Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rule of Three

I was recently reading something by a noted author but it just did not seem to be grabbing me at all. This puzzled me as at first glance, it seemed well written. After some re-reading, it finally dawned on me what the problem was.

Some time back I was able to interview the author, Diana Gabaldon. One of the things we discussed was the Rule of Three as it applies to writing. In short, repeating things three times will make a reader remember it, such as a plot development - but be a bit subtle about it. Similarly, the Rule of Three applies to use of the senses in writing. We have five - use three of them in a scene to really hook a reader.

In this book that I was reading, I realised that the author had focused predominantly on just one sense - sight. They had described in detail what things looked like, but rarely what things sounded like, how they smelled, tasted or felt. So the scenes tended to be one-dimensional which was why things were not grabbing me in any real way.

So the moral of the tale is to make sure I use three senses in a scene when I am writing. The dark dungeon becomes much creepier when we know that it also smells like the corruption of rotting corpses and we can hear the skittering of rodent feet across the slimy flagstones.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Review: All Day Long the Noise of Battle

All Day Long the Noise of Battle: An Australian attack in Vietnam
by Gerard Windsor
Pier 9

as reviewed at Boomerang Books

In writing any history, the immediate issue facing the research/author is that of information sources. At first glance, this may seem a relatively straight forward thing in this instance when many of the participants are still alive and may be consulted along with official records. What Gerard Windsor amply demonstrates here is that this is anything but straight forward. The problem of memory is a real inhibitor – different accounts because of different memories of specific events even comes into play with accounts written very shortly after the event, let alone some forty years later.

Despite this issue of conflicting accounts and memories, Windsor has compiled a detailed and very interesting account of the actions of the men from C Company, Seventh Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR) in Operation Coburg.

Australian ‘memory’ of the fighting in the Tet Offensive in 1968 is heavily influenced by US sources such as film. Yet Australian infantry and artillery units on the ground also played roles. Operation Coburg saw the men of C Company assault a North Vietnamese bunker complex. This was no fleeting contact in the jungle or a rain-obscured contact and rescue as at Long Tan, but a concentrated assault over three days. It was in fact arguably the longest attack by Australian troops during the Vietnam War. Yet the events were barely recorded in the media at the time and recognised little better by the military itself.

I found the book something of an eye-opener as it told the story of an event that has gone strangely unnoticed. Windsor has gone to considerable effort to relate as much of the account as possible to the individual soldiers taking part, which gives the book a greater human dimension than may otherwise have been the case.

This account should interest not just those with an interest in Australian military history, but also those with a broader interest in Australian history in general.