I took a great trip to Virden, New Mexico last week with a friend – partly a leisure trip to learn about processing fresh, farm-grown green chilis, and partly a “field research” trip for my novel.
Along the way, on Rt. 70 – somewhere between Duncan and Safford – I began to notice what looked like debris all over the highway. As we continued, the debris became even more heavily concentrated, like scattered cigars all along the road.
To my chagrin, I realized we were crunching over a mass exodus of grasshoppers as they passed from one creosote-studded plain to another. There was literally no way to avoid running them over.
This grasshopper, just like the ones on the road, was encountered at the final destination point (Kathy’s mom’s). These grasshoppers-on-steroids are about five times bigger than the PA grasshopper of my youth. Seeing them up close somehow made them much more intimate to me. Click to enlarge.
Once in Virden, we took a convertible ride through the small farming town. This exposure to the open air was spectacular, drawing us closer to beautiful rock outcroppings, the Gila River and blue skies. But it also added a new element to my grasshopper experience. Unfortunately, now I could hear the sound of their hard-shelled bodies and wings pinging off the underside of the car as we hit a stray one here and there (they were much less abundant in this area). For someone who likes to rescue and admire bugs, the entire ‘grasshopper event,’ was disturbing… even despite being quickly reassured by the locals that the grasshoppers are destructive, evil pests to the farmer.
For Writers: Never underestimate the power of using sensory detail in your novel – especially sound. As gory as it is, I can still “hear” the click and snap of those poor grasshoppers as they crunched under the tires, and clanged under the wheel wells of the car. If I were going for a macabre description that left an impression in my readers’ minds, this would surely work.
Earlier this week when I was interviewing a funeral home director as part of my research, I was reminded again of how vital ‘sound’ descriptions are to the novel. This gentleman shared a defining moment in his career that was intensified by the sound of metal instruments dropping on a porcelain embalming table.
Sensory description that includes sound is just one more way to reach your reader and leave a lasting impression … disturbing or melodic.
Tell me … at first glance, what do you think this is?
When we first purchased our property in rural southern Arizona in 2004 (me and hubby), we found these odd-looking twiggy-looking “hooks” all over our property. A friend once glued them to a board and drew a face around them. They suddenly transformed into the pincers of a prehistoric insect.
This hook-like claw is revealed after the pretty flowering plant (seen below) blooms. Click to enlarge.
Indeed, these ‘claws’ have a primordial feel to them. In actuality, they come from the lovely plant at the bottom of this post (photo by Kathy Becraft). They are called Devil’s Claw… So our first instinct to deem these foreign objects as “sinister” was shared by someone else, at least – some botanist who had the same creepy feeling when naming them.
For Writers: What’s in a name, anyway? The name “Devil’s Claw” conjures all kinds of feelings – foreboding, pain, evil. When you’re naming your characters, or even the towns they live in, the streets they roam, the names of their pets … are you thinking about the impact those names will have? Do they fit the personality type, the setting, the book’s theme?
When reading an excellent novel recently by Teri Coyne (The Last Bridge), I realized how fitting the main character’s name was to her personality, her past. “Cat” Rucker. Doesn’t that sound like a tough-as-nails name? You learn that Cat is a nickname winnowed down from the full name “Alexandra” to “Ally” to “Alley Cat,” and finally to “Cat.” Without spoiling anything, I will just say that it’s a perfect name for this character. (And the plot, characters, storyline … riveting!)
When selecting your character’s names, give them some serious consideration. Even the way the name rolls off the tongue has some appeal to readers. And in some instances, names may have hidden historic or spiritual significance. Never underestimate the power of a name!