Monthly Archives: July 2012

Involve the Reader; Make the Reader Work

Be A NovelistAuthor / Reader Interaction

One of the more fascinating aspects of novel writing (of which I believe there are many), is the ongoing interaction between author/reader.

The novice novelist often tends to view the novel-writing process as totally one-sided.  This is only natural when all of the features, facets, and components of piecing together an entire novel is such a new – and sometimes overwhelming – experience.  So much to think about.

It can be compared to any new learning experience.  Remember when you first learned to drive? Remember how you had to think about each and every move you made? Now after years of driving, you are still attentive and careful, but much of what you do is simply automatic.  It’s the same with novel writing.

Each One Has a PartBe A Novelist

The writer who thinks that writing is one-sided, that she is doing all the work and the reader is along for the ride, will end up with boring scenes and stories. The truth is author and reader must each one do her part.

When the writer does too much of the work, leaving nothing for the reader to do, that reader sets the novel aside and may never know why.

Weave Details into Action

As novelists, we learn how to observe – for instance – the actions or the facial expressions of an individual. We then learn how to artfully weave such details into the actions of a character to bring that character to life.

The opposite of this is the untrained novelist who observes such details, and then lists them for the reader.  In effect, this author is saying, “I want you to come to the same conclusion that I have come to. And I am going to help you do it.”

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Daphne had the face of a highly discontented and high-strung person. She had a habit of making people feel uncomfortable.

With this sentence, we have the mark of an amateur author who is patronizing the reader.  In essence this says, “You may not get it, so I have to tell you how you are to imagine Daphne’s face.”

Now let’s look at Daphne in another version:

Daphne’s heels clicked on the terrazzo floor as she approached her two guests. Clasping her hands before her with fingers tightly intertwined, she pursed thin lips as though reluctant to speak a civil greeting. Her green eyes narrowed as her glance darted from one guest to the other.   

Now the reader is involved. Now the reader is put to work. The scene is presented with no canned, carefully prepared, assumptions.

Set Your Reader Free

No matter if you are presenting your character’s facial features, posture, expressions, voice inflection, emotions, or whatever, beware of hitting the reader over the head with information. Avoid infringing on the reader’s freedom of thought. Set the reader free to make up his or her own mind about your character.

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You as the author know all about Daphne’s personality. In beginner eagerness you want to tell you reader all about it. If you do that, the reader is left with little involvement.  You are holding all the cards in the game. No fun.

Your reader is interested only when she is fully engaged in your novel.  Let her take an active, creative part in this novelist / reader relationship.

Novelists who are attentive to their craft will involve the reader imaginatively as well as Be A Novelistaffecting that reader’s emotions. Learn to involve the reader and make the reader work.

This is how you hone your skills as a novelist.

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A few months ago, I wrote another post about reader involvement entitled, “Greetings Reader! Come on In.” Check it out here.

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Be A NovelistTulsa Tempest now available on Kindle!

 When country girl Tessa Jurgen learns that her bootlegging father has promised her in marriage to a man she doesn’t love, she seeks refuge in the supposedly progressive boomtown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The year is 1921 — the year of the infamous Tulsa Race Riot.

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Photo Credit: © Sherry Tetens

1921 Tulsa Race Riot – the Aftermath

In a previous blog post, I gave a short overview of the destruction that took place during the Tulsa Race Riot.  You can read about it here. In this post, I’ll talk more about the days following the devastating riot.

Be A NovelistThe Real Citizenship

From the outset, the entire incident quickly earned the moniker of “the negro uprising.”  As agencies across the nation attempted to reach out and send aid to the victims, leaders of the Tulsa community demurely turned it away.  Their stance was that it was their problem and they would take care of it.

“Tulsa feels intensely humiliated and …pledges its every effort in wiping out the stain…the disgrace and disaster.” “ The rest of the United States must know that the real citizenship of Tulsa weeps at this unspeakable crime and will make good the damage, so far as can be done to the last penny.”*

To “make good the damage” never happened. Meanwhile the “real citizenship” as they called themselves, set forth to pass a particular fire ordinance that would forever prohibit the citizens of Greenwood from ever rebuilding.  (Thankfully, this folly was later defeated in the Oklahoma Supreme Court.)

Angels of Mercy – The Red Cross

Be A NovelistThe one agency allowed to assist – and this almost from the very outset – was the Red Cross.  Many referred to the agency as “angels of mercy,” as they ministered physically and emotionally to the shell-shocked victims .

Red Cross files would later show that between June 1, 1921, and January 1, 1922, they handled the cases of  8,624 individuals (2,480 family units).  The care included clothing, bedding, beds, tents, laundry, cooking utensils, dishes, material for clothes, and so forth. Additionally, the Red Cross assisted victims by sending, free of charge, 1,350 telegrams to notify relatives around the country of their safety.

An Amazing Law Firm

Be A NovelistOne amazing footnote in the history of the aftermath was the selfless giving of the law firm of Spears, Franklin and Chappelle. These three black men set up shop in a tent and proceeded to provide legal assistance to the victims of the Tulsa Race Riot. They not only lodged claims against the city of Tulsa and the insurance companies, but also counseled and consoled the victims. They made urgent nationwide appeals to African-American groups, churches, and agencies for assistance.

In Mrs. Mary E. Jones Parrish’s book Events of the Tulsa Disaster (p 88), she described this loving and dedicated threesome.

The work was so big – the task so stupendous – that the boys found it absolutely necessary to work many Sundays. Through it all, there was one thing particularly noticeable and that was the “smile” on their faces and the happy laugh so often indulged in by them. They made it a rule to allow no one to come in their “office” or around them with sad faces.  This was no easy task. With want and famine and dire distress stalking all about and women and little children in rags and utter poverty on every hand, it took cool nerves and limitless faith in God to do this…

It was this happy law firm that took the fire ordinance suit all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.  They worked out of their tent office until the month of November, 1921, at which time they moved into an upstairs room of a building on North Greenwood

Interestingly, the Franklin member of this law firm, B. C. Franklin, was the father of none other than the famed historian John Hope Franklin, Professor Emeritus at Duke University.  For those unfamiliar with this noted historian can check out this website: http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/franklin/bio.html

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More on the aftermath of the Tulsa Race Riot in a future blog post.

*Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Scott Ellsworth, p. 83.

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Be A NovelistTulsa Tempest now available on Kindle!

 When country girl Tessa Jurgen learns that her bootlegging father has promised her in marriage to a man she doesn’t love, she seeks refuge in the supposedly progressive boomtown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The year is 1921.