Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Painting Pictures with Words...and Linda Wells

It is an honor to have Linda Wells as my guest. She has painted some lovely pictures with words and it is amazing.  I like how you drew me in with your words and visuals. Thank you Linda, for such an interesting post. Be sure and check out the giveaway at the end of the post. You will not want to miss this one!

I was recently sitting on a hotel balcony, watching the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean, and the phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” came to mind.  That’s true enough, but not the best adage for a writer.  After all, my goal is the opposite, to paint a picture with words.  So, I went about mentally writing the scene playing out before me. 

Gulls cackled and soared in ever-growing circles as the slightest glimmer of light appeared on the horizon.  Still too dark to see clearly, the gentle lapping of waves upon the shore, and the unmistakably heavy scent of salt in the air, confirmed that it was a great body of water stretching out into the distance, and not some open field in an empty park.  Slowly the light took on a pinkish hue, and the silhouettes of two people appeared against the brightening sky.  One, a man standing stiffly with his hands balled into fists, stared out across the water.  The other was a woman, seated on the beach with her arms wrapped around her knees, her long hair blowing unheeded around her drooping head.  They were clearly together, but at the same time, the distance between them seemed as vast as the ocean. 

The hardest thing when starting a new story is writing that first paragraph.  It has to grab your readers’ attention and keep them curious enough to turn the page.  Setting the scene, introducing the mood, the time period, and most importantly, the characters, is challenging.  You want to reveal enough to be intriguing, but you don’t want to say everything right away.  That’s what makes writing variations of Pride and Prejudice interesting.  After all, everybody knows Darcy and Elizabeth.  What new thing can possibly be revealed about two characters who have been dissected by hundreds of writers, on both the scholarly and fan fiction sides of things? 

And that’s where it strikes me.  How many times have artists painted the same scene?  How many students have sat around a studio with the same model before them, and yet every painting produced is unique.  Each student chooses a particular feature to highlight, a preferred style and medium to use, and inevitably, each mixes their individual feelings into the finished piece. 

The same goes for writing Jane Austen variations.  We all start with the same story, the same characters, and then . . . our imaginations are set free to paint that new picture with words.  Where will we put them?  What time period will it be?  What can we change?  What should be left untouched?  And most of all, how can we begin that story so each reader is comfortable with their beloved characters, no matter where they happen to be this time around, and know that in essentials, they are unchanged?

The drone of propellers cutting through the air drew Darcy’s impassive gaze from the field of ripening wheat to the horizon, where three Spitfires flying in close formation sped ever closer.  As a boy he would determinedly spur his pony to chase the shadows of passing aircraft, sometimes waving to the pilots as they swooped down low.  Now a grown man, he sat still and followed the fighters’ progress as they passed over Pemberley, the fading sound of the engines lingering long after the planes were only specks in the cloudless sky.

A different sort of engine sound shifted his attention to the drive and signalled the approach of an open top Cowley and the three people seated inside.  Urging his horse up the ridge, Darcy directed him through the trees and onto the gravelled road.  The motorcar was too far away to see any great detail, but he could tell by the way the people behaved that they were strangers, come to see the estate.

There, a picture painted with words.  Can you see it?  You know that it’s Darcy, you can be pretty sure that the three people in the car are Elizabeth and the Gardiners coming to see Pemberley.  It’s definitely not Regency, but it is familiar.  Your imagination can fill in some of the details even without reading another word.  But that’s the point.  You want to read the words because they take you far beyond that first picture.  The words let you examine and explore, to feel the emotions of the characters and draw out feelings from your own experiences. 

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a thousand words give you so much more than a painting. 

Do you have a favorite opening paragraph or sentence?  And no, you can’t pick the obvious, “It is a truth universally acknowledged . . .”

Your post made me think and feel...very pleasant and inspirational. Thank you again for sharing these thoughts with us, Linda. I think you said it all very well, indeed. 

Now to Ms. Wells' giveaway...winner's choice of ANY of her eBooks. Folks that is a set of three books for Memory or two books for Imperative and so on. You get the idea. It is a very generous offer and we thank you very much Linda Wells. Answer Linda's question above in the comment section to be entered. The giveaway is international. Be sure to include your email address in the comment. To prevent unwanted spam, put your email address with an (at) instead of @.  Winner will be chosen in a random drawing. Giveaway ends at midnight, September 2. 


  1. "I don't know how other men feel about their wives walking out on them, but I helped mine pack."
    (by Bill Manville in "Breaking Up")


    "When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world... and there's nothing wrong with my skills."
    (by Jonathan Maberry in "Patient Zero")

    I love a bit of comedy with mystery.

    ~ junewilliams7 (at) yahoo (dott) comm

    1. PS - I love your writing, Linda. Even these few paragraphs you teased us with drew me in immediately!

    2. Thank you, dear! lol And why am I not at all surprised that you like comedy and mystery rolled up together? Now you've given me some new books to read!

  2. My favourite first line is genuinely the one from Pride and Prejudice, I was completely captured by it, but since that one is out of bounds I will go for another attention grabber:

    'Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.'

    From another of my favourites, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens :)

    Thanks for the giveaway opportunity. Frawli1978 (at) gmail (dot)com

    1. Oh, sorry to have taken your favorite off the table, but you really chose a great substitute! There is so much to enjoy about that story. Thank you, Ceri!

  3. I don't have a favourite opening sentence actually. But if I must share, then it is:

    "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." from Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

    It is a powerful line and drew me in to find out what the book is about.


    1. With the new Anna Karenina released, I finally sat down and read the book. And that opening sentence is the story in a nutshell.
      Thank you for commenting, Luthien84

  4. I just sifted through several of my favorite books only to learn that none of them begin their books with amazing, grabbing lines. I am not sure if this says something about my reading tastes or that amazing first lines aren't that prevalent. LOL!
    But here's one from childhood: "Tom!" No answer. "Tom!" No answer. "Now what's gotten with that boy, I wonder? You, TOM!" No answer.

    I was dying to know what was up with Tom Sawyer after that intro.

    I love Linda's books and each one captivated me from the beginning so I can appreciate her work in making a good starting impression.
    sophiarose1816 at gmail dot com

    1. Well, the first paragraph works, too! But I think that you chose a brilliant one!
      Thank you, Sophia Rose, I'm so glad that you enjoy the stories.

  5. 1st: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
    -- Rebecca, Daphne De Maurier

    2nd: "The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette."
    — The Princess Bride, William Goldman

    Of course, it's interesting that you would write about story beginnings because I think yours are WONDERFUL. It is absolutely your forte.

    I always know I'll be thoroughly entertained when I begin to read one of your stories. I've never been disappointed.


    1. Ahh, Rebecca. A friend of mine who read my post before I sent it to Janet picked that same book. Although I have to vote for Buttercup.

      I really do appreciate you saying that my beginnings are good. In the blog post you see the original beginning to Keeping Calm, oh, so much fretting went into that.
      Thank you, Gayle!

  6. So, are both italicized paragraphs part of the same story? I have to say that the two at the shoreline in obvious distress really tugged at me and the other with Darcy coming upon the approaching car is equally compelling. They could be part of the same story but at vastly different points. I am so looking forward to reading Keeping Calm.

  7. Hi Elicia! No, the first italicized paragraph was just something I made up while looking at the sunrise, but it sure has possibilities for the start of a modern story, doesn't it? The second story with Darcy actually is from the first chapter of Keeping Calm. Darcy and Elizabeth meet in July 1939, about 6 weeks before war is declared, and in the P&P universe, at the time when the Gardiners are in Derbyshire with Elizabeth. In this story, Darcy did not go to Netherfield (which in 1939 has been converted to a hotel).

    I do hope that you enjoy reading Keeping Calm, I'm having the best time researching for it! And it's a story from me, so you know our couple's conflict is from the outside world, not between them. The war will do for that, I think!

  8. Linda, I loved your post! The snippets in italics were tantalising and delightful! And especially I enjoyed your wonderful analogy between writing austenesque variations and several students painting the same model. I have never seen it put so beautifully! A lovely, lovely thought!

    As for favourite quotes, I'm on the same page as Sophia Rose actually. Every one of my favourite books [with one notable exception :)] don't grab you from the opening line. 'Emma' might come close, with the way it outlines from the very beginning what sort of heroine we should expect, but in most other cases my favourite lines occur much later in the book. Can I share one of these? 'You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.'
    Or, in a very different vein: 'He found her agitated and low. - Frank Churchill was a villain. - He heard her declare that she had never loved him. Frank Churchill's character was not desperate. - She was his own Emma, by hand and word, when they returned into the house; and if he could have thought of Frank Churchill then, he might have deemed him a very good sort of fellow.'
    Maybe I should carry on, if only to prove that I do read something other than Austen :) but for now I'll just say thanks for the lovely post and for the chance to win. All the best!

    1. Thank you, Joana! I'm so pleased that the snippets caught your interest (especially the one from Keeping Calm!), and really pleased that the analogy struck you so well!

      I love the examples you've given of great lines, even if they are buried later in the books. The important thing is that you were captivated enough by the stories at the beginning to get to those gems. I have no doubt that you read lots of things besides Austen, you have to read lots of different things to stretch your imagination, don't you?

      Oh, if you want to try and win, you have to leave your email address! Come on back! Thanks again!

    2. Ooooops! Its joana[underscore]sw[at]yahoo[dot]co[dot]uk

      Thanks, Linda!

  9. Hi Linda,
    what an awesome and inspiring post!

    My favourite book opening comes from a Czech book called the Ruler's Stone.
    "Ještě byla celá provoněná." which in English would be someting like "There was still that frangrance over her." but not really. I love it because, exactly as you say, it paints a picture. In this case, of a young woman who had just been racing over a field of flowers, had just been riding her horse, had just been joyous and full of life ... and now she is not. Now, she is lying dead and neither her husband nor her daughter can quite understand how that's come to happen. And in that simple sentence there is that shock, and life, and denial, and autumn sun, and ... And I just love it.

  10. Oh thanks, Lizzy!

    I wonder if the Ruler's Stone is available in English? It sounds fascinating, and it makes me wonder where the story could possibly go from there? I can definitely see why you would love it, it sets your imagination on fire.

    1. I don't think it is available :( But if it were, I am 100% sure you would love it.

  11. Linda, you make beautiful, multidimensional vibrant pictures with your words. Your characters feel real and whole to me. You have a gift, and we're blessed you share it with us. This was a very inspiring post!

    My favorite book opening comes from Ntzoka Shange's Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo... "Where there is a woman there is magic. if there is a moon falling from her mouth she is a woman who knows her magic, who can share or not share her powers. A woman with a moon falling from her mouth, roses between her legs and tiaras of Spanish moss, this woman is a consort of spirits." <-- entire first paragraph.

    1. My goodness Selah, thank you so much!

      I don't know your favorite book, but I can see it so clearly, in fact I can smell it and feel the humid air. There must be a fascinating woman at the center of it all.

  12. It's probably because I just finished reading the story to my children, but the opening line that popped into my head almost immediately was... "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."... and doesn't that just say it all? :)

    I recently read them one of my favorite books from childhood and had to post that opener too...

    "Mrs Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladie's eardrops, and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde's hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs Rachel Lynde's door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs Rachel Lynde was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed any-thing odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof."

    That is all ONE sentence. I just loved Anne of Green Gables.

    Thank you for the great giveaway.


    1. Oh The Hobbit! I read that for the first time in 4th grade and then over and over again. Anne of Green Gables came later, but I loved, loved that book, too. And the films. In fact, I think that was a case of the movie sending me to the book, just like how I came to read Pride and Prejudice.

      Good luck with the giveaway, and thanks Lisa!

  13. "The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known at the time as "The Styles Case" has now somewhat subsided."

    This is the first line from The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie. She was certainly a master at getting you interested in a story from the very first line. But, Linda - you are also a master. Unfortunately for me, I already own everything you have written in my Kindle. But, I still wanted to comment. Thanks for your lovely writing. I know Chance Encounters is quite old (in the world of books!), but it is still one of my favorite P&P variations and I have read it several times.
    I am enjoying Keeping Calm!


    1. Ahhhhhh, 7th grade Reading Class, every one of my book reports was on an Agatha Christie story. My teacher begged me to read something else and I resisted mightily. Thank you for your very kind praise, I do appreciate it so much. CE is not that old . . . Five years, is that old? I guess so, but I love that it still is a favorite. I want to do another short (for me) story like that, and eventually Perception will come along. I hope that you'll continue to like Keeping Calm! Thank you, Barb!