Saturday, March 3, 2012

"Write Like the Masters" by William Cane (4) Ian Fleming

Cane chose Ian Fleming as a master writer for a variety of reasons. The main reason I like Fleming is for his use of details. Besides creating suspense and excitement, Fleming uses "sumptuous details." To see for myself, I read Fleming's short story "Octopussy." (Don't you wish you could come up with titles like that? I wish I could.) Of course, it's a James Bond story--and Bond is one of my favorite characters from the movies, and maybe now from literature--but the story has little to do with James Bond. He's a minor character in the story.

Even though it's a short story, "Octopussy" is full of Fleming's attention to details. Some of his detailed descriptions are fairly long; e.g., he uses about 200 words to describe the deadly scorpion fish (a major player in the story). Fleming mentions that scorpion fish are the source of "the rascasse that is the foundation of bouillabaisse." When Smythe (the main character) eats some sausage in the mountains, Fleming writes "Oberhauser's (another character in the story) sausage was a real mountaineer's meal--tough, well-fatted and strongly garlicked."

Fleming's use of details isn't limited to food-related subjects. When Smythe looks at the case containing gold stolen from Germany during WWII, Fleming writes "There were the same markings on each--the swastika in a circle below an eagle, and the date, 1943--the mint marks of the Reichsbank."

When Smythe and Oberhauser reach their destination in the mountains, Fleming writes "Directly above them, perhaps a hundred feet up under the lee of the shoulder, were the weather-beaten boards of the hut." What struck me about the sentence was 'under the lee of the shoulder' and 'weather-beaten boards,' two wonderful details I would have not thought of.

The last description I'll mention that sturck me as something I would have missed is when, after Smythe shoots a man in the mountains, Fleming writes "The deep boom of the two shots that had been batting to and fro amoung the mountains died away." I thought the double-entrendre on 'died' was clever.

One thing Cane doesn't mention that I found interesting is Fleming's use of character names. Of course, we all know James Bond. But the names of the other characters in this story are interesting as well: Dexter Smythe, Hannes Oberhauser, and the Foo brothers.

What does it mean to me as a writer? It makes me want to try harder with details. It means more research and greater visualization of scenes and finding the words that make it the best description I can make it. And maybe a greater consideration of characters' names.

What do you think of these examples of description from "Octopussy"? Do they strike you as better than average? Also, do you find the characters' names more interesting than the usual?


Damyanti said...

Details are so important in writing.

---Damyanti, Co-host A to Z Challenge April 2012

Twitter: @AprilA2Z

Wendy Ewurum said...

i'm reading my first Ann Rice in Angel time and one o the main things i noticed with her writing was this far as entertainment i'm on two minds but she has the most uncanny ability to give details you woyuld never have dreamed of in her descriptions.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Your post reminded me of experiences I have had lately, reading a wonderful detail that works on many levels and thinking, "Would I have been able to come up with that?" I know some of the best writing advice I've read is that to write well, one must read good writing. I think that's true. I might not have come up with the particular description I'm admiring, but automatically a well-turned phrase oils the wheels of the mind, so to speak. I think the examples you shared were terrific. I'veseen James Bond movies, but your post makes me want to read some of the books now.

Tanya Reimer said...

Details. Yes.

At the orthodontist this week, he sat on chair beside my daughter and had to describe to his note taker what he was seeing in her profile. I was amazed at the miniscule details he came up with!

Made me think of my character descriptions in a new way. What we choose to tell the reader is a detail that affects their impression and their read. When we choose to offer these reveals is equally important.
Ah, magic.

And yes, James Bond rocks. I have not read the books, but the plots in the movies are perfect examples of how to write for men.

Great post!

Clarissa Draper said...

You said:

"It makes me want to try harder with details. It means more research and greater visualization of scenes and finding the words that make it the best description I can make it."

This is something I strive to accomplish as a writer as well. Thanks for this look in to Bond. I'm going to read more of Fleming's work.