden and the Connemara mountains towards Galway Bay as the sun started going down. The sky gradually became pinker, the small dark clouds were silhouetted against the glow.

Eventually we found somewhere to park near the shore, and went onto a small beach. We stayed there for over half an hour, watching the most glorious sunset I have ever seen. As the sun descended to the horizon, the sky turned from pink and yellow to a rich orange and deep gold. The clouds too changed colour until they looked like fiery orange smoke.  All this glorious colour was reflected in the water of the bay. The only sound came from the gentle and almost hypnotic swishing of the small waves which were like strips of molten gold as they broke on the shore.

Watching the ‘sun go down on Galway Bay’ was truly an unforgettable sight.


Monday, 4 August 2014

A Bad Rap for Romance

I decided to have a big 'delete' session of my hundreds of Word documents, but then had second thoughts when I reached my 'Blogs' file. Some of these, either on my own blog, or on our writers' group blog, were written 5 or 6 years ago, but I think they may be worth 'recycling'. I'll work my way slowly down the alphabetical list, but here, for starters, is one of my 'A' blogs, first written about 2 years ago.

Twice in the past week, I’ve heard comments from two different acquaintances that have made me think. Here is the gist of the conversations.

First conversation:-
Her (with a smirk on her face): Please tell me you don’t write for Mills and Boon.
Me: No, not now, but I wouldn’t mind being published by them again.
Her (with mouth dropping open): Why? Their novels are rubbish.
Me: How long is it since you read one?
Her: I haven’t read any. I wouldn’t be seen dead reading one of that bodice-ripper kind of book.

Second conversation (on the phone conversation with someone I hadn’t seen for a couple of years):-
Her: So what have you been doing with yourself?
Me: Actually I’ve been writing novels.
Her: Really? Have you had anything published?”
Me: Yes, three novels in the past year and another one due out in June.
Her: Oh, well done. What are they about?”
Me: They’re romances.
Silence, then Her: Oh, sorry, I never read romances. They’re so predictable, happy ever after and all that.

I’ve paraphrased these conversations, but you get the idea.

The first conversation made me realise the stereotypical image of romance novels has persisted, at least for my generation, for 30+ years. The “bodice-rippers” were the hallmark of Mills and Boon/Harlequin in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and, in my opinion, gave romance novels a bad rap. They had archetypal characters and contrived plots, usually involving a virginal heroine who was ‘rescued’ or 'dominated' by an arrogant, alpha-hero (often an Arabian  sheik, Italian count, Spanish prince, or Greek billionaire). These stories often contained a barely disguised rape scene (hence 'bodice-ripper'). The formula tended to be, 'I hate you, I hate you, I hate you' until the hero forces himself on the heroine, and suddenly she's madly in love with him!  On the whole, this kind of novel has gone ‘out of fashion’ (fortunately, but with a few notable exceptions!). However, a kind of stigma still remains.

The second conversation made me wonder about the word ‘predictable’. Yes, romances have, if not a ‘Happy Ever After’ ending, then at least a ‘Happy’ ending where the hero and heroine overcome the obstacles in the path to reunite. The reader is left with the hope that they will be happy in their future together. Yes, the ending of romance novels may be considered 'predictable'.  However, aren’t thrillers, detective stories, and mysteries equally predictable? The goodies will triumph, the baddies will receive their deserved punishment, and the crime or mystery will be solved. What’s the difference? Why are romance novels considered 'predictable', while other genres aren’t?

And why are romance novels considered by some to be the ‘lowest form of literature’? Why do people want to disassociate themselves from reading romance novels? I’ve had a few reviews which start, “I don’t usually read romances but …” as if that is somehow praiseworthy. It seems to be okay to say you read thrillers or mysteries, but not the ‘done thing’ to admit to reading romances, even though thousands (millions?) of women obviously do!

Have you come across this kind of ‘literary snobbishness’ and, if so, what’s your response?

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Last day - and home again!

Saturday, June 28th was my last day in the USA, and we went to the seaside - otherwise known as Long Branch, on the Jersey Shore. We had lunch at McLoone's overlooking the beach.



I was quite surprised we couldn't drive along the 'prom' as you can in many British seaside towns, as high seawalls block your view of the beach and sea, and access is via wooden steps over the walls.


Another surprise was that the shops were more upscale than the tourist souvenir shops you see everywhere in our seaside resorts, but we did find a chocolate shop!




On a drive around the area, another surprise was finding this stone plaque in a fairly inconspicuous place in the middle of a residential area. Evidently President Garfield was taken to Long Branch in the hope that the fresh air and quiet might aid his recovery after he was shot in Washington DC in July, 1881. However, the assassin's bullet had lodged in his spine and he died just over two months later.



On our drive back from Long Branch, we stopped at Mount Mitchill, a scenic overlook with a view of Raritan Bay and the New York skyline.



On 9/11, local residents gathered here to witness the destruction of the World Trade Center towers and four years later, a memorial was erected to the memory of the 147 residents of the County who died. It shows an eagle clutching a piece of a steel beam from one of the towers, and there is also a time-line walkway as a reminder of the day’s events.




By mid-afternoon on Sunday, June 29th, I was back at Newark Airport. My month long trip was over.


One last look at NYC from the airport...



And six hours later, we're flying over the UK coastline (this is Anglesey, off the north coast of Wales).




It was an amazing month, packed with so many different sights and experiences, and of course enjoying the time I spent with my NJ cousins, and my American and Canadian friends. Thank you all for your hospitality, and all the fun we had. Not forgetting my 'online' friends either, as it was such a delight to meet with my FB and 'writer' friends. Last, but not least, thanks to all who have followed this account of my trip, and left comments for me, both here and on Facebook. 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Goodbye, Rhode Island and hello, New Jersey (again)

I was sad to leave Rhode Island on Thursday, June 19th, especially saying goodbye to my friends there who had taken me to so many different places in such a short time. My train from Kingston left at 2.40pm and arrived at Newark Penn Station four hours later, giving me a good view of Manhattan as we approached NYC.

My cousin and her husband met me and we went back to their house in Scotch Plains, NJ - and watched the fireflies dancing around all evening. No photo, unfortunately, as they flashed too quickly for my camera to cope with!

Next day, my cousin Helen drove me to Morristown, to George and Martha's Restaurant...
... where I met up with Jennifer Wilck, one of the members of our writers' blog, Heroines with Hearts. I've 'known' Jennifer for about four years, and we had plenty to talk about over coffee and then lunch.



In the afternoon, we went to Washington's headquarters. He and the Continental Army stayed at Morristown from December 1779 to June 1780, surviving what was then the coldest winter on record.



When we arrived there, we discovered the next tour was not for another fifty minutes, so instead Jen drove me round some of the older houses in Morristown.


This one was especially interesting - the home of Thomas Nast, the political cartoonist who created the Democrat donkey and Republican elephant.


 

That evening, my two cousins and I enjoyed a meal at a local diner. I was getting quite used to American burgers by this time!

 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Day 26 - A Church and a Cruise

On Wednesday, June 25th, we went into Newport again. On the way, we passed 'Oak Glen', the Portsmouth home of Julia Ward Howe (who wrote the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic').



Our first stop in Newport was at Trinity Church, founded in 1698, and built in the early 18th century. Its ''wedding cake' steeple was, and still is, an important navigation aid for sailors.



The church still has its original box pews, originally paid for by the parishioners for their families. During the 'Gilded Age' (the later 19th century) the Vanderbilts and Astors attended the church when they were visiting their summer 'cottages'. Their servants occupied the narrow wooden pews in the gallery.



Pew 81 is now known as the 'Distinguished Persons' Pew' as it is said that George Washington attended services at the church in 1781. Other notables who have occupied the pew in more recent years include Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Andrew, Princess Margaret, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 3 American Presidents - and of course, me!




After what we thought was a 'snack lunch' (which turned out to be a huge chicken wrap - so huge I forgot to take a photo of it!), we headed for the harbour.




Here's our 'cruise' ship - MV Gansett


And here are some of the sights we saw on our cruise around Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay.

Fort Adam


Hammersmith Farm, home of the Auchinloss family. Hugh Auchinloss was Jackie Kennedy's stepfather, and this was her childhood home. It later became known as the 'Summer White House' as JFK spent his summers here during his presidency.




Not a real lighthouse, but a playhouse, built for the Kennedy children.




This one is real - Castle Hill Lighthouse, built in 1890 on the site of an earlier watchtower.




The House on the Rock, built in 1905, and restored by the current owners.




The yacht 'Columbia' which was the America's Cup winner in 1958.




A distant (and hazy) view of Newport Bridge.



Yachts in Newport Harbor





And to end the day, a large burger at Fieldstone's in Portsmouth!
 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Day 25: More Friends - and a Mansion


On Tuesday, June 24th, we went into Newport, this time to the 'Pineapple on the Bay', an outdoor restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Goat Island, with a good view of the Newport Bridge.



Here we met two friends from Providence, Rhode Island, Pamela Burt Quigley and Elaine Lauble Kehoe. Needless to say, we chatted non-stop over lunch!



Later in the afternoon, my friend Barbara and I went to one of the mansions on Bellevue Avenue. This one, Marble House, belonged to one of the Vanderbilts.


It was built in the 'Gilded Aged' (the late 19th century) by William Vanderbilt, as a summer 'cottage' retreat for his wife Alva. She decorated furnished all the 50 rooms (which had a staff of 36), but divorced William 3 years later! I couldn't take any photos inside but here is the view from the terrace.



Alva kept the house after her divorced from William and added the Chinese tea house on the cliff overlooking the sea, and hosted rallies for women's suffrage in the gardens at the back of the house.




Here's the view from the Cliff Walk (near Marble House), recently reopened after being damaged by Hurricane Sandy.