Tag: Conagher

THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS #4–CONAGHER AND CINDERELLA by CHERYL PIERSON

Have you ever read a story that made you wonder why the author spent such a long, boring time describing an item or place that seemed of little importance to the story?

Usually when that happens, it’s because its importance will be revealed later on, or some scene will call up that particular memory or description for some reason—and its usually a pretty darn good reason!

Let’s look at Cinderella’s slipper as our first example for this. Of course, a glass slipper would be highly unusual, wouldn’t it? In fact, most likely, there would be no other slippers like that one pair!

This particular pair of shoes serves as a symbol for the entire story—improbable things happening to a young woman who has been treated so terribly for so long that lead to her ultimate happiness—it’s a story we can all relate to!

The magic that brings her happiness is not just going to the ball and all the wonderful things that happened on the way—the beautiful gown, the carriage, and so on—the true magic for Cinderella is falling in love. And how can the two lovers hope to be reunited? Well, if it weren’t for those exquisitely, perfectly-fitting glass slippers, everything else that came before—all the magic, hopes, and dreams—could have amounted to nothing at all. Everything hinges on the glass slipper fitting!

Hence the description of the slippers themselves, carrying the slipper on a pillow (which I always believed was taking a terrible chance!) and the endless search and trying on of the slipper throughout the kingdom.

The slipper is all-important because it is the proof that she is “the one” –and it has come to symbolize the very story itself. When we see a picture of the glass slipper, we know it “means” Cinderella, right?

Think about Lous L’Amour’s iconic western, Conagher. Two lonely people meet and fall in love through heartfelt notes that Evie, the heroine, writes and ties to tumbleweeds. They could be found and read by anyone—or no one at all.

http://g.tinyurl.com/y6y8yj33

 

But the fact that Conagher feels they speak directly to him, shows us how important what she did is to the story. This is further borne out when, in conversation with him, she uses a phrase she’s written on one of the notes—and he knows immediately it is she who has been writing them.

 

Loneliness and the vast emptiness of the land is a common theme throughout the book. It was unimaginable to her that Conagher would be the one who found “that note” – the one she repeated the phrase from in conversation with him—but it wasn’t impossible. And his line to her is one of the most romantic of all time, in my opinion.

 

He takes one of the notes out of his pocket and asks if she wrote it, and she says yes, she did. She tells him she was just so lonely she had to talk to someone, even if no one was there to hear. He says, “There was, Evie, there was me.” 

 

The details of:

  • The land around them and their feelings about the emptiness and aloneness of where they are…
  • Evie’s acting on those feelings by just writing them down on paper and tying them to tumbleweeds…
  • The act of Evie repeating the phrase in conversation she’d used on the note Conagher found…

all add up to make this story so special and memorable—and one you will not want to put down once you start reading!

Conagher isn’t a fairy tale, but it does have its own brand of magical connections that lead to love. The details and descriptions in both of these stories, as different as they are, give the reader insights that the author, in both cases, was masterful in providing throughout the story!

 

Finally, another couple of tales that come to mind are two short stories many of us read in our high school English classes—The Necklace, by Guy De Maupassant, and The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry. Do you remember these—both based on objects that were described in great detail—and the twists at the end that left you gasping in surprise?

 

If you haven’t read them, or even if it’s been a while, they are always good to revisit and are classic examples of why detailed descriptions of “things” can be so important to a story’s premise.

Can you think of an example in your reading where the detailed description of something had deep importance to the story?

 

THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS–SETTING by CHERYL PIERSON


Are you a reader who loves descriptions and details of settings? Glittering ballrooms, the bone-chilling cold of a winter in the Rockies…or maybe the oppressive, killing heat of the desert? What about something idyllic, like a river or creek babbling through the woods? A beautiful rose garden, or even the ugly side of description—such as barren prison walls, or a Civil War battlefield?

 

 

 

 

It depends on the story, doesn’t it, and again, how much importance those descriptions have on the impact of the action, and the outcome of the story.

Let’s use a ball as our example.

If you’ve never been to an 1800’s ball—and none of us have—we need to know at least the barest details.

Five basic things we need to know are:
What is a ball?
Why is the ball being given?
Who will be invited?
When will the ball be given?
Where will it be held?

That’s enough for some stories. But the main question is—how important is the ball to the plot?

This is where layering comes in—and this one scene, and the details it contains—can be vital to what comes next, or even many scenes later.
So many things can happen at a ball!

Guests can meet for the first time, uninvited guests can show up, clothing can have significance, music can bring back memories, the food can even be poisoned!

Or, the ball can just be a ball, like the old saying attributed to Sigmund Freud, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar…” –and if that’s the case, then tedious description and intricate detail is wasted because the ball is just a vehicle to get from one scene in the story to the next, and has no real underlying importance.

 


Describing the details of the clothing worn is sometimes distracting as it pulls us away from the action. We may be reading about a blue satin gown when we need to be concentrating on the man who lurks in the shadows. Too much description can bog down the reader and deaden the story rather than bring it to life.

Why? Because deep description of the things such as décor, clothing, and meals stop the action of the characters. The plot “takes a break” while our minds process all of the description of the scenery, the meals, the clothing. In this case, again, sometimes, “less is more” and we need to let the reader’s mind fill in much of that kind of detail.

Consider this: We know certain facts—a ball costs a lot of money to host. So we already understand that those who are invited are most likely people who move in the same upper crust social circles. Therefore, we know they, too, have money, so are appropriately dressed, arrive in style, and are schooled in proper societal customs. One excellent way to cut through the “red tape” of description (of things we already know) is to describe something that is out of place, or “not right” as this reminds us of what should be—and those details of descriptions we’re already aware of.

Perhaps an impostor at the ball commits a social faux pas without realizing it, alerting others to the fact she isn’t who she pretends to be. Maybe an unlikely hero comes to her aid quickly, offering an excuse, or correcting the mistake before others notice.


This scenario does several things for the story that simple description can’t achieve.

1. Points out the discrepancy in what should be and what is.
2. Allows our characters interaction, and possibly dialogue and observation, rather than the author filling the page with scenic description.
3. Allows the reader the opportunity to learn more about the characters and their personalities through this interaction, and can be a vehicle to reveal something of importance.
4. Can possibly further the action during such a scene rather than slowing it by miles of scenic description.

This is not to say that there isn’t a time and a place for detailed descriptions of settings! We can’t call ourselves authors and take the “easy” way out by saying, “It was a ball like any other” by way of description, unless—we put it in the right context.

How about this: 
Jake looked around at the opulent ballroom –the surroundings were familiar in a tiresome, cloying way. Or…maybe was jaded. It was a ball like any other—except for one thing. Something that made him catch his breath and inwardly let go a streak of curses he’d love to shout to the skies. She was here. The woman he’d thought he’d never see again…

Well, anything can happen now, can’t it? Maybe she’s wearing an inappropriate shade of red amidst a sea of violet and blue. There are so many ways to make setting come alive without endless description that many readers become bored with and skim over.

If you read my last installment of this blog series about main characters, the examples I used from Shane (Jack Schaefer) and St. Agnes’ Stand (Tom Eidson) are also prime examples of description of setting as well as character.

But here’s another good one I really think is wonderful from Conagher, by Louis L’Amour. In this story, Evie from “back East” has come out west to marry a man with two children. Evie tries to make the best of things, but she lives in fear at first. The land is so different, After she’s been there a while, she finds there is a beauty in her surroundings she had to grow to love, in time.


As L’Amour describes the heroine’s (Evie) dismal hopelessness at the land her husband (Jacob) has brought her to, we wonder how she will survive. Yet, Jacob has plans, sees the possibilities that Evie cannot, or will not see. The underlying message is, “The land is what we make of it.”

As the story continues, she begins to appreciate the beauty of the prairie, while acknowledging the solitary loneliness of her existence. She plants a garden, nurturing the plants, and gradually she sees the farm being shaped into a good home from the ramshackle place she’d first laid eyes on.

The land is beautiful, but unforgiving. Her husband is killed in a freak accident, and for months she doesn’t know what has happened to him. She faces the responsibility of raising his two children from a previous marriage alone.

In her loneliness, she begins to write notes describing her feelings and ties them to tumbleweeds. The wind scatters the notes and tumbleweeds across the prairie. Conagher, a loner, begins to wonder who could be writing them, and slowly comes to believe that whomever it is, these notes are meant for him.

At one point, visitors come from back East. One of them says to Evie something to the effect of “I don’t know how you can stand it here.”
This is Evie’s response to her:

“I love it here,” she said suddenly. “I think there is something here, something more than all you see and feel…it’s in the wind.

“Oh, it is very hard!” she went on. “I miss women to talk to, I miss the things we had back East–the band concerts, the dances. The only time when we see anyone is like now, when the stage comes. But you do not know what music is until you have heard the wind in the cedars, or the far-off wind in the pines. Someday I am going to get on a horse and ride out there”–she pointed toward the wide grass before them–”until I can see the other side…if there is another side.”

The land, at first her nemesis, has become not only a friend, but a soulmate. L’Amour gives us this description through Evie’s eyes and feelings, not in writing about it from his perspective as the author.

Think of your own writing projects, and books you’ve read. What importance do you give setting in description, plot, even characterization? Within 40 pages of ‘Conagher’, we understand that the land, with all its wild beauty and dangers has become enmeshed in Evie’s character. She can’t leave it, and it will never leave her.

Endless, detailed description can’t do what L’Amour does through Evie’s eyes in a very few sentences. Do you have a favorite description of a setting you’ve read about or written about?

CAN SETTING BE ANOTHER CHARACTER?

Location.  Setting.  Why is it so important to the stories we love to read and write?  It seems obvious in some cases.  In others, there could be a ‘hidden’ agenda. It can actually become another character.

Fifty years ago, the choices were limited.  Regencies and Westerns were prevalent sub-genres in the historical category, and mysteries and detective stories captivated the ‘contemporary’ nook.  Science fiction was still relatively uncharted.

The setting of a novel was a definitive device, separating the genres as clearly as any other element of writing.

The glittering ballrooms and colorful gowns and jewels whisked historical romance readers away to faraway, exotic locales.  Sagebrush, cactus, and danger awaited heroes of the western genre, a male- dominated readership.

But something odd happened as time went by.  The lines blurred.   Rosemary Rogers combined the romance of exotic places with the danger of an action plot, and an unforgettable hero in Steve Morgan that, had a man picked up ‘Sweet Savage Love’ and read it, he certainly could have identified with.

By the same token, the male-oriented scenery accompanied by the stiff, stylized form of western writers such as Owen Wister (The Virginian) and Zane Grey (Riders of the Purple Sage, The Last Trail) gave way to Louis L’Amour (Conagher, the Sackett series) and Jack Schaefer (Shane, Monte Walsh).

Why is the evolving change in description of location so important?  In older writings, many times the location of a novel was just where the story happened to take place.  Often, the plot of the story dictated the setting, rather than the two forming any kind of  ‘partnership.’

But with the stories that came along later, that partnership was strengthened, and in some cases, location became almost another character in the plot.

Take Louis L’Amour’s ‘Conagher.’  As good as the movie was, the book gives us so much more insight into the characters’ thoughts and reasoning.  As he describes the heroine’s (Evie) dismal hopelessness at the land her husband (Jacob) has brought her to, we wonder how she will survive.  Yet, Jacob has plans, sees the possibilities that Evie cannot, or will not see.  The underlying message is, “The land is what we make of it.”

As the story continues, she begins to appreciate the beauty of the prairie, while acknowledging the solitary loneliness of her existence.  She plants a garden, nurturing the plants, and gradually she sees the farm being shaped into a good home from the ramshackle place she’d first laid eyes on.

The land is beautiful, but unforgiving.  Her husband is killed in a freak accident, and for months she doesn’t know what has happened to him.  She faces the responsibility of raising his two children from a previous marriage alone.

In her loneliness, she begins to write notes describing her feelings and ties them to tumbleweeds.  The wind scatters the notes and tumbleweeds across the prairie.  Conagher, a loner, begins to wonder who could be writing them, and slowly comes to believe that whomever it is, these notes are meant for him.

At one point, visitors come from back East.  One of them says to Evie something to the effect of “I don’t know how you can stand it here.”
This is Evie’s response to her:

“I love it here,” she said suddenly.  “I think there is something here, something more than all you see and feel…it’s in the wind.

“Oh, it is very hard!” she went on.  “I miss women to talk to, I miss the things we had back East–the band concerts, the dances.  The only time when we see anyone is like now, when the stage comes.  But you do not know what music is until you have heard the wind in the cedars, or the far-off wind in the pines.  Someday I am going to get on a horse and ride out there”–she pointed toward the wide grass before them–”until I can see the other side…if there is another side.”

The land, at first her nemesis, has become not only a friend, but a soulmate.  If that’s not romance, I don’t know what is.

Within 40 pages of  ‘Conagher’, the reader understands that the land, with all its wild beauty and dangers has become enmeshed in Evie’s character.  She can’t leave it, and it will never leave her.

I think of my own writing projects.  What importance do I give setting in my description, plot, even characterization? In my latest contemporary release, SWEET DANGER, the setting is of utmost importance because of the fact that the story takes place in a neighborhood deli,  a normally friendly, safe place to be.  Jesse Nightwalker and Lindy Oliver are introduced to one another by the deli owner.  On a particularly crowded day, they are forced to share a booth.  It’s a “first date” neither of them will ever forget.   Here’s an excerpt:

FROM SWEET DANGER:

Jesse looked past her, his smile fading rapidly. As the flash of worry entered his expression, Lindy became aware of a sudden lull in the noisy racket of the deli. Jesse’s dark gaze was locked on the front door, a scowl twisting his features.

“Damn it,” he swore, reaching for her hand. “Get down! Under the table, Lindy…”

But she hesitated a second too long, not understanding what was happening. In the next instant, the sound of semi-automatic gunfire and shattering glass filled the air.

Lindy reflexively ducked, covering her head. The breath of a bullet fanned her cheek as Jesse dragged her down beneath the sparse cover of the small table. He shielded her, his hard body crushing against her, on top of her, pushing her to the floor. The breath rushed out of her, and she felt the hard bulge of the shoulder holster he wore beneath the denim jacket as it pressed against her back.

Her heart pounded wildly, realization of their situation flooding through her. A robbery! But why, at this hour of the morning when the take would be so low? The gunfire stopped as abruptly as it had started. From somewhere near the counter, a man shouted, “Come out and you won’t be hurt! Come out—now!”

Lindy looked up into Jesse’s face, scant inches from her own. What would he do? They were somewhat concealed here at the back of the deli, but these men were sporting semi-automatic weapons.

“There’s a back door,” Jesse whispered raggedly. “Get the hell out of here. I’m gonna be your diversion.” She didn’t answer; couldn’t answer. He was likely to be killed, helping her go free. He gave her a slight shake. “Okay?”

An interminable moment passed between them before she finally nodded. “Get going as soon as I get their attention.” He reached to brush a strand of hair out of her eyes, his own gaze softening as he leaned toward her and closed the gap between them. “Take care of yourself, Lindy,” he whispered, just before his mouth closed over hers.

The instant their lips met shook her solidly. Every coherent thought fled, leaving nothing but the smoldering touch of his lips on hers, burning like wildfire through her mind. Soft, yet firm. Insistent and insolent. His teeth skimmed her lower lip, followed by his tongue, as he tasted her. Then, he pulled away from her, their eyes connecting for a heart-wrenching second.

“Safe passage,” he whispered.

Lindy didn’t answer, more stunned by the sudden sweet kiss than by the madness surrounding them. Jesse pushed himself out from under the table and stood up, directly in front of where Lindy crouched. Only then did she hear his muted groan of pain, his sharp, hissing intake of breath. The blossoming red stain of crimson contrasted starkly with the pale blue of his faded denim jacket as his blood sprang from the bullet wound, soaking the material.

He’d been shot!

Lindy gasped softly at the realization. How could she leave him now? He was hurt. Somehow, it didn’t seem right for her to escape, to leave him to deal with these men while he was bleeding.

Jesse hesitated. Lindy couldn’t be sure if it was intentional, or if the agony of the hole in his shoulder kept him still for that extra instant before he slowly walked away from the table, his hands up.

Lindy crept forward. Looking past where Jesse stood, halfway between her and the front of the deli, she caught her first good look at the leader of the small band of thieves. He stood close to the counter, his hair spiking in thin blond tufts, his stance indicating he was ready for anything. From the carnage around him, his cocksure attitude was warranted.

Three of his gang stood near the entrance, guns held on the few patrons who hadn’t managed to get out the door. The leader’s Glock was trained on Jesse’s midsection, a wide grin on his pale face. Then, he began to laugh, the gun holding steady through it all. “Jesse Nightwalker, as I live and breathe.”

“Yeah,” Jesse muttered. “Unfortunately.”

The gunman’s grin faded, and his eyes found Lindy’s from across the room. Mercurial. Hard. Deadly. The Glock never wavered, nor did his stance. Only his gray eyes changed, giving Lindy a silent warning before he spoke.

“Bring that baggage with you, Jess,” he said mildly. “Don’t leave her cowering under the table. There’s a back door to this hole, you know. Wouldn’t want her to get shot trying to do something foolish…like, escape.”

http://www.thewildrosepress.com/cheryl-pierson-m-534.html