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?
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