Posts Tagged ‘Carol Lynch Williams’

Another function of dialogue in fiction is to help set the scene. This can involve actual description within the dialogue tags, or it can mean setting the tone or feeling of the scene through dialogue.
J.K. Rowling does the first well in “Harry Potter.” For example, in this scene from “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” in which Harry begins the dialogue:
“What’s happened?” he [Harry] asked Ron and Hermione, who were sitting in two of the best chairs by the fireside and completing some star charts for Astronomy.
“First Hogsmeade weekend,” said Ron, pointing at a notice that had appeared on the battered old bulletin board. “End of October. Halloween.”
“Excellent,” said Fred, who had followed Harry through the portrait hole.

Even if you’d never seen the movies, you could begin to imagine the Gryffindor Common Room through these few exchanges of dialogue, in which brief snatches of the setting have been given.
As for setting the tone of the scene, consider this example from Carol Lynch Williams’s “The Chosen One,” in which one of the elders of the polygamous community has just arrived:
“Two things,” he says before any of us says a word, holding up his fingers to prove it. “I’m here for two things.”

I think I’ve stopped breathing, but I listen.
“Number one. Sister Kyra. I would like to have you over to dinner. A date so we can get to know each other better. Tomorrow evening.”

He doesn’t even wait for me to answer. A date?
“And number two, where is the baby from last night?”

Father stands now, loosening his arm from around my shoulders. “Mariah?” Father says.
“Screaming like that,” Uncle Hyrum says. “And in front of the Prophet. It was too much, Richard. Too much.”

“She’s not even a year old,” Mother Sarah says.
Uncle Hyrum looks at my mother like he could slap her. “Don’t speak, Sister Sarah, unless I’ve spoken to you first.”


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I wish I had time to go back and do the research to prove my point in this posting. But I don’t. I’m trying to do one last revision of Laps before tossing it out there into the big ocean of agents and seeing if it gets picked up or sinks. So going back to re-read or scan through several different books is simply not possible at this time. If it were, I’d be able to give you exact numbers and references.

Nevertheless, I have been amazed of late how many of the novels (and manuscripts) I’ve recently read feature the word “tendril” more than once. Suzanne Collins used it several times in both The Hunger Games and its sequel, Catching Fire. I believe I came across it more than once in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and Carol Lynch Williams’s The Chosen One. I’d have to say, however, that the winner is the novel I completed on Sunday. Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott must feature that word at least five or six times.

How about you? Are you finding this word used more and more frequently? I actually used to like the word but, as they say, “familiarity breeds contempt.” What’s wrong with saying a “lock” of hair? Must it be a “tendril?” After all, tendrils refer more to plants, but the way I’ve seen it used (or shall I say overused) lately, I shouldn’t be surprised if its meaning slowly evolves away from the plant kingdom.

“Tendril” is not a common word, or at least it didn’t use to be. And that is precisely why it stands out so much to me in a story, particularly if used repeatedly. I suppose writers find it a touch poetic and so it appeals to them on that level. But I believe it’s reached the point of saturation.

How about you? Have you noticed it much in your readings? Do you like to use it yourself? Speak up, all you tendril-loving writers! I’m open to a discussion of its merits, as well as its weaknesses.

In the meantime, I’ve begun to read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel,  A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., and The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (this latter one with my son). You can be sure I’ll be keeping count of each and every “tendril” I come across.

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