#MadAboutDetails is a collection of quickie writing tips inspired by my review read of Ilona Andrews’s White Hot. No one is truly mad, except the book’s hero—Mad Rogan—so read on for your daily dose of writing insight!
Penning vivid prose is a team effort.
From White Hot by Ilona Andrews
Copyright © 2017 Ilona Andrews
The path turned and a massive Spanish Colonial house sitting atop a low hill came into view. Two stories tall, with thick stucco walls and red tile roof, it looked at the world with arched windows. A large round tower graced the right side, and a covered balcony offered the view from the second story on the left. Red-and-purple flowers dripped from flower baskets, stretching over the balcony’s dark wood rail. In the middle, a heavy rounded door, old wood with wrought ironwork, offered access to the inside of the home. It was impossibly romantic. If they ever made another Zorro movie, I knew just the place where they could film it.
This house doesn’t just exist, it is practically alive with character. Consider…
a massive Spanish Colonial house sitting atop a low hill came into view
This house engages in a virtual action—it sits. Re-read the sentence above, removing the participle phrase “sitting atop” and substituting a simple preposition: “a massive Spanish Colonial house on a low hill came into view.” A little boring, right?
it looked at the world with arched windows.
Even more life-like, this house watches. Re-read the quote above, but restructure a bit to replace “looked at the world” with the “to be” conjugation: “it had arched windows.” Definitely not as impactful. The original phrasing uses an intransitive verb (modified by a prepositional phrase), lending it a wistful feel; the windows are an accessory to the house’s vision, like eyebrows on a face. In our rewrite, the house no longer takes an action and is a passive object. The windows are now a possession, almost a requirement rather than an accent. Far less romantic.
a covered balcony offered the view from the second story
Now the house interacts with the reader—it offers, like a gracious host. Let’s read that again and replace the verb with something a little more exciting than “to be” this time. We’ll go with “looked”: “a covered balcony looked out over the view from the second story”. Now, that’s not too bad, but it’s not as engaging as the original.
Red-and-purple flowers dripped from flower baskets, stretching over the balcony’s dark wood rail.
These flowers don’t just hang, they drip. And they don’t just cover the railing, they stretch over it. These verbs are earning their pay!
If they ever made another Zorro movie, I knew just the place where they could film it.
Finally, the author pulls the narrative back into the character’s first person perspective through a pop culture lens of familiar imagery and cultural lore. No more embellishment is needed here; readers will automatically round out the scene with their own imagery.
In the scene above, the narrative branches out to embody this very notable house and then shrinks back down to the normal perspective, all while weaving a healthy, inclusive, vivid tapestry to spin its next adventures upon.
The fun factor
Everything about this excerpt from White Hot is inviting, engaging. The house practically invites the reader to come inside, indulge in a glass of delicious Spanish wine, take a load off and relax after a hard day. This prose demonstrates a lot of technical merit, but the verb usage and sentence structure are really what shine.
Take a look at my other #MadAboutDetails posts on #SentenceShenanigans and #FunWithVerbs to read more about improving your sentence structure and verb tense usage and see more fun examples from Ilona Andrews’s urban fantasy White Hot.
Show & Tell Workshop!
Workshop time! Post an example* of your work below and I’ll give you some suggestions on how to jazz it up. Choose something you think is in pretty good shape already, and we’ll make it sparkle. =)
*Please limit these examples to 150 words or less.
Leave a comment below and join the discussion!
Series: Hidden Legacy #2
Published by HarperCollins on May 30th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Paranormal, General, Fantasy
Add it to your To Read shelf: Goodreads
Buy or reserve your copy online at*: Amazon (Kindle)
The Hidden Legacy series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews continues as Nevada and Rogan navigate a world where magic is the norm…and their relationship burns hot
Nevada Baylor has a unique and secret skill—she knows when people are lying—and she's used that magic (along with plain, hard work) to keep her colorful and close-knit family's detective agency afloat. But her new case pits her against the shadowy forces that almost destroyed the city of Houston once before, bringing Nevada back into contact with Connor "Mad" Rogan.
Rogan is a billionaire Prime—the highest rank of magic user—and as unreadable as ever, despite Nevada’s “talent.” But there’s no hiding the sparks between them. Now that the stakes are even higher, both professionally and personally, and their foes are unimaginably powerful, Rogan and Nevada will find that nothing burns like ice …
An Avon Romance
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