(n.) the taste of bliss in the absence of all thoughts
Well, at the rate I’m going, I don’t think I’ll meet the 50,000 word count by the 30th. I’ve only just exceeded the 2,000-word mark, and it’s already day 14. But, if there’s a silver lining, it’s that my inspiration hasn’t drastically waned yet, and I’ve been writing as often as I can since the beginning. Hooray! 😀
The following is an excerpt from my novel, picking up where I left off in this post. Just as last time, constructive criticism is welcomed with open arms, and highly urged. Does the story flow smoothly? Is there anything you’re confused about? Please, leave your questions and concerns in the comment section below, and be as honest as you’d like. 🙂 Once again, I apologize that the formatting was lost upon pasting the excerpt into the text box, but I tried my best to separate the paragraphs for easier reading. Hope you enjoy.
Slowly but surely, each of us trickles into the dining room and takes a seat. Sadie and Etta occupy the heads of the table, as they’re the hosts. Mom is situated next to Etta, opposite me; Dad is seated next to Sadie, on my side of the table. Wade and Trish have resumed their role as the couple who awkwardly sits next to, not across from, each other. Grandma Blanche is between Dad and me, and to my right is Lachlan. Across from him, Uncle Lorne. The remaining seats—all except for one—are filled in by the grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
“Who are we missing?” Sadie says, taking a headcount. “Merrin, are you okay in there?” She calls to the kitchen. Merrin slowly enters, focusing her concentration on the roasting pot she carries in front of her. It looks heavy.
“I’m fine,” she says, slight frustration in her voice. “This just looks lighter than it really is.” Etta gets up to help her ease the pot onto the table. They set it down with a thud, and Sadie removes the lid. Steam billows upward.
“Turducken,” she starts, “—the damn thing took 8 hours to cook. That’s 15 voluptuous pounds of turkey, duck, and chicken.”
“Wait a minute,” Merrin says. “Am I stuck sitting next to Uncle Lorne again?”
“Watch it,” Etta warns. “He’s in the room, you know.”
“Oh, I’m fully aware. He can’t hear me, anyway. For the past two years I’ve had to babysit him through dinner. I just want to—”
“Stop bitching, and sit down,” Sadie says firmly. “He likes you, he asked to be sat with you—you should feel flattered.” She shoots me a glance and offers an aside. “He didn’t, really, but anything to lift the blame.”
Merrin turns to me. “Jolie, switch with me.” I shake my head and divert my attention before I can catch a glimpse of her searing glare. It’s known to instill guilt in whomever it’s cast upon. She sighs exasperatedly, trudges over to her seat, and slumps down.
Wyckoff trots around the table, from one pair of feet to the next, scouring the floor for dropped food. Trish lets out a sprightly squeal.
“Wyckoff, is that you?” She says, giggling. Etta rolls her eyes.
“For God’s sake, Trish, stop fishing,” she says. “I think you want him to lick you.”
“He surprised me,” Trish says, reaching down to pet him.
“He surprises you every time you’re here,” Sadie chimes in. “That’s what you get for leaving your flats at the door.” Wyckoff pants contently as Trish continues to pet him.
The relish tray makes it way around to me, and I grab for a couple of deviled eggs. I’ve never had them the way Etta and Sadie make them; wasabi and capers decorate the yolk elegantly. A pinch of Himalayan pink salt, and I swear, all worries become moot with the first bite. After the first few, though, I notice that Merrin has been quiet. I look in her direction to see her intently picking at her food, not participating in conversation, her eyes not leaving her plate. It hits me: that sudden pang of guilt I thought I successfully evaded. I want to say something, but maybe I shouldn’t. A cloud of tension forms and looms above me.
“Potatoes,” Uncle Lorne commands as he bangs on the table, rattling a few plates and knocking a couple forks to the floor. Wyckoff darts to the scene to check for food residue.
“Scalloped, not mashed,” Uncle Lorne clarifies. The pot of potatoes crowd-surfs its way to him over a sea of hands. Trish summons Wyckoff with a whistle as Sadie retrieves the fallen silverware.
“Be careful, Lorne,” Sadie says. “Now how tacky is it going to look eating from fine china with plastic forks?” Uncle Lorne grumbles his acknowledgment, reaching over Merrin to grab the potatoes. He slightly grazes her cheek.
“Excuse me,” she says angrily. Uncle Lorne is the only one of us who’s immune to her scowl. He disregards her and goes about his business, scooping some potatoes onto his plate. My ears become warm with unease, and the tension cloud above turns an ominous grey. Etta tries to lighten the mood.
“So, in keeping with tradition, let’s go around and each talk about our biggest achievement since last month,” she suggests. “Lachlan, why don’t you start?” Lachlan is always eager to share, especially when it means potentially diffusing an argument.
“Julia and I, we painted our living room that deep violet color you suggested, Aunt Etta. We really love it.”
“Oh, honey,” Grandma Blanche interrupts. “That’s hardly impressive—”
“Let him finish,” Etta says. Lachlan swallows hard, embarrassed. I can tell his enthusiasm was mildly shattered, and he doesn’t want to continue. Etta glances at Grandma Blanche disapprovingly and tries to revamp Lachlan’s damaged spirit.
“Did you tape off the baseboards?” She asks, urging him to continue.
“Yes, I remembered. And Julia’s been reading up on feng shui. We want optimal living conditions for when the baby gets here.” His face lights up every time he mentions his impending fatherhood. I admittedly can’t help but smile, too; I’m curious about the wonders I’ll be met with as an aunt.
“That’s the kind of thing I like to hear,” Grandma Blanche says, her tone more ratifying. “That’s far more noteworthy than a paint job. I’m 87 years old; I don’t have much time left to dedicate to trivial news.” Her attempt at reassurance falls short, and a look of weak frustration drapes over Lachlan’s face.
“So what are you going to name the baby? Do you know the sex yet?” Trish asks. The scope of conversation widens as the focal point settles on the start of the next generation. Lachlan is overjoyed to share more about Julia’s pregnancy, and the entire table is abuzz. I can’t help but notice, though, that Merrin is once again abstaining from discussion. Her fork dissonantly scrapes against her plate as she pokes at her food.
“Did you hear that, Merrin?” Sadie pries. “The baby is due in June, same month as you and your mother.”
“Ah,” Merrin replies, barely feigning an interest. “Careful, summer babies can grow up to be really bitchy,” she suggests, channeling her own behavior. I can see flashes of lightening tearing through the cloud of tension overhead, and I feel hot with anxiety. Lachlan flares his nostrils.
“Grow up,” he says, under his breath.
“I’m sorry, did you say something?” Merrin taunts.
“I said grow the hell up,” Lachlan shouts, commanding silence over the dinner table. Merrin drops her fork and looks up at Lachlan, enraged.
“Please, save it. I don’t feel guilty for speaking up—you’ve been a wet blanket this entire time.”
“Quiet,” Uncle Lorne interjects as he bangs on the table.
“Excuse me for not wanting to deal with that this evening,” Merrin yells. “That, and the projectile bits of food he’s been launching out of his mouth, since he chews like a damn horse.” She cringes.
“He can’t help it! You’ve been sitting over there pouting like a child, ironically enough. Did you even hear my news? Were you listening?”
“Quiet,” Uncle Lorne repeats, slightly louder this time, as he bangs on the table once more.
I can barely stand to watch this unfold. I bury my face in my arms and my foot begins to anxiously tap.
What is passive voice? How can you tell if you’re writing in passive voice and how can you avoid it?
Passive voice is a grammatical construction in which the noun of the sentence is the subject rather than the object. It is the opposite of active voice, which is more widely preferred.
How can you tell if you’re writing in passive voice or in active voice? I came across an amusing trick on Facebook which easily helps to identify if you’re writing in passive voice. You can read the article here. It isn’t a very long one, but if you still don’t feel like reading, the gist is this: if you can add ‘by zombies’ following the verb in a sentence, you’ve got passive voice. Here’s an example:
Passive: John was eaten by zombies.
Active: Zombies ate John.
Notice the difference? In the passive example, John is the object and the zombies are the subject(s), when it should be the other way around. In sentence structure, objects do and subjects are done upon. In the active example, the zombies are rightfully the object(s) and John is rightfully the subject. Since John is being eaten, he’s the subject, but when written in passive voice, that almost becomes unclear. This is why passive voice is frowned upon.
That last sentence was written in passive voice; I didn’t identify who frowns upon the use of passive voice (proofreaders, class instructors, etc.), and that can lead to confusion. However, if the person or thing responsible for the action in a sentence is unknown, then passive voice is perfectly acceptable. If the actor is known, but irrelevant, then passive voice is acceptable, as well. The University of Toronto’s website offers some excellent advice as to when to use and avoid passive voice.
Once you become aware of the difference between active and passive voice, and get the hang of it, the rest should follow. It will then become second nature, and if it doesn’t, or you’re struggling with it, make sure to consult the undead to see where you stand! 🙂
As a writer, I am always striving to become better at my trade with the ultimate goal of being the best that I can be. Currently, I’m focusing on writing that does more showing than it does telling. Sounds relatively easy, no? It’s actually a bit trickier than you might imagine.
Show, don’t tell is a technique writers often employ to communicate their stories by way of the characters’ actions, thoughts, senses, and feelings, rather than by summation or description. But, if you’ve ever taken a Creative Writing class, chances are your professor has harped on you about not using enough imagery in your writing. Imagery is the technique of communicating depth, and creating easily imaginable scenes and locations by using vivid descriptions (which often utilize adjectives and/or similes). Having said that, descriptive language is what our minds automatically want to adhere to, in order to allow the reader to more deeply experience the writing. Though descriptive writing and imagery are both useful in certain instances, they’re also a form of telling. Telling is easier than showing, but showing is always better. When describing, say, a place, imagery is useful, but when combined with a character’s thoughts or actions, it’s even more useful. I realize that’s a loaded sentence, so here’s an example:
Telling: The Gateway Arch is a massive structure in St. Louis.
Showing: I sit at the base of the Gateway Arch, its ceiling towering overheard at 630 feet, and casting a shadow skewed by the nearby buildings.
Which one would you rather read? Both generally get the point across, but the former is boring. The latter allows the reader to picture the Gateway Arch without the overuse of imagery, and includes the character’s action, offering a firsthand account.
It isn’t always easy to write in a way that shows, especially since it is a natural inclination to want to simply tell. Since it’s NaNoWriMo, I am trying to write my novel in a way that shows, but I’m not convinced I’ve nailed it just yet. What follows is my novel in its entirety so far–don’t worry, it’s only 796 words. You’ll see that the introduction of Sadie, Etta’s lover, is rather abrupt. But that was deliberate, as I was trying to imply that they’re romantically involved via their shared kiss, instead of explicitly stating it. You tell me- is that the notion you gather from my writing, or can it stand to be improved?
The deviled eggs have a more viscous quality to their appearance the longer they’ve been in the fridge. I shift my focus outwards to notice the expansive spread of food on the table. My eyes pan from left to right: all kinds of meats and poultries, seafood, breads, hors d’oeuvres, salad mix-ins, fruits, vegetables, sweets. I haven’t eaten in hours and can hardly wait until dinner. I reach for a carrot and dunk it halfway into the container of vegetable dip; I am overzealous in my dunking and my fingertips themselves collide with the surface of the dip.
I pop the carrot into my mouth, and the loud crunch of my chewing doesn’t allow me to concentrate on much else. I can pick out bits of conversation:
“…I’m telling you, he’s crazy, but she stays…”
“…I haven’t been there in so long. Not since…”
“…and it didn’t fit; I thought I was doing so well…”
Nothing in particular catches my ear and I lose interest. I take a seat on the floor next to Grandpa’s arm chair in the living room—the indent still looks as if he’d just gotten up, but it hasn’t been filled in years. He added a certain sense of warmth to these gatherings when he was around. I truly miss him.
Wyckoff trots over to where I sit. He looks at me expectantly, his tongue hanging limp out of his mouth, his head cocked. I raise my eyebrows and shrug at him. He cocks his head to the other side. I extend an arm to pet him, his snout intently following my fingers as they approach his head. He hops up on his hind legs and begins licking the residual vegetable dip from my fingers, which I had forgotten about. When he finishes, he circles my lap in search of a quintessential resting spot, and curls up. My stomach rumbles.
Merrin makes her way into the living room from behind me, carrying a platter. She sets it down on the coffee table around which everybody is gathered.
“Here,” she starts. A platter of cheeses, crackers, and tapenade. “Gnaw on this for a bit until we’re ready to break into that God-given feast over there.” Everyone adlibs their digging in.
I can hear the uncadenced clink of glasses and the chime of silverware coming from the dining room. The dispersion of fine china. The unmistakable chatter of Uncle Lorne’s pill bottle. The swipe of a matchstick along a striking surface to light the candles in the left- and right-center of the dining room table, presumably followed by the dimming of the lights. I don’t look to check, but that’s always what comes next.
Wyckoff stirs. His attention is stolen by a familiar lure: Aunt Etta’s fingers tapping on the hearthstone. The incomparable sound of long, healthy nails dipped in blood-red polish tapping metrically on the floor in front of the fireplace—a sound we are all accustomed to but one that has, in recent years, neutralized into the ambience. Wyckoff hops out of my legs, and the warmth of where he lay dissipates as he gallops over to Etta’s girthy, more hospitable lap.
“Oh,” she says, slightly startled by her visitor, “Jumping from one person to the next without warning; sounds a lot like Dane.” Etta snickers.
“Hey,” Merrin responds, “knock it off. I don’t think you started this tradition to talk ill of former lovers,” she finishes.
“You’re right, I didn’t. But it’s sure turned out that way,” Etta says bitterly.
“It’s alright,” Sadie offers, rubbing Etta’s shoulder gently. “We’ve all been spurned, and if it weren’t for Dane, you and I would never have crossed paths.” She smiles reassuringly. They share a kiss, and Etta settles into repose. Wyckoff follows suit as he rests his head in between Etta’s thighs, peacefully closing his eyes.
A familiar scent wafts in from the dining room; brisket, perhaps? Maybe roast. It is difficult to tell; the individual smells of the food come together and swirl around in the air overhead. For a moment, I am at ease, fixated on the imminent feast. But my flash of tranquility is over now, and I am pulled back into reality upon remembering who I’ll be dining with. I sip my wine and swallow hard.
This family—my family—I am inclined to compare to an apple: its true colors show when dissected. We are better left unexamined and admired exteriorly, and we are sweeter this way, too.
Uncle Lorne hobbles into the living room, his brow furrowed. He bangs on the archway. “Dinner,” he announces sternly. The tail-ends of conversation dissolve, and like clockwork, we file into the dining room. I wonder who will cast the first stone, and who it will strike.
What can I do to better show the nature of Sadie and Etta’s relationship without telling? Honest opinions and all advice are welcome!
Edit: I realize the formatting was lost upon pasting my excerpt into the blog post text box- it’s a bit harder to read, and I apologize. But bear with me; I promise there is proper indentation in the text document itself. 🙂
It’s National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve made it a goal to participate this year. Though I’m a bit behind- the goal is to write 50,000 words by November 30th, which amounts to about 1,667 words a day. So far, it is day 4 and I’ve only written 625 words. Clearly I am right on track.
That said, I’m determined to write every single day, whether I reach the goal or not. If I do, it will be an added bonus. 🙂
This is why I haven’t blogged in the past week or so, as I’ve been mentally preparing the idea for my story. I wanted to have the characters and general plot outlined before I began, but that didn’t happen. Rather, I am learning more about each character as I’m writing, and even after only 625 words, each one is taking his or her own form. I think I prefer this style of writing- it’s as much a mystery to me as it will be to my eventual readers.
Throughout November I will be sharing bits of my novel in blog posts, as well as writing about other things. Aside from NaNoWriMo, it’s also a goal of mine to blog every single remaining day in November, starting today. Hooray for achievable goals and pragmatic dreams!
Are you participaing in NaNoWriMo? What’s your novel about?