Today I'm pleased to welcome Linda Schroeder, author of Artists & Thieves, as she stops by on her virtual tour with Pump Up Your Book. Linda has a great post for you today on keeping descriptions simple to not slow down the action.
About the Book:
Winner of the 2011 San Diego Book Awards, Action/Suspense category
Where there is art, there are thieves.
Mai Ling is both. Artist by day, thief by night, she recovers stolen art for Interpol. It’s a business, not a passion, until her beloved grandfather reveals a family secret that is also a destiny. He is duty-bound to return to China an especially precious bowl which belonged to his ancestor. Mai must steal it for him.
But Mai Ling is not the only one after the bowl. Four others plan to extract the bowl from a private California art collection. The rival thieves grasp and then lose the bowl until finally Mai is faced with the ultimate dilemma: save the bowl or save herself. Her duty to her grandfather gives her only one choice.
Set against the vibrant backdrop of the Monterey Peninsula and peopled with quirky characters, this stylish art caper entertains on every page.
MAKE IT CLEAR
I sometimes write wonderful metaphors to describe settings but when I re-write I toss the flowery prose into the “outtakes” file because it slows the scene down.
Recently I had an experience in my Chinese brush painting class that reinforced my belief that descriptions in novels are best when simplest. The assignment was fruits and vegetables. I don’t relate well to apples or bok choy. I don’t find Western still-life paintings very thrilling, either, although I do marvel at the skill of artists who can show the vitality in plums.
In class I found a picture of grapes in one of my teacher’s books. I liked it because it also had two funky roosters in it. It was done in shades of black ink and the only color was red for the roosters’ combs and wattles. It was very hard at first glance to tell that the shades of gray were roosters and that they were sitting on some kind of fence which presumably supported the grape vines. Three of my fellow students stopped by my table and looked at both my attempted copy and the picture I was copying. Three of them said, “What is that?” I said, “It’s two roosters on a grape vine.” Three of them said, “I don’t see it.”
If we have to work too hard to see something, no matter how masterly the product, we stop looking. Stopping is not good. We don’t want to lose readers because they can’t figure something out, especially in an action/suspense novel.
After I had written the first draft of Artists & Thieves and knew where the plot was headed, I had to go back and add descriptive details to plant certain images for the reader. Throughout the book, important things happen by the ocean and one particular detail that is critical in the final climatic scene is the red tide. A red tide is a build up of a certain kind of algae in the ocean. When the waves break, micro-organisms in the water give off bursts of light. It’s called bioluminescence. At night, the waves look like neon. I had gathered a lot of information on red tides and in writing the climatic scene threw a lot at the reader. Didn’t work. It was the climax. It had to move fast. So in rewriting, I simplified it and also included the red tide early in the book in the first description of the heroine’s home:
“Mai paid the cab driver and climbed the steep sidewalk to her home in Sutro Heights. The gulls glided above the Pacific in the warm air of early afternoon. Last night they had sailed on the wind over a sea alive with sparkling, luminescent organisms in a rare light show, a red tide. On her nightly run, along with hundreds of others, Mai had marveled at the shimmering sight. But she only glanced quickly at the sea now.”
So right away you know that Mai lives on a hill by the sea and there is a red tide making the ocean glow. Hold those thoughts.
In writing descriptions we need to show details which paint a picture and move the story forward, not weigh it down. Some writers pile on great descriptions. Some are skimpy. Either way, description has to let the reader visualize a place without stopping to wonder what the author means by it all. Artists & Thieves won the 2011 San Diego Book Awards in the action/suspense category. It does zip along.
About the Author:
Linda Schroeder divides her time between the bright sun of California and the high mountains of Colorado. She has a Master’s degree in English and one in Communicative Disorders/Audiology. In addition to her novel, Artists & Thieves, she has published a college text.
Her early interest in English expanded to include language disorders and she began a second career as an audiologist and aural rehabilitation therapist working with deaf and hard-of-hearing children and adults.
Currently, she studies and practices Chinese brush painting, celebrating the vitality and energy of nature. She follows art and art theft blogs and writes her own blog about art and sometimes includes reviews of novels. She is working on two more novels, a second Mai Ling novel about the Diamond Sutra, and a Sammy Chan art mystery about the forgery of a Goya painting.
You can visit her website at www.artistsandthieves.com.
Note: All opinions presented in book and product reviews are my own. Opinions presented in posts authored by others reflect the view of the author only and not necessarily my view or opinion. If a product was given to me for review, the source of that product is noted in the post. Amazon and Book Depository links are affiliate links and I do earn a small amount for each purchase. Other affiliate links will be noted in the post.