Hi, Julie here, and at church last week, our pastor talked about Nicodemus coming to see Jesus at night, which he claims is the first recorded episode of Nick at Night. Sorry, just couldn't resist. :)
In that passage, Jesus compares the wind to the Spirit of God in John 3:8, but first let’s set up the scene. Most likely it was the Garden of Olives late at night while all the disciples slept and Jesus was praying. It’s quiet and still until a soft breeze rustles the olive trees. I can almost see Jesus close his eyes and lift his face to the cool evening air as he speaks to Nicodemus. “You hear it rustling through the trees,” He says, “but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above.’” — Message Bible
The Spirit of God—as soft as a whisper, but more powerful than the wind.
Be it metaphor, simile, analogy, or symbol, infusing double meaning into our words helps paint a deeper, more powerful image in our readers’ minds. But … since I am an emotional writer who writes primarily by feeling, I’m not exactly the best person to talk nuts and bolts about ways to infuse double impact into your stories. However, author Winnie Griggs nailed it to the wall in her exceptional Seeker blog on “Imagery,” so I won’t reinvent the wheel on that cart. Especially when Winnie’s vehicle is more of a 16-wheel semi on the subject, so I encourage you to read it.
What I am going to do is try to show you ways in which I attempt to help my readers “see double” to better flesh out what I’m trying to convey, even if I have to scramble to add something to the scene, be it a song title, food, or even a pet. Ready?
1.) USE SCENE COMPONENTS TO ENHANCE BOTH EMOTIONAL AND SETTING DESCRIPTIONS: In A Light in the Window, the hero is painting scenery for the play along with two little girls he’s befriended, one of whom made him a clover necklace. The clover necklace is a component that not only helps enhance the setting—little girls sprawled on the grass in a schoolyard, making clover jewelry—but I get double usage by correlating it to the hero’s reaction to the heroine with the highlighted sentence in the scene below:
Expelling a noisy sigh, he rose and turned with a slack of his hip, prepared to fend off her obvious dislike. “Look, Marcy, I didn’t mean to call you a—” The words locked in his throat at her nearness, a mere two feet away while those blue eyes peered up with genuine warmth instead of her usual cool civility. He swallowed hard, bewitched by the humility of her gaze, the gentle smile on those full, pink lips, hair the color of white gold, gleaming in the sun. The scent of rose water and Pear’s soap captured him, tangling his tongue—and his stomach—into more knots than the clover necklace Tillie had strung around his neck.
2.) TIE IN COLOR TO ENHANCE BOTH EMOTIONAL AND SETTING DESCRIPTION. Initially in the scene above, I had the hero painting a sleigh, but I quickly changed that to a red barn so that I could correlate it with his embarrassment:
Her eyes connected with his and instantly her face fused as scarlet as the paint on the brush in his hand, the memory of his stolen kiss the night on her porch obviously coming to mind.
3.) USE PHYSICAL DESCRIPTIONS TO GIVE INSIGHT INTO THE PERSONALITY OF THE CHARACTER AS WELL. In this scene from Surprised by Love, I tried to describe the heroine’s suitor in a way that also hinted at his personality, making the description do double duty.
He stood staring out the mahogany French doors, one palm braced to the wall, his charcoal suit coat strained against broad shoulders. Wisps of dark hair curled up on his high collar, typical for a man too consumed with obligations to take time for his barber. She noted the gray French Mossant fedora casually tossed on the cordovan loveseat as if he expected to stay and was making himself at home, also typical of the man she intended to show to the door.
4.) USE PETS TO FLESH OUT BOTH CHARACTER AND SETTING DESCRIPTIONS WHILE ADDING HUMOR. In the following two clips from Love at Any Cost, I utilized the family’s pet bulldog to help flesh out a warmer, cozier family atmosphere while also using him as a humorous means of depicting the housekeeper’s, Mrs. Rosie O’Brien, intense dislike for Uncle Logan. A handsome bachelor rogue who broke his sister-in-law Cait’s heart years ago, Logan now wants Cait back, much to Rosie’s angst and distrust.
With a petite frame that was tiny and trim, Mrs. Rosie O’Brien wielded power in the McClare household that far exceeded both height and rank, a fact evidenced by the family’s so-ugly-he’s-cute bulldog, Logan Junior. Despite Logan’s objections, Rosie had won when she’d suggested naming the pet for the uncle who’d given it, citing the “creature’s propensity to intestinal odors” as commonality enough.
Reaching to scrub the bulldog who lay at her feet, Alli winked. “Goodness, with that scowl on your face, Uncle Logan, it’s hard to tell you and Junior apart.”
“Humph . . . the dog smells way better,” Rosie said, muttering loud enough for all to hear.
Logan glared. Says the hound permanently clamped to my hind quarter.
5.) USE CHILDREN TO FLESH OUT BOTH CHARACTER AND SETTING DESCRIPTIONS WHILE ADDING HUMOR. In A Hope Undaunted, I had a heroine who was a pushy spoiled brat that I needed to make more likable, so I added an orphan who was much the same way, which allowed a double benefit in that the orphan helped soften and strengthen the heroine by simple comparison/contrast. Gabe, the orphan, also helped flesh out and deepen the scenes with humor and heart such as in the following clip where the heroine and Gabe are discussing the hero, Cluny (Luke) McGee. PLUS … extra bonus! I got to include the title of my favorite book … ;)
Why, half the ladies at the society are loopy over him and most of us kids too. Not to mention the teachers.”
“The society?” Katie nibbled on the edge of her cookie.
“Yeah, the Boston So-ci-e-ty for the Care of Girls. Sounds real snooty, don’t it? But it’s nothing but an orphanage, although it’s better than most. Lots of gals just like me who nobody wants. And I can tell ya right now, that every last one of ’em think Luke is the cat’s meow.” A smug smile tipped Gabe’s mouth as she reached for another cookie and shimmied back in her chair. “But he likes me the best, which is why we’re gonna get married someday.” She paused and wheeled the chair back several inches, wrinkling her nose as she spied Katie’s blush. “Hey, you ain’t gonna spit again, are ya? Your face is red like you’re gonna puke.”
Katie narrowed her eyes. The little squirt suddenly reminded her of Cluny McGee. She nursed her pride with a deep breath of air, then exhaled. “So, why’d you run away?”
Gabe gulped her Nehi while eyeing Katie over the rim. “You ever meet Mrs. Merkle?”
Katie shook her head and finished her cookie.
“Well, she’s old and whiney and smells like VapoRub.” A faint shiver rippled through the little girl. “I cain’t stand VapoRub. And the old coot she’s married to who coughs up spit? Passes wind like it was a fine talent.” She scrunched her nose as if the smell suddenly permeated the room. “You ever live in crackerbox that reeks with Vapo and gas? Trust me. It ain’t a feast for the senses, if you know what I mean.”
Katie did, and slowly gulped her cookie, her appetite suddenly gone with the wind.
6.) USE CHARACTER NAMES TO FLESH OUT BOTH CHARACTER AND SETTING DESCRIPTIONS WHILE ADDING HUMOR. In A Heart Revealed, I gave the heroine’s lovable but nosy neighbor a name that did double duty—not only did it underscore a landlady who liked to keep an eye out on her tenants by “peeping” on them, but it also lent humor to a lovable character despite those peeping tendencies.
He spun around, almost upending the soup. A tiny old woman in a gray nubby sweater that all but swallowed her up peeked out the door, blue eyes glaring as if she’d just caught him breaking in.
“Who are you?” she muttered, opening the door more than a crack to reveal a rolling pin in her hand.
“Sean O’Connor—Emma’s assistant manager from the store.”
Her scowl softened into a smile. “So you’re the one she’s always gabbing about.”
His mouth tipped up. “That depends—is it good or bad?”
She grinned, evolving from a pint-sized threat into a huggable grandma. “Good. Anybody that can bring a little joy to Emma Malloy is okay by me.”
“Couldn’t agree more.” He lifted the carton. “Think she’d mind if you let me in, Mrs. —”
“Peep, Elvira Peep, Emma’s landlady and good friend.” Bustling past, she tucked the rolling pin under her arm and reached into her pocket for a key. She inserted it into the lock, then paused to look up, eyes pensive. “Emma thinks mighty highly of you, Sean O’Connor. Claims you’re friends.”
“We are, Mrs. Peep—good friends.” He bobbled the carton, his fingers suddenly clammy. “You might say she’s my closest friend and I . . .” Emotion shifted in his throat. “I love her a lot.”
“Call me Vi. And you can bet those freckles on that handsome face of yours that she feels the same.” The blue eyes narrowed, locked on him with uncomfortable precision. “You know, call me senile, but it seems to me there’s a spark of something more than just friends.”
He blinked, her statement cutting off his air. “Pardon me?”
With barely a sound, she turned the key in the lock, then dismissed his surprise with a wave of her hand. “Oh, I don’t mean you, of course,” she said with a shake of her head, “but her. Talks about you a lot, if you ask me. Seems to respect you, admires you.”
“Well, like I said, Vi, we’re close friends.”
She exhaled a burdensome sigh. “I know. And more’s the pity.”
His breathing thinned as he shifted the box in his hands. “Why’s that?” he asked, not all that sure he wanted to know.
She exhaled, eyelids weighted with regret. “Because she’s in love with you, you know, just doesn’t know it herself.”
He blinked. She may as well slammed him across the head with that rolling pin—no difference.
7.) USE FOOD TO FLESH BOTH CHARACTER AND SETTING DESCRIPTIONS WHILE ADDING HUMOR. I always try to use food for double duty if I can, such as in these two clips from A Heart Revealed, where I included both deviled eggs and beets to the dinner menu because they not only helped me to more clearly convey a reaction with a picture, but they add both humor and depth by adding the specifics of food.
The deviled egg in Charity’s mouth wedged still, her lips circling the egg to form a white O of shock. She quickly chewed and gulped it down. “Are you crazy? You know my brother. He may be the easygoing one of the lot, but don’t let that fool you. If we even hinted we wanted to give him a job at the store, the man would disappear faster than Henry at bath time.”
No, I agreed to it two days ago when Mitch asked me.” Sean winked at Emma, and her cheeks went head to head with the neighbor’s beets.
8.) USE TITLES TO FLESH CHARACTER, SETTING, AND THEME DESCRIPTIONS. My indie novel, A Light in the Window allowed me to get double and triple mileage out of the title, adding more depth to both the story and the characters. The story is about an Irish Christmas custom of putting a light in the window from Christmas to Epiphany to symbolize welcoming the Holy Family, plus it’s the name of the play the heroine is overseeing in the novel. The fullness of both the custom and the play come full circle when the heroine’s grandmother brings a spiritual and symbolic twist to the story, not only deepening it, but helping to shape one of the two heroes whose faith grows by responding to the “light in the window”—which is the light of Christ in the heroine’s life.
Mima nodded before her frail hand settled on Marcy’s arm. "You know, Marceline, our faith in God is very much like that light in the window that your Christmas play depicts. We are God’s abode, and His light shines through the windows of our lives into a dark and desperate world. Many may pass, enjoying the beauty of the light from afar, but few will be drawn to knock at the door, willing to embrace the Light of the World.” Her hand rose to gently cup Marcy’s cheek, a tenderness in her eyes that always warmed Marcy’s soul. “Guard your heart well, Marceline,” she said softly, “for a man who will respond to the light in the window, for therein lies a gift of God like no other, except that of His Son.”
9.) USE SONGS TO FLESH UNDERSCORE A CHARACTER’S EMOTIONS. In Love at Any Cost, the secondary hero and heroine are dancing to a song hand-picked by me from the top songs for that year because the title underscored the hero’s thoughts and regrets, adding an extra double punch to the scene.
He spun her in his arms, the orchestra’s rendition of Jere Mahoney’s “For Old Time’s Sake” haunting him as much as he hoped it haunted her. His heart thudded as he studied her in the soft glow of the chandeliers overhead. The flawless porcelain skin, the eyes the color of jade, and that lustrous auburn hair piled high with enough loose strays to tease an alabaster neck, leaving no doubt that his attraction to her had never waned. Oh, he’d buried it deep when she’d married his brother, certainly, allowing him to survive the loss of her in his heart and in his bed, but somehow it surfaced with a vengeance in the last year, and that alone told him that the timing was right.
She’d been chattering nonstop while they danced, so out of character for a woman as content with silence as conversing with family and friends, and he couldn’t help the faint smile that shadowed his lips. She was obviously nervous—the song, the dancing, the memories—all too close to home for them both, and her unease reminded him of the girl he’d proposed to years ago in this very ballroom. She’d been shy and sweet and oh, so tempting, but innocent to a fault. A ‘fault’ that resulted in utter shock when he’d dallied with another. He exhaled slowly, his regret hidden behind an easy smile. Just one more chance, Cait—for old time’s sake?
10.) CORRELATE A CHARACTER’S ACTIONS WITH A SPECIFIC BUT SEPARATE ACTIVITY TO SHARPEN THE CHARACTER’S INTENT AND ADD HUMOR. In this scene from A Hope Undaunted, the heroine is trying to get her brother to come to dinner for ulterior motives, so I used fishing phrases (highlighted below) to equate the humorous tension in the scene with that of a fisherman trying to outsmart a bass.
He cocked his head and gritted his teeth with a smile, his decision likely edging toward “no,” given the apology in his eyes.
Uh-oh, fish or cut bait. Charity smiled and switched strategies. “That’s okay, really—I understand.” With a nonchalant air, she grabbed a spool of purple thread from the sewing box and gave him a wink. “Just more ribs for us.” She held the thread against the silk blouse and looked up. “Hey, do these colors match?”
“Ribs?” Sean said weakly.
Charity fished in the sewing box again, ignoring his gaze as she fiddled with more spools. “Yes, sir . . . Mitch’s apple-wood smoked variety, his secret sauce, candied carrots, my prize popovers, and—” she looked up, her face the picture of innocence—“potato salad.”
“Potato salad?” He paused. His voice was the pained whisper of a man used to simpler fare prepared by a frugal mother victimized by the depression. He swallowed hard, as if drool were clogging his throat. “Mustard or mayonnaise?”
She plopped back into her chair and flashed him a bright smile. “Sorry, didn’t catch that. What was the question again?”
“The potato salad—is it the mustard kind or the mayonnaise?” It came out as a croak.
Charity worked the edge of her lip, trying to remember Sean’s favorite. “Uh . . . mayonnaise, I think.”
The man groaned as if a sharp lure had just pierced the soft flesh of his lip.
She set the hook and reeled him in. “And, of course, my homemade devilled eggs, those barbecue butter beans you’re so fond of, and last but not least . . .”
His mouth hung open like a large-mouth bass.
Victory coursed through her veins with a rush of adrenaline. “Warm peach cobbler in a pool of caramel sauce with cinnamon ice cream on the side—from Robinson’s no less,” she breathed, her tone hushed with respect.
“Oh, man . . .” His voice was a moan of defeat. He blasted out a sigh that could have ruffled the leaves on the lilac bush at the edge of the porch. “What time again?”
Okay, since I can't talk about "seeing double" without doubling up on prizes, I am going to choose two winners to win their choice of my books, including my upcoming October release, Surprised by Love. Just leave a comment or an example of how you "doubled" your word power, and you're in the draw! GOOD LUCK!!
Award-winning author of “The Daughters of Boston” and “Winds of Change” series, Julie Lessman was American Christian Fiction Writers 2009 Debut Author of the Year and voted #1 Romance Author of the year in Family Fiction magazine’s 2012 and 2011 Readers Choice Awards. She has also garnered 17 RWA and other awards and made Booklist’s 2010 Top 10 Inspirational Fiction. Her book A Light in the Window is an International Digital Awards winner, a 2013 Readers' Crown Award winner, and a 2013 Book Buyers Best Award winner. You can contact Julie and read excerpts from her books at www.julielessman.com.