One of my goals as a young adult novelist is to subtly educate my readers. In Between Shadow’s Eyes, the protagonist, Sarah, is constantly remembering or using vocabulary words, sometimes grumbling about her teacher. I, myself, had an English teacher in seventh grade that opened the dictionary on the first day of class, and starting with the letter “a,” proceeded to quiz us on the words in the order they appeared. We had to learn both spelling and all the definitions in groups of twenty. I complained a lot about those tests that year, but I will forever be grateful to Mrs. Krumenacher for the depth of my vocabulary.
At a fabulous writing workshop yesterday, Camille Minichino introduced the concept of objective correlative. While I had not heard the term before, I was pleased to realize that I had intuitively used the technique in Between Shadow’s Eyes. The idea is nothing new.
T.S. Eliot described it as:
“The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an “objective correlative”; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”
Typically, the use of a particular object or event is symbolic of a deeper feeling. According to Minichino, the objective correlative should appear within the first three chapters, recur in the novel four to five times, and the character’s relationship to the object should somehow shift. In my book, the objective correlation is a letter written by my protagonist’s deceased father.
Have you ever used an objective corrective in a story? Have you ever used a pet or animal in this capacity? If so, how?
Dogs understand contentment. All they need is food, water, shelter, human kindness, and an occasional bone or toy to chew, to find happiness. Perhaps we should all aspire to be like dogs.
I saw a great photo affixed to my hairdresser’s license today. The picture showed an orange tabby kitten looking in a mirror that reflected back the face of a lion. The canine version of this photo would be a puppy staring at the image of wolf.
As much as my dog, Shadow, likes to portray a tough guy as he bellows out a bark that could curdle milk whenever the doorbell rings, in his heart he is still a sweet, tolerant pooch. I mean really what wild animal would tolerates a pack member six years his junior to lead him backward from room to room by pulling on his tail is if he were a rope in a tug-of-war contest? So while if Shadow were to have his say, he’d show himself reflected as a fierce wolf, but if I were to create the image, I’d put a mellow puppy in the mirror (sorry, Shadow).
What would your dog’s mirrored photo be like? Would your dog’s image of itself match the one you’d give him or her?
Here are a few of my favorite dog quotes:
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger A. Caras – American wildlife photographer, writer, wildlife preservationist and television personality.
“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring—it was peace.” – Milan Kundera – author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
“Nobody can fully understand the meaning of love unless he’s owned a dog…” – Gene Hill – The Dog Man.
Please share your favorite dog quotes. I’d love to hear them!
Certiain rules are not meant to broken. Or are they? I never considered making the canine character, Shadow, the narrator in my book. Even if I hadn’t heard that novels told from the dog’s point of view were unpublishable, my novel focuses on a young girl’s unfortunate circumstances rather than the dog’s special talent. Yet, now that I know it is not only possible to get these types of books into print, I wouldn’t rule out experimenting to see if I could write in a dog’s voice in the future.
One great example of successfully capturing a dog’s mindset is demonstrated in Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain. And Stein isn’t the only author to overcome this supposed insurmountable publishing hurdle either. W. Bruce Cameron also broke the forbidden barrier in his novel, A Dog’s Purpose. Clearly, readers are not nearly as biased against watching the world through a dog’s eyes. Both Stien’s and Cameron’s books made it to the New York Times bestseller’s list.
The lesson learned? A good story trumps all. Write what you love and, with a little luck, readers will follow.
I am not now, nor will ever be, one of those people who would watch the Academy Awards just to see what the stars are wearing. Nor would I flip to an article written by the “fashion police” entitled Best and Worst Dressed. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that when reading a novel and I come across either variation of “he wore” or “she wore,” the prepare to skim function of my brain kicks into overdrive. However, there are times when I will actually be intrigued by clothing choices. This occurs when the way a person is dressed informs either the character ‘s predicament or their personality. In other words, their appearance is relevant to the plot or contributes to character development.
In the excerpt below from my young adult novel, BETWEEN SHADOW’S EYES, I intentionally used clothing and description to create an impression that there is something a bit odd about the character. (You will note I did not use the passive words such as “he wore” or “she wore).”
A flowing black-and-tan sari had replaced her “Save the Redwoods!” T-shirt and khaki pants. She, well, she floated toward me. That was the best description I could come up with for her smooth gait. Her chin swept side to side as she approached my car as if her head was loose about her neck. Something about the combination of her mannerisms and her physical appearance set my nerves on edge. With that pale skin and wispy blonde hair, she could have been a ghost herself.
Here are a few other examples where clothing descriptions would speak volumes about the plot or character:
A young girl awakes is convinced her dad’s old fishing hat that is littered with destination pins clues to her father’s past. (Intrigued?)
A young sergeant shows up to a military hearing in a tank top and holey jeans. (Is this guy in trouble or what?)
A prom queen has discovered what the girl she beat out in the contest is wearing to the big event and has selected the exact same outfit to wear. (Don’t you hate her already?)
The clothing choices in the above scenarios are not description for the sake of painting a picture. These examples provide insight into the storyline and the character’s mental state. The girl who wears an uncomfortable hat to bed is probably distraught if she is willing to inflict pain to keep his belongings close to her. Why? Has her mother just informed her that the man she presumed to be her father was actually her step-dad when her mother presented her with this hat now deceased biological father ? If you are in trouble in the military, do you really want to piss off your commanding officers by thwarting a time-honored dress code? What kind of person who’s already won an honorary position thumbs her nose at her competition in such a vindictive manner? I want to read on and find out. Do you?
I am one hundred percent convinced that writing has a different depth when the subject or event has really happened to the writer. I credit the acceptance of my short story, “Broken” into the West Winds Centennial anthology with this very attribute. Broken was inspired by an unexpected encounter with our old family van one morning while I was out walking my dogs. We had sold the vehicle to a man that lived in Fremont and I never expected to see it again, much less in my neighborhood. As noted in the story, the van was distinctive in color, although ours had been white with blue trim. I also had received an email where the sender asked me to describe them in a single word. Both of these aspects of the storyline are critical elements to the plot of Broken.
The integration of reality into my novels is even more pronounced. I modeled a dog, one of the characters in my young adult novel, Between Shadow’s Eyes, after our family pet, Shadow. Here are ten things about the real life Shadow that appear in the book:
1). His bark. It is the worst version of canine expression in the world. I am not exaggerating. When Shadow was my foster, I knew without a doubt that the one thing I would not miss about him when he was placed in his “forever home” was his bark. Imagine a cross between a beagle baying at the moon, fingernails screeching across a blackboard and the yowling of a treed cat. Yep, Shadow’s bark is that bad. This aspect of Shadow causes major problems for the protagonist (Sarah) in my novel when the neighbors start complaining.
2). Shadow LOVES to be petted in the space between his eyes. In my novel, when Sarah puts her fingers between Shadow’s eyes, something extraordinary happens.
3). My silly pooch loves to lay his head upon my chest. I swear he is listening to my heartbeat.
4). His breed. Near as I can tell, he is a cross between a border collie and a shar pei. The shar pei is a guess based on his tiny ears and the black splotches on his tongue.
5). Shadow loves to poke his nose between my arm and ribcage and crawl into my lap.
6). Shadow generally doesn’t get along with other dogs. Up until a few years ago, I would have never considered taking him to a dog park. He has mellowed with age, however, and has learned to grudgingly accept his brethren canines.
7). Shadow’s fur is as soft as a rabbit’s.
8). It is very difficult to get a good photograph of Shadow. Flash-photography is a guarantee of a red-eye picture.
9). Shadow is well-behaved. He has never chewed up anything or dug holes in the backyard.
10). His name. It didn’t seem right to change it when the character and my dog have so much in common.
Of course, there is a fair amount of fiction to my stories as well. Our neighbors never complained about Shadow’s barking. And, most importantly, nothing unusual happens when I put my fingers between the real Shadow’s eyes.
I love everything about dogs. Well, maybe not everything. There is that “what you can step in” aspect. But I do love the way dogs can coax you out of a bad mood, the way puppies smell, the unselfless ways of canines, and then there is the entertainment value. Whatever will they do next?
I also love to write about dogs – which is why one of the key characters in my young adult novel is based on my crazy pooch, Shadow. Shadow is a border collie mix with loads of personality and a gigantic heart. I got to thinking the other day that one of my favorite novels also had a border collie as a pivotal character (Nop’s Trials). That lead me to create a list of my favorite top ten dog books of all time (in no particular order):
1). Nop’s Trials by Donald McCaig
2). A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs and Me by Jon Katz
3). Marley and Me by John Grogan
4). Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
5). The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
6). The Poky Little Puppy by Janet Sebring Lowrey (A Golden Book Classic)
7). Old Yeller by Robert Stevenson
8). Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
9). The Call of the Wild by Jack London
10). Cujo by Stephen King
Do you have any favorite animal stories? Cats? Horses? Maybe a tiger (as in Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi).