Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Nephilim and Warlocks and Demons -- Oh my!

Today, over a semi-warm burrito in the cafeteria at work, I finished racing through Cassandra Clare’s newest book, Clockwork Angel: The Infernal Devices Book One.

The first thing you should know is the cafeteria at work is NOTHING like the caf we remember from high school. First of all, it smells better. Secondly, everyone tends to keep their voices down. Strangely, there is still a table of the brainiac boys playing some mysterious game with glass marbles and references to wizards. But then, I work for a software company. Probably all the boys in this cafeteria once sat at the geek table as teenagers. I digress...

You should also know – in the interest of full disclosure – that despite a luke-warm attraction to all things fantasy, I fell in love Clare’s first trilogy (The Mortal Instruments) about this world of angel boys and werewolves, gay warlocks and first-love-that-has-incest-potential. I know, I know. Sounds weird. Maybe a little creepy? (At least the incest part does, and it made me go eeeewww more than once. But can I just say – WORTH IT!) So I was waiting with bated breath for this prequel to arrive on bookstore shelves.

What could I learn as a writer from this Clockwork Angel and Cassandra Clare? There are two things I’d recommend you look for in Clare’s book:

1. Pacing. She knows how to set up a fast paced scene/chapter/novel. Her action leaves you breathless as you race along with the Showdowhunters through the streets of Victorian London, charge fearlessly into battle with bloodthirsty automatons, and hide in the shadows of a witches’ dungeon.

I’d love to give you an example or two – but I don’t think I could do it justice with small clips or quotes. Let’s just say there are scenes that involve one of the heroes cutting a coach harness off of a horse so he can leap on bareback and ride to the rescue. There are battles with Downworlders leading into scenes of treachery, followed by harrowing chases…and on it goes.

And here’s a trick – Clare also knows just when to slow it down. You ease into scenes that are quiet and still in this book, too. A certain scene in a certain attic comes to mind… You’ll just have to check it out yourself to see if you agree.

2. Imagery and description. Clare uses juicy words at just the right time to describe the horror and mystery of her world. An example from page 23 of the US hardback edition:

The Change shattered like glass. With a cry Tessa fell to her knees, the torn little bow falling from her hand. It was her hand again – Emma had gone, like a cast-off skin.”

Another example from later in the book (character names removed to prevent unwanted spoilage):

“…XXXX saw the whole scene frozen, as if it were a painting – the open door, the clockwork automaton, the one with the stripped bare hands, still in the same worn gray jacket. And still, dear God, with XXXX’s blood on its hands, dried red-black on the dull gray flesh and the strips of copper showing through where the skin had been scraped or pulled away…”

Lovely, isn’t it? Made the hair on the back of my neck stand at attention as I munched on that mediocre burrito. And again – eeeewwwww!

So think about imagery, description and pacing in your own story. Is it fast enough? Can you juice it up a little with the word choice? Will your readers shrink from the villain and feel the thrill of the chase in the pit of their stomachs as they read?

And for heaven's sake -- read A LOT to find out how other writers do it. Where have you found examples for imagery and pacing? I’d love to hear what you have found.

1 comment:

  1. Love it! Particularly the marble playing wizard-referencers at the next table...
    Can't wait to read this one, although the potential incest not incest in this series really does make me go "ewww"