The BBC Sherlock fandom is patient. We have waited two years (TWO YEARS) to find out the answer to the great mystery posed to us at the end of season 2. And if you don’t know what that mystery is, it means you have not yet watched Sherlock, in which case you really need to ask yourself whether that rock you’re living under is really all it’s cracked up to be (hint: it’s not) and go bloody watch it already.
Anyway. We have waited two years for news of Sherlock Season 3 to air, and now it is so close (Episode 1, New Year’s Day, BBC One, 9 p.m. You’re welcome.) that most of us are like: I’M NOT READY FOR THIS even though in actual fact we’re ready. We’re totally ready (you hear that, Mark Gatiss & Steven Moffatt? Stop teasing us!)
And yesterday, the official Sherlock Season 3 trailer for Episode 1 – The Empty Hearse – based on the canonical ‘The Adventure of the Empty House‘, was released, and it was glorious. And it made us happy for a few moments until we all realised there were still two and a half weeks to go before we knew the answer to the final problem.
But when you’ve waited two years, two weeks is nothing, right?
Watch the trailer here:
OH, and Mrs Hudson’s reaction there is basically a preview of how we’ll be reacting come New Year’s Day, I assume.
Today’s post is by Naomi, who has come up with a few style tips for women of all shapes and ages to ensure you feel and look your best through the winter chill. This is not about fashion or fads; it is about style and feeling your best in the clothes you wear. A few, well-chosen items in your wardrobe will see you through the season and ensure you never end up all a-fluster because you cannot decide what to wear.
Embrace your silhouette
We all have unique bodies and it is important to embrace your shape and understand which silhouette will make the most of it. Make sure your clothes fit beautifully in order to accentuate your best features. Steer clear of baggy or ill-fitting clothes; instead opt to play up your favourite features with well-tailored garments, different materials and patterns, and a few accessories to put your own twist on the outfit.
Invest in a white shirt
Simple, sophistication is always in style and a woman’s wardrobe wouldn’t be complete without a white button down shirt. Perfect for the office, business meetings, or dressed down with your favourite pair of jeans and a chunky necklace, the white shirt is a staple. Plain, white ladies shirts don’t have to be dull – experiment with new shapes and re-vamped styles to channel contemporary elegance.
Overcome your colour phobia
Subtly introduce colour into your wardrobe by combining neutral tones with something bolder, such as a nude dress with a dusky pink blazer. Or add a splash of colour to work wear by styling a classic blouse in a vibrant shade with a black skirt or trousers. Black is always elegant, but looks even more striking if it is offset by a single, block colour.
Slip on a silk scarf
Add the ultimate finishing touch to your outfit with a silk scarf. This sumptuous accessory will instantly update a simple shirt, adding a touch of luxury, colour, and timeless elegance to your look. You can easily transform your look on a daily basis by wearing a different scarf – and it is far easier on your wallet than buying a completely new outfit.
Add some arm candy
Bring the wrist to the fore this season by adorning double cuff shirts and blouses with luxurious embellishments. Whether you opt for classic or contemporary cufflinks, this understated and sophisticated accessory will complete your professional look. Alternatively, go for chunky bangles or opulent pearl bracelets and elbow-length sleeves.
Combine loose and fitted styles
Wearing head to toe skin-tight or baggy clothes is not flattering on anyone. To create a smart, tailored look, pair a slim fitted shirt with wide leg trousers. Or for a more casual ensemble, style a loose, relaxed fit blouse with skinny jeans. Peplum tops look great when paired with pencil skirts.
Pick and mix prints
Autumn/Winter 2013 is all about clashing prints, but this is not the easiest catwalk trend to pull off. For a subtle take on this trend, wear a shirt with print contrast detailing on the collar and cuffs, combined with a belt that has a clashing pattern. Alternatively, pair two different prints in similar shades, such as monochrome.
As you may or may not know, I seem to have developed a new obsession – this time with The Drowned Man, currently running in London. Last Sunday, I went to experience it for the third time and decided I needed to write that journey so as not to lose it, since trying to remember your Punchdrunk experience becomes harder and harder as time passes. Like trying to recall a dream. This may seem a little disjointed, but I hope you enjoy it either way, and I hope it inspires you to go see this amazing production before it’s gone for good.
I am a ghost. I become invisible and I am floated into a 1950s town just outside a successful Hollywood studio. It is dark, and there is a smell of paint and gunpowder in the air, mixed with hay, piss, hard liqueur, and the singing of cicadas. I haunt the streets, unseen, until I come to a place by the edge of the forest, dotted with shanty caravans. An eerie blue light blankets the earth, and the trees are tall shadows. I lay my palm flat against one tree trunk, and decide to get lost, if I can. It is remarkably hard to get lost when you are a ghost.
I stumble across a fight between two men. Looking around, I can see other ghostly faces, just like my own. One of them bows his head in acknowledgement of me. I do the same. I am new to this liminal plane; I have not yet learnt the etiquette. Only I am drawn to one of the men – an angry man, he swears and spits and kicks his opponent to the floor. I follow him into a chapel, where his eyes fill with sadness as he sees me. I am stunned – I never imagined somebody like me could be seen. He leaves the holy place and I follow him. Neither of us belongs there. He leads me to his caravan and holds out his hand. I take it without hesitation. It is warm; mine is cold. He closes the door behind us.
It is a tight spot but we fit there, on his bed: me in my mask; him in his hat. He reaches out and touches my hair, then removes my mask, the very thing that curtains my identity. My face is exposed. I feel raw. He strokes my cheek, “It’s happening again,” he says. He pours us both a shot of whiskey and like old friends we knock them right back. The firewater burns our throats and there is a moment of silence. From an envelope on his nightstand, I learn his name is Jack.
Jack takes my hands in his and stands me up. “Will you trust me?” he asks, and I nod. After all, what choice do I have? He blindfolds me, and I bow my head to allow him to tie a knot. Grabbing me by the shoulders, he begins to push, leading me backwards into the darkness. I can feel dry branches scratching against my skin as he talks to me about the world being on fire. Suddenly, there is sand under my feet, and the desert sun beats down on us. He is holding me, cheek to cheek, and whispering in my ear, secrets of the desert, secrets of the sand. I can smell the booze, rancid on his breath, as he removes the blindfold and hands me my mask. There is only darkness. He leans in for the last time and tells me the world is hotter than hell and I am on my own, then I’m being pushed out of a door and back into the town. The door slams shut. I have lost my only companion. I put my mask back on and return to roam the streets.
There is a bright, violent light, and the next thing I know, I am in the desert again, only this time I can see clearly. There is a hotel buried beneath the sand dunes and in the distance, I can see people in top hats, seated. I run towards them. They are made of hay: scarecrows attending the funeral of a fellow scarecrow. Confused, I walk on until I find a couple of rooms filled with altars dedicated to the voodoo death spirit, Maman Brigitte. A small bronze bowl contains shells and a tiny piece of red string; the Bible is opened to the book of Esther; there are chicken feathers nailed to the wall.
I am surprised by the anguished moans of a man, coming from right outside. I follow them until I find him. I know his name is Dwayne; I do not know how I know this. He is grieving, crying. He removes his clothes and pours sand over himself as though it could cleanse him. Just as he collapses from exposure and exhaustion, a woman in a black veil, like Death’s bride, picks him up and holds him like a mother would. She guides him back into the town, into a room behind the chapel, which I can see now also contains a scarecrow. I watch her drown him in a tub for a few seconds before she starts to bathe him, lovingly cleaning his skin. He puts his head in her lap and she comforts him for a few moments, then leaves. I follow her, because she can see me.
We are back in the desert somehow, and this dark bride holds out her hand. Of course, I take it, and am led into a darkened room. She lets me sit and takes my hands, reading the lines in my palms, caressing them gently. Removing my mask, she stands close to me and strokes my face, then opens my eyes wide between her fingers, looking into them, beyond them, into my mind, her own eyes like two little moons.
She embraces me and, with a voice the colour of music, tells me about a little girl who was terrified of the light. She prayed to God to plunge the world into darkness. She prayed to the moon and to the stars each night.
I am blindfolded again and led by the hand around and around in a dizzying, supernatural game of Blindman’s Buff. “Mothers told their children to beware of the Sandman,” she hisses. I am spun, around, around. “But I stayed up and waited for him. I was not afraid.” Around and around. “And when He saw me He thanked me.” We stop suddenly. “But the moon was nothing but dead wood. And the earth is dead. And the silence is the darkness. The darkness is the silence.” The blindfold is slipped off and I am quickly masked and pushed out into the desert.
I am learning powerful things, things no man or woman should know. But I am neither man, nor woman. I am just eyes without a face.
Suddenly, in the desert appears a man with golden eyes and olive skin. He is dressed in rags and he dances like water. I follow him down into the town and dance with him among the trees. He is a sprite, and gravity is of no consequence to him. He holds up the Death tarot card and brings it to my face, then comes close enough to kiss me. His eyes are made of flames and they hold me captive, I cannot help but look into their light. He laughs and runs off, dancing in the night. I chase him until he vanishes into thin air, leaving me alone amid a sea of ghosts.
Sadness is a worm, and it has started to burrow its way into my thoughts. I wander around aimlessly, thinking of the sky and the moon; thinking of heaven and hell and light and darkness. Mostly, I think of the desert. I am drawn to the desert, but I do not go back there just yet. Something else is calling me, drawing me in like a magnet.
In the bar, I watch an impossibly beautiful man in drag as the man he loves spurns him. He is the picture of heartbreak as he slouches towards his hotel room. I follow closely behind. I learn his name is Conrad as he attempts to seduce another ghost, who remains stoic and does not take his hand. Rejected, Conrad quickly changes into a suit and rushes into Temple Studios for his next gig: magician. I watch him perform an old trick, then follow him into his dressing room. He creates a Rorschach test and shows it to me: it looks like two birds on branches. I follow him onto the film set, and sit and watch him work. He looks at me from time to time – we have become friends, this beautiful man and his ghost.
As filming wraps, he is ordered by the director to pay a visit to Studio 8. He appears appalled, but he has no choice. He holds my hand, lacing his fingers with mine, and leads me into his trailer. We sit on his bed and my mask comes off. Whispering, he tells me the story of a little boy who was always so sad. He went to the moon, but it was just a rotten piece of wood; then he went to the sun, which was nothing but a dead sunflower. Suddenly, he notices a ball of red string behind me. He picks up a dim torch and together, holding each other, we follow the red string outside, down a ramp, and into a large dark room. The string begins to move and Conrad stumbles, accidentally shining his light upon a dead white horse. I gasp and he quickly ushers me to a door. “The whole world is inside out! I’ll get you safely out of here,” he says, quickly putting my mask back on and pushing me out into the light. The door slams shut, and I know he has not survived whatever dark forces lurked there.
I have lost too many companions, and I begin to feel I am bad luck. I float back to the desert and spend some time walking in the sand. I sit in it and let it slip through my fingers. It is warm and soothing.
I feel a little less cursed as I find my way back into town. I am drawn to a little toyshop and its keeper, Mr Tuttle. He is young and new to the town. He paints pictures and plays games with the locals, but he is an outsider. He cannot see me, but I can see him. I look over his shoulder as he watches a fight break out, and hides in the safety of his shop. He is afraid, and so am I. Everything feels wrong. The night feels like day and the heat feels cold and I want to hide away in this toyshop, the only safe haven I have found.
Eventually, Mr Tuttle ventures out again and runs into somebody he knows. He asks after his daughter, Faye, and says he has just the thing to cheer her up. While he goes into his store to fetch a doll, whom he says reminds him of “Mary”, the other man runs off. Hurt, Mr Tuttle hides in his shop again. He fetches a small pot of paint, as he would like to make the doll’s lips redder. “Mary,” he mumbles again. To his surprise the paint pot contains dark ash. He tips it onto a piece of paper and spreads it around, blackening his hand. The ashes move into the shape of a full moon and two crescents. Tuttle looks at the doll in disbelief: the doll is lit up and looks menacingly at him.
The toyshop is no longer safe.
He still cannot see me, but I have begun to see the world through his eyes, although I have far more knowledge of it than he does. The sadness of it overwhelms me: this childlike man in his toyshop, trapped in a world gone completely mad. I want to reach out and hold him. I want to comfort him. I am not allowed. So I cry, big wet tears. I cry, I am shaken by sobs, I am helpless. Other ghosts have begun to gather in his small shop and I want to chase them away, to protect him. “The shop is closed. Everyone out,” he spits out. I start to leave but he takes my hand and asks me to stay with him. He locks the door. Outside, ghosts are peering through the window, knocking on the glass. He screams at them to leave and takes me behind his counter. We crouch, staying low.
“Something bad is happening. I keep having visions, and I think I’ve found a way to stop it,” he explains, looking at me pleadingly. “But I need somebody to help me. Will you help me?” I nod. Of course I will. I have fallen in love with him, deeply in love with him. I want to carry him away to the desert, where at least it is warm. Instead, he unmasks me and leads me through a low passageway into a dank room underground; the smell of bodily fluids and faeces and rust is pungent. His beautiful blue eyes take on the darkness as he pushes me into a chair. My heart breaks – not my darling Mr Tuttle. Please let him remain unblemished.
“Do you smell that?” He asks. I nod. “It is the smell of blood and sweat and piss and shit. Human and animal. But here, we live.”
I am mourning him.
“In the beginning, animal and man were equal. We knew sometimes we served them, and sometimes they served us.” He gesticulates as he speaks, his fingers doing a wild dance between my face and his. “But we perverted that. We thought ourselves better than them. We became their masters. But we didn’t understand that man. was. still. animal.” He is rubbing the palm of my hand with his thumbs. His voice is a threat and I am scared. Overhead, the only light bulb in the room flickers for a moment as he talks about the red moon. My heart skips a beat. “But sacrifices have to be made. Don’t they?” I nod, dumbly, and the next thing I know, he is dipping his hand into a vat of thick, dark blood and smearing it over my hand and up my arm. He holds my hand, weaves his fingers with mine. The blood makes wet, sopping noises as it drips to the floor.
He presses his face against mine and begins to chant something I don’t quite understand as he pulls me out of the chair, and together we smear the walls of the room with blood. I cannot decide whether I am let down or excited. Or both. We repeat this action, and then he rinses my hands with water. “Well, that’s sure to have done something!” he exclaims, the boyish grin I had fallen for now back on his face. He pushes me out of the room into the bar and once again I am alone, my hands red with blood which will not wash away, my mask stained and gory. I stumble toward the bartender and he raises his eyebrows at me, eyeing my hands, which I hold out in shame. I don’t know what I have just done.
I run to the fountain in the square and kneel to wash my hands in the cold water. The red won’t wash off, no matter how hard I try. I panic, completely immersed in this universe and its broken physics, until a handsome security guard helps me up and leads me down into a trailer park, where I see what my little ritual has led to: I watch a woman stab her drunk lover with a pair of stolen scissors and dump him in a lake.
I feel guilty and tired. I don’t want to be a ghost anymore. I want to be real again and it is a relief to put my mask away, sweat matting my hair, and step out into the cold London air.
But even now, I can only think of golden eyes, and bloodied hands, and all that sand, and I know I will go back to that world again as soon as I can. It is a part of me now. The darkness is the silence; the silence is the darkness.
Browsing Facebook the other day, I came across something a friend of mine had shared, hidden behind a ‘Read More’ tag. I clicked it and it turned out to be the best writing advice I have ever read, bar none. People who’ve read my fiction have often commented on my descriptive passages, and have asked me how I write them, but I’ve found myself unable to articulate. Along came Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, Lullaby, Haunted, and other excellent novels, explaining it better than I ever could have, so I am reproducing the text here in its entirety and asking you to read it, because I guarantee it will make you a better writer.
‘In six seconds, you’ll hate me.
But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.
From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.
The list should also include: Loves and Hates.
And it should include: Is and Has, but we’ll get to those later.
Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write: Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”
Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like: “The
mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave. Never his.”
Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.
Instead of saying: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.” You’ll have to say: “Between classes, Gwen had always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’s roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her butt. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”
In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.
Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later). In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph. And what follows, illustrates them.
“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”
Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.
If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others. Better yet, transplant it and change it to: Brenda would never make the deadline.
Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.
Don’t tell your reader: “Lisa hated Tom.”
Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.
Present each piece of evidence. For example: “During roll call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout ‘Butt Wipe,’ just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”
One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.
For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take…”
A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”
A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives.
Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs forget and remember.
No more transitions such as: “Wanda remembered how Nelson used to brush her hair.”
Instead: “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”
Again, Un-pack. Don’t take short-cuts.
Better yet, get your character with another character, fast.
Get them together and get the action started. Let their actions and words show their thoughts. You—stay out of their heads.
And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”
“Ann’s eyes are blue.”
“Ann has blue eyes.”
“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”
Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures. At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.
And forever after, once you’ve learned to Un-pack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for: “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”
Please. For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use thought verbs. After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t.
For this month’s homework, pick through your writing and circle every “thought” verb. Then, find some way to eliminate it. Kill it by Un-packing it.
Then, pick through some published fiction and do the same thing. Be ruthless.
“Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”
“Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”
“Larry knew he was a dead man…”
Find them. After that, find a way to re-write them. Make them stronger.’