Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Four Dimensional World - Writing Craft

You touch and see in three dimensions. The fourth dimension is the ephemeral. The stuff you hear, smell, taste. Use all the senses.
— Mollie Blake’s Writing Workshop Notes by Liz Fielding

I want you to imagine your heroine arriving at an airport in a strange country. Somewhere she’s never been before. There’s no one to meet her.

Even for those of us who live in Europe, where we usually acquire a passport at birth (and yes, babies have to have their own documentation – a photographer’s nightmare) and will have been waved off on a school trip to France or Germany or Italy or Spain by nervous parents (I know I was that parent!) by the time we’re fourteen, it can be a daunting experience.

How do you describe that? What will bring the scene to life for the reader?

Not a long description of what everything looks like. All modern airports look the same – even if she’s only seen one on television the reader will provide the picture. It’s only in the details that they differ, so focus on those and the emotions they arouse in your heroine.

I travelled widely when I was younger and I once landed at Entebbe in Uganda in the middle of the night. The heat, as I stepped off the plane, wrapped me in a suffocatingly warm, damp blanket. And there was no air-conditioning in the lounge.

My first reaction to Africa was panic – I was never going to survive.

One image that still sticks in my mind is of passing through the airport at Johannesburg many years ago on my way from Botswana to Kenya. I can still conjure up the wide stairway leading up out of the arrivals hall. It was divided into sections and the sign, in Afrikaans, did not need the English translation. One section was for whites only.


Stranded in Cairo when our plane lost an engine, after hours of confusion we were finally found seats on a flight travelling to Frankfurt. Frankfurt was the cleanest, quietest airport I have ever experienced. When our flight to London was called there was no straining to hear the words – there was just a gentle ding-dong of a bell and then the announcement, softly spoken and in crystal clear English.

Reassuring, relaxing. Nearly home.

I remember needing a trolley for my bags when I arrived in Washington a few years back. (a) I couldn’t believe I had to pay to use one (I hadn’t in London) and (b) had to do without and carry my bags as I didn’t have a dollar bill.

Shocked, jetlagged (how the heck could you get a dollar bill into a trolley, anyway – sorry but I come from coin carrying culture!), annoyed. Who knew?

My memories are not of strange signs, different accents or languages, but are all about vivid emotional reactions to the moment. And that’s the key. It’s all about emotion.

So, I’ll ask you again - what is your heroine feeling when she arrives at a strange airport?

I’ve got a very special copy of my next book, The Last Woman He’d Ever Date, for a comment that grabs me – maybe two... It’s special because you’ll only get this edition if you’re signed up to the Mills and Boon Reader Service programme in the UK. If you’re not, you’re going to have to wait until July in the US, or the autumn in the UK, when it will be released in a new-style Riva cover.

Oh, and anyone who says: “Oh my goodness the signs are in Italian/Danish/Japanese…” will be disqualified!

Here’s an introduction to my heroine, to tempt you –

Claire Thackeray swung her bike off the road and onto the footpath that crossed Cranbrook Park estate.
     The “No Cycling” sign had been knocked down by the quad bikers before Christmas and late for work, again, she didn’t bother to dismount.
     She wasn’t a rule breaker by inclination but no one was taking their job for granted at the moment, besides, hardly anyone used the path. The Hall was unoccupied but for a caretaker and any fisherman taking advantage of the hiatus in occupancy to tempt Sir Robert’s trout from the Cran wouldn’t give two hoots. Which left only Archie and he’d look the other way for a bribe.
     As she approached a bend in the path Archie, who objected to anyone travelling faster than walking pace past his meadow, charged the hedge. It was terrifying if you weren’t expecting it — hence the avoidance by joggers — and pretty unnerving if you were. The trick was to have a treat ready and she reached in her basket for the apple she carried to keep him sweet.
      Her hand met fresh air and as she looked down she had a mental image of the apple sitting on the kitchen table, before Archie — not a donkey to be denied an anticipated treat — brayed his disapproval.
     Her first mistake was not to stop and dismount the minute she realised she had no means of distracting him, but while his first charge had been a challenge, his second was the real deal. While she was still on the what, where, how, he leapt through one of the many gaps in the long neglected hedge, easily clearing the sagging wire and she was too busy pumping the pedals in an attempt to outrun him to be thinking clearly.
     Her second mistake was to glance back, see how far away he was and the next thing she knew she’d come to an abrupt and painful halt in a tangle of bike and limbs — not all of them her own — and was face down in a patch of bluebells growing beneath the hedge.


Sheryl said...

Denpasar Bali. Old airpot. Arrivals, stiflingly humid, no seating. Sweet smell of incense mingled with cigarette smoke thick on the air.

Diane Fordham said...

Great post Liz :-)

Vince said...

Hi Liz:

Here’s my entry:

“Betty looked out the window as the airliner made its final approach. The engines seemed to get much louder.

“Are the engines ok?”

Her body began to tremble as it always did on landings and takeoffs. Her boyfriend, the pilot, always said the ground was the biggest danger to an airplane.

“Thanks Rob.”

Little beads of moisture troubled her upper lip.

“This is crazy. I’m thirty years old. I fly all the time.”

Out the windown all she could see for miles were pine trees. No city. Almost no airport. There's just a few roads in the middle of a forest down there. This was no major airport! This couldn’t be the capital of the country? We’re in the wrong place!


After landing, and getting her shakes under control, it took half an hour for the plane to taxi to the hangers. Then the doors opened with a sickening ‘whoosh’. Her ears popped. The cabin filled with pine pollen. Her sneezing began at once.

“Why would I need allergy pills in a major city?”

The stewardess gave her a worried look as she approached the open door.

“Oh, Lord! We’re two stories high and I have to climb down a wobbly motorized stairway. I’d be sick if I wasn’t sick already”, she told the flight attendant.

Betty stepped out on the stairs as her knees wobbled in sympathy with her brain. At the top step the wind blew papers right out of her purse.

“There go my documents.”

The flight attendant just shook her head in sympathy. The papers were about a hundreds yards away already.

“Don’t these people know it’s way colder than it has any right to be in the middle of August?”

Betty didn’t know what was shaking more: her body or the stairs. Synergy. They both helped the other shake.

“Hurry up lady,” a big man behind her said, “It’s a forty minute drive into town and I have an important meeting to attend.”

Betty looked up at the sky and shouted: "Forget the sinki, this place is just plain Hell."


P.S. I think the fourth dimension is ‘time’ as in ‘space-time’. I don’t think Molly is a physicist but if she has one in her audience, she just might see a confused look on his face. Just funnin’. : )

Liz Fielding said...

Lovely, Sheryl!

Liz Fielding said...

Thanks. Diane!

Liz Fielding said...

Wow, Vince. I'm not sure that woman should be allowed on a plane! Could she be having a worse day?

Any more of that and I'll start telling all my "worst flight" stories!

Ruchita said...

Hi Liz,
Congrats on the new release. I love the cover, especially the hero and would love to read it.
Here's my input for the airport.
Mumbai airport: Pansy could feel the heat the moment she stepped off the plane. It was a warm moist fog enveloping her and causing her palms to become sticky. Even the air smelled of the humidity. She screwed up her eyes as she went in the lounge. There were people and more people. The rush was dizzying and the steady hum of the noise even drowned out her own thoughts in her head :)

Liz Fielding said...

Thanks for dropping by everyone. Loved your airport scenes.

Sheryl, Diane, Vince and Ruchita - if you'll email me your snail mail addy's I'll get copies of the book in the post.