Tag Archives: Lord of the Rings

Just Smile

smileHave you ever stared at a word for days on end?  I have, and coming to the end of the tunnel is bliss.  When writing, I tend to use “place-markers” – anywhere from a single word to a rough-sketch of a scene that I know will need to be fleshed out, moved, replaced or “cannibalized” for a concept.  Some people like to use special writing programs, and I’ve tried a few over the years, but I tend to do all of my writing in Word; it’s got review “post-its” I can type into the side margins, and I’m usually more organized than programs like Scrivener anyway.  When I go back over such sections, I take off my writer’s hat and put on my editor’s cap, and dive in.

I’ve been editing a manuscript, and at the moment I’m focusing on repetitions; the most recent word was smile.  Each time I came across the word, I needed to read the context, think about whether it should be removed, replaced, the sentence reworded, or left as-is.  I’ve discovered that there are not actually that many synonyms for “smile” in the English language; smirk, sneer, grimace, simper, scowl, grin… they each have their own connotations, and are not simply interchangeable – each choice will effect the overall meaning in distinct ways.   as William Blake once said, “There is a smile of Love, And there is a smile of Deceit, And there is a smile of smiles In which these two smiles meet.”  Sometimes it can simply be left out – the context informs the reader about which emotions are being displayed by the characters.  Characters in love have a different smile for each other than for frenemies, or antagonists, or superiors, or subordinates, and each situation in which various characters are combined might result in a different word for smile.  And does one smile warmly, or coldly?  Broadly or tight-lipped?

theoden-king-of-rohan-lord-of-the-ringsSometimes I wonder if I think far too much about such details; but I’d rather think about it once too often and get it right than not.  It might have seemed a tad extravagant for Weta Workshop to emboss the inside of King Théoden’s breastplate armour for the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and Return of the King (in which the character appears), knowing it would never actually be seen in the films; but Bernard Hill, who played the king, said that such details helped him easily slip into the role, even feeling the nobility of a king, and it thus enhanced and influenced his performance.  As visuals matter in epic films such as LoR, words matter in writing a novel, drawing the reader into the imaginary landscape of the world the author creates. ever-after

They also matter in script-writing:  In Ever After, starring Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott, some of the dialogue lines are just downright embarrassing – especially those of Anjelica Huston:  They go to the trouble of being opulent and period-accurate in costumes, locations and scene dressings, and then throw in lines like Relax, child and I’m management!  The editor in me cringes.

One man’s smile is another man’s smirk; one woman’s grin is another woman’s sneer.  Now, on to the next item on my list of editing revisions!

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The Art of Listening

ListeningAs a writer I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to improve any of my skills, be they technical, linguistic, goal-oriented (such as the skills it takes to publish a book), or basic.  Listening falls into the latter category; it’s something all of us do, yet all of us can improve on.  I don’t think I need to mention the fact that we are a generation on information overload; media screams at us to get our attention, whether through the use of power-punching, gut-wrenching headlines, or power-words written in ALL CAPS! with the appropriate punctuation, or flashing ads that give us no peace until we either turn them off or leave the website they’ve invaded.  Adds flash at us constantly whether on TV, in shops, on the internet, or driving down the motorway.  Eventually we become numb and stop listening.  We put in our ear-buds, turn on a song of our choice and try to tune out the rest of the world, at least for a moment.

By improving listening, I am not implying that we toss out our MP3 players and force ourselves to listen to everything in case we miss something important.  We must all use discretion about where our “focus energy” goes.  But by improving our listening, we can begin to hear the quieter, more subtle elements; we can focus our ears and minds to perceive things that might be more worthwhile than the noise that vies for our attention.  Conscious listening creates understanding.

I recently listened to a TED talk by Julian Treasure on five exercises to improve listening; I share them with you here; click on the image above if you’d like to watch the talk yourself:

1)  Silence:  For at least three minutes a day, try to find a place of complete silence (if not possible, at least aim for very quiet).  It helps to recalibrate your ears, so that you can actually hear the quieter things once again.

2) Mixer:  In a noisy environment, whether a café or sitting by a stream, practice focusing your ears on one sound, then another;  It will improve the quality of your listening.  I use this technique with singing students; before they begin rehearsing with a song we will analyse and dissect it instrument by instrument, verse by verse, vocal by vocal.  The more they become aware of this process, the better they will understand how their vocals fit into the bigger picture as both a wind- and stringed instrument.

3)  Savouring:  There’s a “hidden choir” all around you; focusing on such mundane sounds as the dish washer or the coffee machine can reveal rhythms and build an appreciation of the simpler things in life.  Sound technicians for films use this as their greatest tool; because they’ve trained themselves in this area, they know they can combine the squishing of an orange, the grating of a cinder block across a corrugated iron sheet and the distortion of their vacuum cleaner’s sound to come up with a monster ala the Balrog of Lord of the Rings, or scraping keys along a piano wire to land Dr. Who’s TARDIS.

4)  Listening Positions:  This is the idea that you can shift your position (“level” of listening) according to what you’re listening to:  active/passive, reductive/expansive, critical/empathetic.  These adjust certain filters that we all have, such as culture, language, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations and intentions, which increasingly focus our listening from all “sounds” down to things we specifically listen to.

5) RASA:  An acronym for Receive (i.e. paying attention to the person), Appreciate (giving verbal feedback such as small sounds of agreement or interest), Summarize (feedback of what you’ve understood), and Ask (ask questions afterward).  Practicing RASA will improve not only how we listen, but our retention of information.

Listening is one of our five senses, and one that’s worth exploring in writing; when a reader can become absorbed in the sensations of a scene – hearing, smelling, seeing, feeling and tasting the environment through well-chosen words – they will be invested in the story, and care about what happens next.

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