Wednesday, April 25, 2012

X is for Xenon - and writing?

I mulled over several X words – maybe Xebec, a 3-masted pirate ship? I’m sure some authors could link that to their writing, but I’m not one of them, even though I loved Captain Jack Sparrow. How about Xanadu, an exotic, luxurious place? A lot of romance novels are set in such places, either real or imaginary. Or how about the X chromosome – men have one of these, women have two. No, I’m not even going there!

So why did I choose Xenon? It’s a colourless, odourless, inert gas, used in arc lamps, and sometimes as a general anaesthetic.

What has this to do with writing? As I read the definition of Xenon, it occurred to me that sometimes our writing can be like this – colourless, odourless and inert. Happily it does sometimes light up like an arc lamp, other times it seems so dull that it’s sending you to sleep, never mind your readers.

So how do we get our writing out of the ‘Xenon’ mode?

Colourful instead of colourless: this doesn’t just mean describing the colour of the sea, or the heroine’s hair, or the hero’s eyes, of course. Nor does it mean pages of purple prose. ‘Colourful’ means capturing the reader by making our characters and the whole world in which they live come alive. Create ‘real’ characters with whom the reader can empathise and show their surroundings through their eyes. Make them jump out of the pages and into the imagination of the reader in full technicolour, not just in black and white.

Aromatic instead of odourless: the sense of smell is important – new mown grass, a rose, woodsmoke, freshness of the air after rain … etc. This leads us on to the other senses: sight, sound, touch and taste. All important in evoking emotions in our readers. Again, show them through a character’s perception. Don’t tell the reader the tree had a gnarled truck; have your heroine running her hand along its rough bark. Put the senses within an action, not outside of it. But don’t overdo it. Less is more!

Animated instead of inert:  an inert gas does not react with other substances and does not undergo any chemical reactions. That’s the last thing we want in our stories! Our characters need to react with each other, of course, and they also need to undergo some kind of ‘growth’ during the story, whether it’s overcoming a fear or flaw, learning something about themselves, or dealing with a personal conflict.

We need always to concentrate on the ‘arc-light’ capability of Xenon and not its anaesthetic qualities, by keeping our writing dazzlingly bright and not soporific! A Xenon Ion Drive engine can be used to propel spacecraft on deep space missions by firing a beam of energetic xenon ions – so let’s do the same, and reach for the stars!



  1. An Xenonic post, Paula! Colorful photos, animated words, dazzling creativity. Well done! (I'm wowed.)

  2. Wow, I'm really impressed! Great job on "X"!I'm inspired--I'll keep that in mind as I go back to my edits.

  3. Thanks, Ana!

    Good luck with the edits, Jen! I'm half way through my current WIP, and am at the point when I'm thinking my writing is colourless, odourless and inert. It's the 'sagging middle' syndrome, I think!

  4. This post is perfect in it's timing. I'm looking though a mss I'm pitching on Saturday and there are definitely spots where it seems lifeless and lacking 'color'.

    Great X word. I still have to come up with mine tonight! Yikes.

  5. Glad the timing was right,Debra! I often have the feeling my writing is lifeless but I plod on with the story, and hope that when it comes to revision time, I can sort it out!
    Good luck with your pitch - and with your post tomorrow!

  6. Paula, I'm having the same problem.