If you’re like many people, you have trouble focusing when you sit in front of your computer in the stillness of the morning as your mind wanders and you doze off… again. (Or are startled awake by the begging of the children to come play.) You stare at the screen again and hate the pathetic feeling of inadequacy as you realize yet again that your attempt at writing does not even meet your standards, let alone that of the novels written by authors you secretly dream of readers comparing you with.
In this depression, you lack the words to describe the epic-ness you know your story could hold. How do you get in the mood for the scene? How do you set the atmosphere for it?
As mentioned in part 1, though Emperor Valens ruled the eastern Roman Empire, his strangeness led to a paranoia that the world was against him. He had more in common with his enemies the Goths (especially the shared Arian religion) than with his own people. As a result, many Catholics predicted that he would burn.
What led to the burning?
Valens made two mistakes.
Actually, they are one—underestimating.
Planning to recruit Goths into the army, Valens allowed the Tervingi clan (one of the two largest Gothic peoples) to immigrate. Though sources differ on exactly how many Goths crossed the Danube to live in the empire, they all agree that Rome was not prepared. Some guesses are as high as a hundred thousand people. Valens must have underestimated their number, for the empire could not provide to feed them all, let alone give them land. The Goths were placed in what we would now call concentration camps, holding areas where they were cheated and abused. The price of meat? They could purchase a dog carcass by selling a child into slavery.
If you think Barry Lyndon is too boring or depressing outlook on life in the 18th century, here is the 1963 Oscar winning film Tom Jones which is based on the 1749 comic novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding. Though it doesn’t really provide an ideal portrait of life at the time, it nevertheless shows an accurate one. Still, even so, it continues to remind us that people living in the 18th century (or any other time in history) were just like everyone else, whores, bad table manners, and all.
Of course, I couldn’t end my movie history series without doing a post on daily life. Let’s just say while movies could show our perception of history, this doesn’t mean it played out like it actually did. Let’s just say if we used Smell-O-Vision in the historical film standpoint, you’d probably wouldn’t be able to…
Powerlifting includes three events: squat, bench, and deadlift. The goal is to lift a lot of weight, not to have variety. Unlike body builders, who have multiple forms of exercise for each muscle, powerlifters generally train these three exercises, using others as necessary but not at the expense of these. In this way, they work the entire body and show results without wasted effort.
As a writer, what are your goals? Write 1-3 of them. To be well-rounded, have one about progress on your current book, one about networking, and one about steps to publication or post-publication marketing. Focus on other areas as needed, but never at the expense of these goals.
But what about your daily flash fiction, your blog, revisions, and sending to agents; Facebook, Twitter, and Instamatic; surfing for answers online, reading similar books, and going to conferences? Each of these can be helpful, but only do them if they help with your three goals. Aim for variety in your writing, not your writing habits.
Think of Rome’s armies and you’ll probably conjure up an image of the typical 1st century AD legionary. In that era, the empire was bold, brash, burgeoning and seemingly unstoppable. The iconic lorica segmentata (segmented armour vest) symbolised the empire’s military might and technical superiority. But Rome’s dominance was not to last . . .
In a previous article, I extolled the virtues of Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader. One of my favorite sections is entitled Myth America, which describes the history we never quite learned right. Here are some favorites, taken from pages 28-29, 67.
1. Myth: Indians invented scalping as a method to terrorize settlers.
Readers of fiction often complain that a book didn’t keep their interest, that the characters, story and/or writing just didn’t grab them. Today’s readers have shorter attention spans and so many more books to choose from. Most of them/us don’t have the time or patience for the lengthy descriptive passages, long, convoluted “literary” sentences, detailed technical explanations, author asides, soap-boxing, or the leisurely pacing of fiction of 100 years ago.
Besides, with TV, movies, and the internet, we don’t need most of the detailed descriptions of locations anymore, unlike early readers who’d perhaps never left their town, and had very few visual images of other locales to draw on. Ditto with detailed technical explanations – if readers want to know more, they can just Google the topic.
While you don’t want your story barreling along at a break-neck speed all the way through – that would be exhausting for the reader – you do want the pace to be generally brisk enough to keep the readers’ interest. As Elmore Leonard said, “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”
Here are some concrete techniques for accelerating your narrative style at strategic spots to create those tense, fast-paced scenes.