Guest Post by Cynthia Ravinski: Visuals, Imagery, and Crafting Story from Dream

Today we have a guest post from EmotoBook author Cynthia Ravinski. I think the EmotoBook concept is extremely cool because it capitalizes on the strengths of the ebook form. All too often ebooks are seen as a replacement for paper books. And, of course, they are that — but only in part. They’re also a new medium in their own right, and what Cynthia is doing with her books takes advantage of that new medium’s strengths. So, without further ado, here’s Cynthia:

I’m a part of the EmotoBook Revolution. Let me tell you how that happened (I’m a story teller, that’s what I do). Writing an EmotoBook changed the way I look at writing. So let’s start there.

For me, a story starts with a dream — vivid color and poignant action streaking across the movie screen of my resting mind with abstract gravitas. I think the strangest thing is that there are never any words.

If I decide an Idea is worth turning into a story, it’s usually because it has haunted me for days and I’m thoroughly mad like the Hatter about the thing. And then, I only face the task of crafting it into something intelligible to other humans. Let me step aside here to say that without an Idea no writing can be done, there is only that familiar blank, white screen with a blinking black cursor. With an Idea, I at least have something to hang some words on, from which I will shape my story.

Crafting a story is a very technical thing, and is separate from the story Idea. Simply relating events is not truly Telling a story, it misses a lot of resonance. A writer’s job is to craft a story so that black and white text creates an internal cinematic dreamscape for a reader. There are many tools a writer uses to do this. One of the most important, I think, is visual imagery. When readers look at text, all they see are black lines on white. I’ve always been completely seduced by a brief chain of words that can slip a ravishing scene into my head.

sample EmotoBook page

The idea of EmotoBooks as a literary form lodged in my mind and haunted me for days after I’d first heard of it. Using abstract imagery to enhance the reading experience tackles multiple areas of the brain, and appeals to my vivid dreamscapes that have no words. Louis Sullivan, an American architect, put it perfectly, “form ever follows function.” EmotoBooks have a unique style and structure. They are all fast-paced, imagery-heavy short stories or serial novels containing abstract, emotionally provocative illustrations to depict what characters feel during peak moments of tension. These expressionistic elements provide both a cerebral and visual stimulation, which enhances the experience.

When I began the editing process for my EmotoSingle, Lingering in the Woods, it was glaringly obvious that my instinctive use of imagery was not as effective as I would have hoped. I’ve always tried to keep my stories visually balanced, like in my dreams, but it became apparent that in doing so, I reduced the impact of important scenes. Encouraged by my editor at Grit City, I intensified the imagery in the most powerful parts of the story as a seat for the abstract artwork going into the story. Through this craft element, I added a texture to the story I wouldn’t have found before, visually highlighting the peaks and valleys of the plot.

Writing stories is a grand puzzle with no absolute solution. Trial and error is the best way through that maze. I only hope that my work’s images burn lively in the minds of readers.

Cynthia Ravinski writes EmotoBooks, among other things. From her coastal northern setting she works language into stories. She’s been an athlete, a co-pilot, and a world traveler. She’s basked in the light of great poets, and has been educated to high degrees at UMaine Farmington and Seton Hill University. To say she is obsessed with drinking tea is an understatement. You can find Cynthia  at her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter (@CynthiaRavinski).

MM: Understanding Apposition

Sorry for the long absence! I’m finally reasonably settled back into my “day job,” new house, and so forth. It’s about time to dig back into my shadowy secret life of fiction-writing, reviewing, and blogging. I figured I’d kick things off with a post about commas. I mean, really, you can never talk too much about commas, right? So here we go: apposition.

Apposition is the placement of two grammatical elements (words, phrases) side by side in a mutually defining or modifying relationship. Here’s an example:

My father, Frederick Brown, recently moved to Portland and bought a house next door to my sister Alice Smith.

In the above sentence, “my father” is in apposition to “Frederick Brown,” and “my sister” is in apposition to “Alice Smith.”

The $64,000 question is why “Frederick Brown” has commas around it but “Alice Smith” doesn’t. The reason? “Frederick Brown” is a non-restrictive or non-essential appositive — since the speaker only has one father, “my father” and “Frederick Brown” are synonymous. “Frederick Brown” doesn’t restrict the category of “my father,” so it’s non-essential. Non-essential or non-restrictive (these terms are interchangeable) appositives need commas before and after.

In contrast, “my sister” and “Alice Smith” might or might not be synonymous. Why? Because the speaker could have more than one sister. By not putting commas around “Alice Smith,” the speaker is as good as telling you that she has other sisters besides Alice. “Alice Smith” is a restrictive or essential appositive because the category of “my sister” needs to be restricted: which of the speaker’s sisters now has her father as a neighbor? Alice (rather than Susan or Tanya).

Errors in choosing whether or not to comma around appositives are quite common. My students often produce sentences like this one:

Shakespeare’s play, King Lear, is bleakly nihilistic.

Why is that wrong? Because Shakespeare wrote many plays, so “Shakespeare’s play” and “King Lear” are not synonymous. “King Lear” is an essential appositive because the category of “Shakespeare’s play” needs to be restricted. Therefore “King Lear” should not have commas around it.

Now if you said, “Shakespeare’s final romance, The Tempest, is less preoccupied with loss than his earlier forays into that genre,” you’d be fine. Why? Because Shakespeare could only have written one of his romances last. That category can, by definition, only include one play, so “The Tempest” and “Shakespeare’s final romance” are synonymous. “The Tempest” is a non-restrictive or non-essential appositive and therefore needs commas.

Incidentally, the same restrictive/non-restrictive rules apply to commas around clauses:

You should never ride motorcycles, which are dangerous.

You should never ride motorcycles that are dangerous.

In the first sentence above, “which are dangerous” is non-restrictive: the speaker is labeling all motorcycles dangerous and to be avoided. But in the second sentence, “that are dangerous” is restrictive: the speaker is telling you that only a subset of motorcycles (the dangerous ones) should be avoided. It’s nice when writers use “that” to begin restrictive clauses and “which” to begin non-restrictive ones; it makes the distinction more evident. But the which-vs.-that rule isn’t universal, and you will see “which” being used in both cases. That means the comma is the sole true indicator of restrictiveness vs. non-restrictiveness.