Category Archives: fiction writing

Lunchtime

They talk during lunch. Sometimes the conversation flows freely, and sometimes long periods of silence occur. The silence is broken, sometimes after a time period that feels like minutes, rather than seconds. Oliver imagines how they all think, intensely, about a new topic to bring up, and when one of them is brave enough to break the silence, a new discussion can start.

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They mostly talk about facts. They do not talk about feelings. No one says “did you read that book, it was truly fantastic, it gave me a complete new picture of the Chinese culture.” Perhaps someone says “did you know that there is a golf player who can reach 300 meters using only his putter.” This may be followed by comments like “did he do it in a contest?” and “can he control his muscles or does he hit that hard all the time?” Someone may even joke, like “I was kidding, it was 300 yards, not 300 meters.”

Sometimes they talk about airplanes, or cars. They are not so interested in the design of cars, or if the cars are beautiful, or ugly. They are more interested in the internal, technical properties, of a car. Oliver remembers a discussion that ended with the phrase “it is called toe-in.” He remembers that it had to do with how the wheels are oriented, and toe-in meant that the wheels are oriented inwards. He imagined the wheels like the feet of a shy child, standing in front of an angry parent, and he did not hear when he was asked for his views on the matter.

He looks out of the window, and his mind wanders away. His colleagues continue their talking. Their discussion has shifted, and the current topic concerns methods for cleaning a roof from moss. They give lengthy descriptions of their favourite methods, involving manual work, performed while standing on tall and unsteady ladders, but also machine-assisted work, performed with the aid of high-pressure water hoses, aimed with precision at the unwanted weeds, and used with success thanks to their automatically generated, fluid-carried, force.

Oliver sees the grey clouds, and he remembers the start of the semester, in the midst of August, when the sun was shining and he travelled to work on his newly acquired bicycle. He continued using his bicycle until the beginning of November, and his goal was to use it also when he returned from Munich.

He remembers one August morning, a few days before the start of the fall semester. He was approaching the University building where his office is located, and his pace was slow and relaxing. He was travelling along the bike road, with its winding path through the campus lawns and the small groups of planted trees. He saw the students, marching, and he recognised what he had seen before, at the start of each fall semester.

It was the annual ceremonies and rituals for the new students of Engineering. He looked at the spectacle, and he tried to convince himself that it was interesting and meaningful, and that it gave the students a chance to meet new friends, and relax, before their demanding studies took off.

He did not participate in such ceremonies when he started his own studies. He found them ridiculous, and he wanted to concentrate on his school work, already from the first day. Some of his friends have reminded him, later in life, of his decision to put studies first, and to be very restrictive with social activities, and they have let him know that he perhaps made a bad choice.

“You see,” they said, “those years were the starting point for some really good networking.”

A grey, almost black, cloud enters his field of view. It moves slowly, eastwards, along the sky. Oliver wonders, silently, if some of his former student colleagues have utilised their networking experiences for the purpose of coordinated actions and confidential meetings, with the specific goal of unlawful extraction of data from National databases. He is confident that their academic competence, as well as their connections in different parts of the society, would be useful ingredients to ensure the success of such a task.

The tapping of a government-owned pen towards the wooden table alerts him. He turns, from the window, and looks towards his colleagues. They sit, around their lunch table, and some of them look directly at him. He sees the Department Administrator rise, and after a while he hears her voice.

“Oliver,” the Department Administrator says. “Dear Oliver, I should say.”

She stands, next to her seat, in one of the corners of the table. There is a light, from behind her, and Oliver realises that it is the winter sun. It has appeared, magically and without warning, and it blinds him a bit, so that the contours of her body, and her head, become a bit blurry.

He shifts his body, so that he can look at her more from the side. He straightens his back, and his view is more clear now. He lets his gaze move from the Department Administrator, towards some of his colleagues. He sees their faces, and some of them smile, slightly. They do not look in his direction. There are no eyes that meets his own, and he decides to focus his gaze on the Department Administrator.

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A helping hand to Evolution

What if we could single out the unproductive?

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What if we could find, and eliminate, the ones who do not fit in?

Even better, what if we could prevent them from entering our world?

Some people may want to ponder these questions.

Some people may also want to act on them, and do something about it.

An organisation, headed by its Leader in collaboration with the man known to them as the Treasurer, has been formed, and their goal is to create a better society. They will do it using DNA, and they will use DNA patterns for selecting the ones who are fit, and suitable, and have the talent for science and rational reasoning.

They will do it while our protagonist, Oliver Dalton, continues his ordinary life, with a permanent job at the University and with a temporary assignment at the Department of Education and Societal Health.

He has been hired, by the Department, and his task is to see patterns in DNA, using the national DNA database as his data set. His world interleaves with the world of the organisation and their Treasurer, and it affects Oliver and his family, in ways that they had not anticipated.

The organisation refines its plans while Oliver spends time in Munich, visiting his daughter and celebrating his own birthday. When the organisation finally decides how to carry out their mission, by shifting their focus from elimination to prevention, Oliver is busy with his work. When Oliver is informed that his daughter is in danger, and the police steps in, this is not an end, but rather a beginning, of an even more complex situation.

As the final plans are set into motion, the police and the Dalton family do what they can to track down the organisation, and charge them for a crime that will “eliminate whole generations, without harming, or killing, a single person.”

Set in Munich and in an unspecified Northern country, in our current society, with science and technology as driving forces and with art in its different forms as a sometimes debated complement, Prevention is a “fast-paced modern thriller. The plot is well executed and the writing is crisp and engaging. The character of Oliver Dalton is well drawn and relatable and the cast of supporting characters is equally realistic. Prevention probes into the field of DNA matches and profiling, and the various uses that gene matching can be put to.”

Updated backside text

Searching for structure

I am reading about structure. All stories have that, they say. All good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

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There should be three acts. I have learned that, from books about heroes and journeys and protagonists and antagonists.

And there should be conflict. All good stories are driven by conflict. The conflict centers around a dilemma. A dilemma is a problem that cannot be solved. It can only be resolved, or altered, or modified, by a change of perception.

There are no answers. There is only exploration, of the story that I have within me, and which by exploration can be let loose, and come alive on the page.

The blank page. Right there in front of me.

And there should be beats, and scenes, each with mandatory steps – inciting incident, complication, crisis question, climactic decision, and resolution.

It turns out that these steps apply on different levels. This sounds rather cool, I would say. They apply, in micro-scale on individual beats, and on a somewhat larger scale on scenes. And they also apply on acts, and for the whole – for the global story. Almost like a fractal.

I am trying to make sense of the above things. I have this goal of putting together a new book. And then one more. And then perhaps a series.

Why, one may ask?

I cannot answer that one clearly enough. Perhaps it is a test. To see if it can be done. Before it is too late.

These are my current, favourite references in this endeavour:

  • The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt. I purchased this book in 2011, and I used it a bit in my previous project. This time I intend to follow it, and to go through the ninety day scheme that is presented in the book. I think it is a good way to make sense of the structure questions, while still holding it loosely enough so that it does not feel artificial and constructed.
  • The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. Here I learn about the structure, and the steps mentioned above, and a lot more. There is also a running example, where the author applies the Story Grid to The Silence of the Lambs. The book is very well written, and very instructive.
  • From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler. This book is the opposite of structure. It may help you to make a story come alive, and to make the reader feel something, and not just be informed. I have written about this book also in another post.

A history of words

For 1107 days, producing an average of 145 words per day, it looks like this if you make a graph.

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The graph shows one bar for each work shift, placed at the date when the work shift took place. The length of each bar corresponds to the total number of words in the book, at that date.

We see from the graph that there are periods of productivity, and periods where the pace is slower.

Referring to the labels in the graph, here are some milestones

  • A – March 2012. This was the start, however not from zero. My input data was 57875 words produced during NaNoWrimo 2011.
  • B – Summer 2012. Vacation time from day job, and deciding to do some work. This blog was rather new, and I wrote about giving it a try, and about the theme of the book.
  • C – Summer 2013. The next summer, and I am not done. Time to speed up. I read From where you Dream by Robert Olen Butler, and it was a game-changer. I wrote this post about Hypnopompia, and I became a little bit more convinced that I would make it to the end. We see that the productivity goes up (more words per day, and less days between each work shift). Looking forward, we see that this will happen also the next summer.
  • D – January 2014. Added this is a work of fiction, and a publishing note referring to the year 2014 (it was later changed to 2015). Started using Scrivener for the writing (before this date, I used Emacs with org mode).
  • E – February 2015. Decided to use Bookbaby (I purchased e-book production and Cover design), and aiming for the release. Starting the final edit, together with my first reader (who, like for Jan Guillou, happens to be my wife). Here I used docx-format for the book, since that was the format to be used for the submission, and Kindle Notes for the editing markings. We saved some rainforest and did it using phones, tablets, and computers. In total, there were over three thousand markings – small but significant changes! (In retrospect, this final editing was very well worth the effort).

Here are some conclusions

  • Every day without writing pushes your release date forward. Your book has a certain amount of words – even if you beforehand do not know how many – and every day you don’t write, the release day is postponed by one day. See this picture, which shows the number of words per day, and this picture, which shows the number of days without writing between working shifts – and you will see the effect more clearly.
  • Sometimes it helps to think that you are closer to the end than what you really are (a post published January 2013).
  • Books about writing can help – they did, surely, for me. But beware – count the number of blogs about blogging and the number of writers writing about writing, and select carefully which ones you want to spend time on.
  • Copyediting is painful but productive.
  • Selling and marketing needs their fair share of work. For me Joanna Penn has been a great source of inspiration. And of course, also here you need to Do the Work.

So, even if writing it was hard (well, at least it took time, but it was a lot of fun), I hope that reading it would be less cumbersome.

Finding those who are not fit

What if we could find them? – the ones who are not fit

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and then, when we know who they are, we could take action …

Oliver Dalton’s job is to see patterns in DNA. His government has hired him, on a temporary contract, and his task is to analyse data from the National DNA database. The purpose, his government says, is to find persons who are genetically fit for jobs in science and technology. Such persons are very much wanted, and we do not consider it morally wrong to use DNA profiling to find them.

Oliver discovers that there are others who seem to have the same idea. He sees traces of searches, and pattern matches, done by someone other than himself, and he considers reporting his findings to his manager. What if this is an intrusion, he wonders, into our national storage of our complete population’s DNA?

Unknowing to Oliver, he is correct in his assumption. An external, in fact international, organisation has adopted the government’s way of classifying humans. But in contrast to Oliver, they have decided to instead search for persons who are not fit for science and technology.

“And when we know who these persons are,” they reason, “we could of course take it one step further and seek them out. And since their contribution to real, measurable, advances of our society is as good as none, what would be wrong if we instead chose to eliminate them?”

The organisation refines its plans while Oliver spends time in Munich, visiting his daughter and celebrating his own birthday. His wife is with him, and they look forward to a week with museums and visits to their daughter’s school. She is a student of Drama, and like her brother Michael, who is an opera student, she has chosen the artistic way.

When the organisation finally decides how to carry out their mission, by shifting their focus from elimination to prevention, Oliver is busy with his work. When Oliver is informed that his daughter is in danger, and the police steps in, this is not an end, but rather a beginning, of an even more complex situation.

As the final plans are set into motion, the police and the Dalton family do what they can to track down the organisation. Will they find out how, and where, and by which means of distribution, the organisation will reach their targets? And what will the eventual crime charge be? How can we charge for a crime that wants to “eliminate whole generations, without harming, or killing, a single person?”

And will the Dalton family itself, with its artistic traits, be selected as a target?

(first stab at backside text – book ready! – starting to figure out how to publish)

Closing in

They say it is like driving in the dark …

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… writing, that is – you see only a small part of the world, and sometimes it is very hard to know how to find your way home.

But now I have given myself a deadline!

I must admit that I have been strongly influenced by a) my wife, and b) a new job, which starts beginning of February 2015.

But nevertheless, I can sense a small feeling of (premature) celebration.

It has been a long journey. It started with NaNoWriMo in 2011 (yes, 2011!), and it has involved publication of excerpts here on this blog. And of course, many hours with my computer.

The excerpts are now removed, since it was impossible to keep them up to date. The manuscript changes all the time, and when it is finished (yes, it will be), I might reconsider the idea of publishing snippets from the book also here.

I plan to use Bookbaby, and when it is done (the publication, that is), I will give myself some rewards.

I will read this expensive book, leaned back in a comfortable chair.

I might join the Story is a State of Mind course, by Sarah Selecky.

I will read more in these excellent writing books (yes, it is always more fun to read about it than doing it – Resistance, right!):

  • How Fiction Works, by James Wood – because of its language, and because of its use of that language to describe what people have written in books!
  • The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner – because it is interesting in an elitistic way
  • Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose – because it got me started

And I will return to my other book-project – Books with Views.

And I will post here more often – I promise.

Hypnopompia – is that even a word?

Yes it is! – I learned it from Winslow Eliot in her beautiful book Writing through the year.

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Winslow Eliot says that Hypnopompia is that marvelous in-between moment before you’re fully awake. She also mentions a corresponding state, called Hypnagogia, which occurs in the moments before you fall asleep.

It is said that in these states, where you are in a zone between sleep and being awake, there is possibility for increased creativity. This has been utilized by famous persons, in their artistic but also scientific endeavours, and as explained by Winslow Eliot, it has to do with how our brain works:

During hypnagogia, the normal activity of the left/logical side of your brain is inhibited, allowing imagery in your right/creative brain freedom to experience whatever it wants to, without trying to analyze itself.

The whole reasoning, which also reminds us of the interesting topic of the divided brain, suggests that we should take advantage of what is happening underneath – down in that dark chamber that we call the unconscious – if we want to produce great works of art.

It sounds a bit scary to me. If you ask Robert Olen Butler, it is, and should be, scary. He says, in the very fascinating book called From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction – which, by the way, I think, I found via a reference from Sarah Selecky – that virtually all inexperienced writers end up in their heads instead of the unconscious, and he also gives an explanation for why: the unconscious is simply scary as hell.

But there is hope, I think, and I was encouraged to continue writing when I read the book, which I also finished.

It contains many gems, including a discussion about what we could mean when we use the word art. Robert Olen Butler says that what we remember comes out as journalism, and what we forget goes into the compost of the imagination. And only when we let the memories decompose, down in that chamber we cannot access by force of our will, can we recompose them into new works of art.

The book also echoes many pieces of advice seen elsewhere, which tell us to write every day, and it tells us that

Once you are engaged in writing a piece of fiction from your unconscious, it is crucial that you write every day, because the nature of this place where you go is such that it is very difficult to find your way in.

and also that we are allowed to take one day off, occasionally, but beware, as Robert says: you take two days off and you’re on very thin ice.

The book also has some case studies. In these, we are allowed to see the writing of some of his students, and we are allowed to follow discussions on their writings. I found this very interesting, and there are references to Robert Olen Butler’s own works, in the form of shared pieces from his own writings – some that he is satisfied with, and some that he is not so proud of.

As a final remark about the book, I want to mention the chapter called Cinema of the mind. I found it to be an eye-opener, and there are some very interesting studies in there – one I especially remember is from Cat in the Rain by Ernest Hemmingway – showing us how thinking (sorry – I meant letting your unconscious guide you) like a film-maker can help a lot when creating fiction.

So now I try to live as I learned. I have practised a short morning ritual of Hypnopompia-assisted writing for some weeks now. And yes, I can recommend it. It has also increased my word count, so someday I may even finish my writing project.

And in the meanwhile, of course, we should remember that the writing itself is a kind of self-inflicted journey, and that we might also learn some interesting things along the way.

My favourite things

After all the hours of browsing and reading, patterns start to emerge.

bloggers

And here is summary, as of today, the last of February, in the year 2013.

Before I fell in love with reading and writing on the internet, I was convinced that blogs were not for serious people. They were populated by young girls writing about popular things, like fashion and celebrities. I also learned that these bloggers, as they were called, make money – or to be more correct, they are given things. They are given things that represent the brands they mention in their blogs. I felt that I was obliged to consider this as non-real work, with non-real incomes.

That was five years ago. And of course I was wrong.

I worked at a telecom company in Sweden, and I started to find interest in things that happen at work. These were things related to people, and it was most interesting to see how the interactions between people, and the intrigues they created, had such a large impact on the actual business.

I stumbled upon Seth Godin’s blog. I realize now that I was not the first person to have done that, and I have been a follower since I found it. I read every post, they are always good, and sometimes they are both very good and spot on, giving me direct inspiration and renewed energy. Of course I highly recommend this blog.

And he has written books, too. I learned many things from Linchpin, and some I remember most vividly since they tend to follow me along, and cling to my mind. One wisdom is that fear is always there, trying to hinder you from doing your work, and it directly activates your lizard brain.

I also learned, again from Linchpin (but as I now understand, it emanates from Steve Jobs), that real artists ship. I try to follow this advice, but I assure you that it is sometimes difficult!

I work in a University (for one more month from today), and I have spent some time thinking about students and learning, and why nobody wants to be an engineer, and why everybody hates math. Then I saw the light. I found Stop Stealing Dreams, which was very refreshing, and I also sent the link to our Minister for Education. No, I did not receive any answer.

I continued searching, and here are some samples from my current favourites. These are blogs I regularly read, and sites I regularly visit.

Someone pointed me to this great talk by Neil Gaiman. It was embedded in a post on an equally great blog called The Story of Telling. You can find many thoughtful words there, often captured in compact and precise formulations, in posts with great imagery.

From time to time I visit the Zenhabits blog, and I always leave with some added wisdom and some interesting thoughts that I can relate to my work life as well as to more private experiences.

I have read many interesting posts at a blog called Bottledworder, and I have found inspiration for books and reading from 101 Books and from The Bookshelf of Emily J.

For the moment I read about how to write, especially on how to write fiction. I know that I cannot learn that craft from only reading, so I also commit to regular practice, and from time to time I emit some non-fiction posts as well.

One of my current book-zapping projects is called Why we write. I find it very interesting, and full credit goes to the magnificent Brainpickings site, from where I got the recommendation.

Earlier attempts to learn more about writing (and reading) include Francine Prose, Alan Watt, NaNoWriMo, and most recently, Stephen King.

I have participated in World-Changing Writing and Tribewriters, which were interesting, however not life-changing.

For the moment I am listening to, and reading material from, a very interesting workshop from Psychotactics. It is actually free (for a limited time period), and I very much recommend it if you are interested in marketing. The workshop is called the Brain Alchemy Masterclass, and it explains (in a super-pedagogical and very entertaining way) why structure in marketing is critical to growing a business effectively. There may be a waiting list and the time period will expire, but here is a link with more information about the Brain Alchemy Masterclass.

I almost forgot. There is this great place called Box of Crayons. I subscribe to their Great Work Provocations, which means that I receive wise words every day, all for free, and all very helpful and encouraging. And I bought this book that helps persons to do More Great Work. And it helped a lot in my thinking and planning for a new job.

And some days ago I also discovered radio, in the form of a great site called On Being. I have downloaded material from there, and it has made my train journeys inspiring in a whole new kind of way.

I conclude with a thanks, to you who read this blog and this post. Even if they say that you should pursue your art and not think about making it for your readers, it is a lot more fun if there is someone on the other end of the line!

Why is it so much harder near the end?

It’s like a long, and sometimes also winding, road, that gets narrower, and narrower, and narrower …

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It can also be seen from the word count. I started it with a bang, in NaNoWriMo 2011, going from 40000 to 50000 words during the last 3 days of that rainy and cold Nordic November month.

Then it was time for a well-deserved Christmas break.

A new year started, and I was determined to finish my work. My plan was to continue adding text to the draft, and then do a revision and rewrite of the whole thing. As it turned out, I later decided to publish rewritten scenes, one by one, on this blog.

Although the idea of NaNoWriMo was to create a complete first draft, there were a lot of holes to fill. I have continued to add words (and also rewrite) during 2012, and as we now start a new year I expect I will add another 10000 words before I am done.

Here you can see the word count for 2012.

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From the graph above you can see that there is a steady increase in word count, but it tends to slow down as we approach the end of the year.

I have this feeling that it gets slower and slower. So what can be done about this? Why is it so hard to finish?

Being partly an academic person, I should of course look for an answer in the available literature.

The first time I read about fear was in Linchpin. I learned that we tend to listen to our primitive feelings of fear, designed to protect us from dangerous animals wanting to eat us alive. And that we use these feelings as excuses for not finishing our work. In the materially safe world of today (at least when comparing with the pre-historian Flintstone-inspiring world) it is of course not so smart to listen to these primitive feelings.

Instead we should sit down and Do The Work.

We could also listen to what other, more famous, persons have to say. As an example, I can recommend the article How to Break Through Your Creative Block: Strategies from 90 of Today’s Most Exciting Creators from the always excellent Brainpickings site.

There is also a good article – very appropriate for the topic at hand – at Write It Sideways, called 3 Steps to Overcoming ‘Almost Done’ Syndrome.

Often, in advice for getting the writing done, there is a time aspect. Like if you set aside a certain amount of time, and dedicate this time to writing, then things will happen. This is practiced in a technique called the Pomodoro technique, which I became aware of during a visit to my work from a book company representative. I received a free copy of a book about the Pomodoro technique, where it was said that I should purchase a timer, and set it to 25 minutes. All work should then be done in 25 minutes intervals!

John Cleese also says that you should set aside a certain amount of time, when you desire to be creative.

Based on these advice, I have tried the time technique. I set aside two hours for non-fiction writing and one hour for fiction writing. And those days when I had the discipline to follow it, it surely worked. Words got written down, software was developed, and the idea of thinking in quantity rather than quality really helped (to get things done).

Perhaps it is possible to follow this example, from the always interesting Copyblogger site, where it is described how a person became very productive by setting aside a certain amount of time every day: How to Kill Writer’s Block and Become a Master Copywriter in Only 3 Hours a Day.

Do you, dear reader, have similar experiences as the ones described above?

Melrosian modifiers

I googled “avoiding adverbs”. Then I browsed through some of the results. The message was clear. Adverbs are evil, and shall be avoided at any cost.

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It is important that the story you tell comes through, so that the reader can understand it. Therefore, avoid unnecessary words. Often, adverbs are unnecessary.

And, of course, we have the Show, don’t tell paradigm, which if obeyed would make my prose better (perhaps). So I should not write

“I will kill you”, said the villain angrily.

Instead, I should write

“I will kill you”, said the villain, and killed his victim.

I reflected on these wise words of advice, and I also spent some time taking a peek into this entertaining book by one of the greatest. We learn there that The adverb is not your friend, and also that one should pay special attention to not use adverbs for dialogue attribution.

Also other forms of dialogue attribution should be handled with care. An example, again from On Writing, is

‘I’m the plumber,’ he said, with a flush

And please, do not substitute the plain ‘said’ for other words, chosen for the sake of making your point come through. So do not write

‘Put down the gun, Utterson!’, Jekyll grated.

These pieces of advice are very sound and they make sense to me. Checking my own endeavours, I find some adverbs here and there, but not too many as dialogue modifiers, so perhaps at least in that sense I do some things right?

But then I was confused. You see, I am reading this series of books that I find very good. There are four of them in my Kindle bundle, and there is now also a fifth book released.

The books, often referred to as the Patrick Melrose novels, portray a traumatic childhood, an evil father, a drug-abusing mother, and, as the years pass by, a drug-abusing child turned grown-up. But I did not find them any way near depressing. On the contrary, they are full of beautiful language, and large doses of both irony and humor.

So please meet Nicholas Pratt, in a relationship with the much younger and not at all so noble Bridget, when he, during a visit to the Melrose residence, observes Bridget acting in a not so proper way.

‘For God’s sake,’ snarled Nicholas, leaping over to her side.

Then, the drawing room door to the mansion opens, and out comes Yvette, the housemaid, carrying a tray of cakes and cups.

‘Ah, fantastique de vous revoir, Yvette,’ said Nicholas.
‘Bonjour, Monsieur.’
‘Bonjour,’ said Bridget prettily.
‘Bonjour, Madame,’ said Yvette stoutly, though she knew that Bridget was not married.

Then, as a result of Nicholas seeing David Melrose (Patrick’s father) in the doorway, the dialogue continues:

‘David!’, roared Nicholas over Yvette’s head. ‘Where have you been hiding?’

The next sentence, including also some body language, lets David explain, as

David waved his cigar at Nicholas. ‘Got lost in Surtees,’ he said, stepping through the doorway.

I find this style of writing at many places in the books, but I did not notice it until I read about adverbs and replacements for ‘said’. So in a sense, it did not bother me, and it did not hinder the flow in my reading.

Here is another example. It is from the second book, entitled Bad News, in which Patrick spends some time in New York. His father has recently passed away, and in this scene he visits the Key Club, a place to which one ‘comes in from the noise and the pollution of New York, and it’s quite suddenly like an English country house of a certain sort’.

He will meet some gentlemen. One is listening to the name of George (Watford I guess) and is a friend of Patrick’s father, and another one is called Ballantine Morgan. When Ballantine says hello to Patrick and directly afterwards mentions that he is very sorry to hear about Patrick’s father, and says ‘I didn’t know him personally, but from everything George tells me it sounds like he was a great English gentleman’, inner and outer dialogue follows, as

Jesus Christ, thought Patrick.
‘What have you been telling him?’ he asked George reproachfully.
‘Only what an exceptional man your father was.’
‘Yes, I’m pleased to say that he was exceptional,’ said Patrick. ‘I’ve never met anybody quite like him.’
‘He refused to compromise,’ drawled George. ‘What was it he used to say? “Nothing but the best, or go without.”‘
‘Always felt the same way myself,’ said Ballantine fatuously.
‘Would you like a drink?’ asked George.
‘I’ll have one of those Bullshots you spoke about so passionately this morning.’
‘Passionately,’ guffawed Ballantine.

I find that these modifiers – reproachfully, drawled, fatuously, guffawed – where some are adverbs and some are replacements for “said” – add a how-dimension to the story. Perhaps the reader is not only interested in what happens, but also very much in how it happens?

This thinking of what and how reminds me of an interesting book about the brain, a book where the two hemispheres of the brain are described, and discussed in very profound ways. The author, Ian McGilchrist, says that the right hemisphere helps us understand the “howness” of the world, whereas the left hemisphere is more what-centered. You might also like to look at this page, from the wonderful Brain pickings site, where the book is described, in an animated way (pun intended).

So perhaps an adverb here and there, and some well-thought-out replacements for said, combined with a dose of British irony, will make our stories more interesting?