it’s a trip . . .

tips, quotes, insights, and lessons about writing and publishing learned the hard way

lessons from friends #1 – kirk ort

THE ADVENTURES OF KATE DARLING by Kirk Ort

THE ADVENTURES OF KATE DARLING by Kirk Ort

Tonight marks the first post in a series called “Lessons from Friends.” Through various online writing sites and competitions, I’ve been exposed to others’ writing, have reviewed their work, and, of course, tried to learn from their example. In my case, I’ve wisely befriended most of these writers.

For my first “Lessons from Friends” post, I’d like to begin with an extraordinarily talented writer and my most stalwart and longstanding writing partner Kirk Ort.

Kirk specializes in historical fiction. Unlike me (I write contemporary stories), he has the particular burden or pleasure of transporting the reader to a wholly different place and time. One of the things I like about Kirk’s writing and the thing he does almost better than any writer I know is place the reader in the setting seamlessly. No long drawn-out Michener-esque descriptions in any of Kirk’s historical stories (in the 21st century, who among us has the luxury of indulging in description to the extent Michener did? And I liked James Michener. I read many of his books). Instead, Kirk pulls the reader into the scene efficiently and effectively via character’s actions. Take a look at  the opening paragraph to his newest book: THE ADVENTURES OF KATE DARLING.

“With a creak and a bang the hatch cover was thrown open and sunlight streamed down into the fetid cargo hold. Kate Darling, lying in a heap atop a bale of trade goods, raised her head and squinted into the dazzling light.”

The first sentence of his novel transports us to a castaway’s world on a sailing ship. In one sentence, through his careful choice of nouns and verbs (and two adjectives), he’s done a wondrous thing. Does anyone reading this not have a clear picture in his/her head of when and where this novel takes place within forty words?

A few paragraphs later, he combines action and description following direct dialogue, evoking Kate’s surroundings and Kate’s appearance herself in a sentence.

“All right, Mr. Smithers, I’ll go quietly,” said Kate. “And I do thank you for your many kindnesses.” She shook some of the dust and bits of filth from her skirt and adjusted the bodice of her frock to better accommodate its fulsome cargo before pulling herself onto the first steps of the ladder.”

I don’t think there are many readers among us who would say, “Gosh, you conveyed the setting while describing the action. I’m so bummed. I was looking forward to reading lots of exposition.”

Kirk’s writing taught me the value of conveying description without stopping the action, rather by incorporating it into the action.  Is it any wonder he won second place in our writing site’s strongest start competition.

Thanks, Kirk, for an exemplary lesson that I strive to include in my writing more than you know.

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2 Comments»

  Kirk wrote @

Thank you, Gale for the flattering comments. Writing is such a struggle for me, I never expected to be used as an example of something done right. Lol If I’ve learned not to waste words, it’s been a long time coming. I love long, flowery sentences sprinkled with lots of semicolons and em-dashes provided they’re written by someone who knows how. When I write them, it’s just a waste of language and punctuation marks. Here’s a trick I use: Imagine a story scene like a scene in a movie. What do you see? Mention the background because it’s there, but your eyes are drawn to the characters and your ears are tuned to what they’re saying. Often they are speaking while performing some small action. If a car horn honks in the background you might use it to color the scene but there’s no need to describe the car that honked or the angry driver. Keep the focus on your characters and let them tell the story.

There’s my two cents worth of advice, second hand at best because most of what I know I’ve learned from other writers including the talented lady who writes this blog. Thanks again, Gale.

Kirk Ort

  rachel wrote @

Great clips. Thanks for highlighting what works, Gale. Also the extra comments from the writer – how to keep the essence and avoid the excess – SO important. I tend to flowery myself, and have to work to keep on point. Will keep his movie camera technique in mind.


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  • my author bio . . .

    I began writing creatively three years ago, fueled by midlife and a Curves' addiction. Since then, I have published short work in The Christian Science Monitor and Sirens Magazine in the same year. How's that for versatility!
    Sirens Magazine

    Sirens Magazine

    Also the Duck & Herring Company's Pocket Field Guide, The Giggle Water Review, Alighted, Wet Ink Press, America's Funniest Humor, Brilliant!, Laughter Loaf, Flash-Flooding, and the Greensilk Journal where my short story, "How I Boinked John Cusack" won editor's pick.
    The Greensilk Journal

    The Greensilk Journal

    My newest novel, THE SHAKER PROPOSAL, has received numerous accolades, the latest a fifth-place in the 2008 annual NWA (National Writing Association) Novel Contest.
    THE SHAKER PROPOSAL

    THE SHAKER PROPOSAL

    I am a marketing professional by vocation (but not by choice). My husband and I live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—the sounds, sites, smells, and flavors of which are a never-ending source of literary inspiration.
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