Do the Objective Correlative

No, the Objective Correlative isn’t a dance step, so far as I know.  It’s a literary term that can be hard to comprehend.  Let’s see if I can explain it in words even I can understand.

Imagine you’re an author writing a scene in which a boy encounters a rather scary bear.  You want to convey to the reader the emotion felt by the boy when he senses the bear is watching him from somewhere, but he can’t see the animal.  You could simply state the boy was scared.  That would violate the principle of show, don’t tell we’ve discussed before, and it’s rather on the amateurish side. You could instead paint a word picture of the scene, as William Faulkner did in his story, “The Bear.”

He heard no dogs at all.  He never did hear them.  He only heard the drumming of the woodpecker stop short off and knew that the bear was looking at him.  He never saw it.  He did not know whether it was in front of him or behind him.  He did not move, holding the useless gun, which he had not even had warning to cock and which even now he did not cock, tasting in his saliva that taint as of brass which he knew now because he had smelled it when he peered under the kitchen at the huddled dogs.

First we have the sudden silence of normally noisy animals–dogs and a woodpecker.  We have the sense of “blindness” in that the boy cannot see the bear.  Faulkner describes the boy’s only potential weapon in countering the situation as “useless” and not even cocked.  There’s a cold, metallic taste in his mouth.  Finally we find the dogs huddled, hiding.

In a few sentences, Faulkner shows us that terror of being watched, vulnerable, unable to even confront the danger.  Never once does he mention the boy’s emotion, and yet we feel it nonetheless because of the situation, the chain of events, the details chosen in the passage.  Moreover, a single one of the details wouldn’t have sufficed; the combination of several details completes the effect of evoking the emotion.

That is the Objective Correlative.  The artist Washington Allston coined the term around 1840 and meant it to be applied to painting.  T.S. Eliot later revived the term and applied it to literature.  I came across the concept while surfing the web one day when I came across this site.

T.S. Eliot said there are ways to fall short of having the right objective correlative.  The details in a scene might not leave readers with any particular emotion, or maybe with the wrong one.

You can use common literary symbols as part of an objective correlative.  Some of the many symbols used to represent an emotion include the color blue to mean calm, darkness to mean fear, rain to mean sadness, and a mouse to represent shyness.

Of course, readers vary by culture and background and some words do not convey the same emotions to all.  Still, the objective correlative is an effective tool for maximizing the emotional impact of your writing.  I encourage you to ‘do the objective correlative’ even if it isn’t a dance.  Did this blog entry help you understand the term?  Leave a comment and let me know.  Dancing here in this little corner of the Internet you’ll find–

                                                  Poseidon’s Scribe



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Writing “Against All Gods”

In a previous blog post I’ve explored how writers take a basic idea and build it into a story.  Here I thought I’d show you that process at work in the development of one of my tales.

Recently, Gypsy Shadow Publishing launched my story “Against All Gods.”  It’s the latest tale in a series called What Man Hath Wrought.

How did I come to write that story?  I’ve long been fascinated with ships, ship design, and the beautiful vessels of the past.  Among these is the trireme of Ancient Greece and Rome.  Well suited for naval warfare in the Mediterranean, triremes sailed and fought for hundreds of years using a basic design that changed little during that time.  If Hollywood made a movie featuring the adventures of a trireme crew, I’d stand in line when it opened.  Can’t you just see the deadly ram; the painted eyes; the jutting prow; the churning rows of oars; that single rectangular sail; and the graceful, upward curve of the stern?

As an engineer, I’ve also been enthralled by the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  Using only the simple materials available to them, Bronze Age people of the Mediterranean constructed architectural marvels whose memory lingers across the millennia.  Six of the seven are gone, but that only heightens their grandeur, for our imaginations build them anew to a magnificence the originals probably lacked.

How, I thought, could I write a story featuring a trireme and the Seven Wonders?  Clearly a sea voyage to each of the Wonders seemed in order.  Moreover, it must have some appeal, some relevance, to modern readers who might not share my interests.  As to that, it had not escaped my notice that my only previous romance story, “Within Victorian Mists,” had been selling rather well.

Could I manage, then, a tale involving a trireme, the Wonders, and a romance?  Time for a mind map to brainstorm various plot ideas.  First, all seven Wonders had to be in existence, and since that was only true between 280 B.C. (when the Alexandria Lighthouse was built) and 226 B.C. (when the Colossus of Rhodes collapsed), those dates roughly fixed the story’s timeframe.  Early on I abandoned the notion of bringing the woman character along on the voyage as being too far-fetched.  That meant my two lovers would be separated for most of the story.  And what should the woman do at home while the man voyages on his sea adventure—strum her lyre and pine for him?  No.  Today’s readers seek strong and independent female characters.

Think, for a moment, about the story you might have written given those constraints.  As for me, I explored a few options in my mind map, considering pros and cons of each, rejecting ideas with unsolvable flaws, weighing the remaining notions, and finally selecting the one I believed held the most promise.

As it says in the book blurb, “In ancient Athens, trireme commander Theron and the woman he loves, Galene, have each earned the wrath of jealous gods.  To marry Galene, Theron must voyage to all seven Wonders of the World.  At every stage the immortal gods test their love with all the power and magic at their command.  While Galene suffers anguishing torment in Athens, Theron faces overwhelming challenges at every Wonder from Ephesus to Rhodes to Babylon.  Theron and Galene may be devoted to each other, but how can mere mortal love survive…against all gods?”

There it is…a glimpse into the mind of a creative writer at work.  Comment if you found it helpful.  Or unhelpful.  It’s all part of the service provided by—

                                                     Poseidon’s Scribe


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Those Maddening Editors!

Good news!  You just heard from an editor who will be happy to accept the story you sent…except for the Bad News, which is the acceptance is contingent on your agreeing to some changes in the manuscript.  The question is:  will you accept the changes or not?

The decision is personal, and different in every case.  It depends on how you weigh many factors, including the following.  These are not listed in any priority order:

  • How desperate are you to make the sale?  Early in your writing career, the degree of desperation might be greater.
  • How likely is the story to be accepted elsewhere?  You can measure this, to some extent, by the number of rejections the story has garnered so far.
  • To what degree do you find the changes acceptable?  I advise you to take a little time to determine this, since there’s an initial negative reaction to suggested alterations.  Sometimes the editor’s ideas start to sound better after a few days.
  • How extensive and explicit are the recommended revisions?  This is a measure of the amount of work you’re going to have to do before you can resubmit.  By ‘explicit’ I mean whether the changes are the change-this-word-to-that variety or the ‘make the tone lighter’ variety.
  • How much would the changes affect a significant aspect of the story?  You might have poured sweat and soul into this tale and now the editor proposes cutting a section packed with important symbolism and deep meaning.  That scene is the heart of the story!  In effect, the editor is suggesting you turn your story into something else.
  • How much is this particular market paying?  Yeah, let’s admit it–that’s a factor.  If it’s a pro market, you’re much more likely to accept any changes.

You ought to give editors some credit and at least consider the changes they propose.  They may not know your particular story as well as you do, but they read a lot and, in general, have a good sense of what works in today’s marketplace.

Often the editor’s suggested changes are negotiable.  You might accept some, but hold the line on others.  When doing this, state your case about why you think your version is better (without belittling the editor, of course!).  The editor may still disagree, and then you’ll have another decision to make.  When you get as well-known as John Champlin Gardner, then you can negotiate as he did when an editor told him his novel The Sunlight Dialogues was too long and needed to be cut by one third.  Gardner is said to have asked, “Which third?”

Let’s say you aren’t crazy about the editor’s ideas, but you are anxious to make the sale, so you decide to agree to the changes.  I recommend you keep your original version saved.  Later, when your rights to the story revert back to you, you can market that original version and perhaps get it published.  In that reprint version, you’ll need to cite the earlier publication with a statement such as, “Previously published in a different form in <market> in <year>.”

Ultimately it is your decision whether to make the suggested revisions.  After all, it is your good name that goes on the story.  If you feel very strongly, then don’t alter a line; keep on sending the manuscript to other markets.  Your story may find an editor who likes it as is.  These days, you can also publish the story without getting it accepted by an editor at all.

Leave a comment and let me know what your experience has been in this situation.  Did you make the change, negotiate, or refuse and submit elsewhere?  What were the reasons for your choice?  Did you regret it later?  Always willing to at least consider an editor’s suggestions, I’m–

                                                                               Poseidon’s Scribe

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When Authors Speak

When you’ve had a few stories published, you may be asked to speak at a conference.  It may be a chance to speak alone about a topic, to speak on a panel, or to read some samples of your writing.

I’ve had that honor twice.  In February 2010, I read a portion of my story “Within Victorian Mists” to an audience at the Crossroads Writing Conference in Macon, GA.  I was with a group of other steampunk writers (Emilie P. Bush, Kathryn Hinds, Alexander White, Lainey Welsch, Dwayne DeBardelaben, and Austin Sirkin), and here’s a picture from that event.  In November 2011, I served on a panel with some steampunk experts (Mark P. Donnelly, Elektra Hammond, and Kevin Houghton) at the DarkoverCon in Timonium, MD.

For both conference speaker and conference attender, there are likely to be some unmet expectations.  I fear that conference attenders who hope to be authors someday think they will learn the hidden secrets of great writing and be handed the golden keys to fortune and fame.  In some cases, conference speakers may expect to earn flocks of new fans, all captivated by the speaker’s charm or wit and eager to part with their cash in exchange for the author’s books.

So if you’re the writer who’s given a chance to speak, what should you expect?  Perhaps one or more audience members will feel moved to purchase something on the spot.  Others may think about it and investigate your presence online later, before deciding to buy and read one of your books.

Those attending your panel, or lecture, or reading, must lower their expectations as well.  After all, it’s not like you have surplus fortune-and-fame keys to hand out.  The most they’ll receive are a few nuggets of wisdom about becoming an author, or reminders and reinforcements of previously learned knowledge.

As the speaker, then, your purposes are clear.  (1) Present yourself as an engaging, interesting personality.  (2) Convey some useable advice or recommendations about getting published. (3) Inform the audience about your books without being pushy.  In this way both speaker and audience can leave knowing they’ve received something of value.

Trouble is, the skills you developed while becoming a published author differ from those needed for speaking at a conference.  Public speaking scares most people at first, and only practice and experience lessen that fear.

If you’re the sole speaker during your session, I suggest you come prepared with an outline, so your talk doesn’t ramble.  Remember too, even a lecture is an interactive event, never the same twice.  Watch your audience members for their body language and facial reactions; you’ll know when you’ve said something controversial or provocative, etc.  Be gracious and attentive during the question-and-answer period.

When serving on a discussion panel, now group dynamics enter the picture.  Don’t monopolize the panel; that turns audiences off.  Don’t sit there saying little; you won’t entice future readers that way either.  If you must disagree with another panelist, do so with respect and consideration.  Never get drawn into an argument; that runs counter to your purposes.

If reading from one of your stories, select an engaging passage.  Project your voice.  Enunciate your words.  Modulate as you speak, stressing for emphasis and altering your timbre or accent for different characters in dialogue.

Was this advice helpful?  Let me know with a comment.  Remember, readers love to meet and engage with authors, especially those they find intriguing.  So get out there and be intriguing.  Soon you’ll be winning fans, including–

                                                         Poseidon’s Scribe

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Book Review – Something Wicked This Way Comes

Ray Bradbury died June 5th of this year, a day this universe lost a literary giant.  I just finished reading Something Wicked This Way Comes for the first time.  I have read some other Bradbury works, including Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man, Now and Forever, and The Martian Chronicles.  His short story “The Flying Machine,” in part, inspired my story “The Sea-Wagon of Yantai.”

I listened to the Recorded Books version performed by Paul Hecht, ©1962 by Bradbury, renewed 1997, and ©1999 by Recorded Books.

The novel takes place in a Midwest town in the month of October sometime in the early to mid-1900s.  A traveling carnival comes to the town and strange things happen, including the disappearance or alteration of some townspeople.  Two boys and one of their fathers start to believe the carnival is evil and try to find a way to deal with the problem.

That synopsis sounds inexcusably bland, and doesn’t at all convey the magical experience of reading the book.  Bradbury’s works are always poetic, alliterative, and metaphorical, and this novel is no exception.  You find yourself swept along with the cadence of the words, caught up in whatever web Bradbury chooses to weave, and you’re glad of it.

The work deals with eternal themes of good and evil, as well as old and young.  With the first, he examines the weapons wielded by forces evil and good.  With the second, he explores the absurdity of the old wanting to be young and the young yearning to be old.

No one better expresses that delight, playfulness, curiosity, and sense of wonder of being a young boy in a Midwest town, than Ray Bradbury.  I was once such a boy and can relate.  The details he recalls and sensations he can–with lyrical prose–rekindle, resonate within me.

I’m not sure whether to classify the novel as horror or fantasy.  Perhaps it’s a horror…poem?  In any case, I loved it and give it my highest rating of 5 seahorses, the first work I’ve reviewed to have earned that rating.  Do you disagree with my review?  Leave a negative comment and you may find out “by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,” and that something is–

                                                  Poseidon’s Scribe


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