Saturday, October 18, 2014

Achieving the proper balance

By Gayle Carline

I always think of horse riding as a Zen-like activity. Horses like balance. They like their riders to be balanced on their backs. Too much weight on one side makes them move to that side, to get the human back in the middle.

Writing about a subject as specific as horses also requires balance, especially in fiction. Consider a mystery set around horses. Too little detail about the horse world and non-horse mystery lovers will be confused, close the book, and perhaps toss it across the room. Too much detail will explain it all to the non-horsey people and make the horse folks bored, close the book, and well, you know.

I know you can't please everyone, but balance is good.

In Snoopy's memoir, FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH, I could put a lot of detail in, because the book takes Snoopy from his birth to his adult years, so he has to learn about being trained. The trick with his book was to describe training from his point of view. How does a horse see our methods?

Maybe like this:

* * *

Even when I was staying with Uncle Snowy, or with Johnny and Tucker, my humans came every day and taught me things. Either Hilde or MomToo took me out of the pen and led me to the barn, where they brushed me and cleaned my hooves. Miss Tina talked about it being part of my training, but I don’t know what I was being trained to do except stand still.

Before they taught me to be brushed and cleaned, they had to teach me to wear a halter and follow them on a lead rope. At first, I liked the halter and wanted to follow them around. Then, when I was four months old or so, I had a better idea.

Every time MomToo tried to put my nose in the halter, I would throw my head backward, then side to side and keep her from putting it on me. I thought this was a fun game. For about forever one week, we spent a long time wrestling with the halter. I thought we were having fun, even if her face was red and she looked kind of mad afterward.

Then one day, she put her arms around my neck and held the halter out in front of me. I was curious, so I pushed my nose forward. Suddenly I was haltered and our game was over.

MomToo was smart.

* * *

For my romantic suspense, MURDER ON THE HOOF, I couldn't rely on a horse's eye view of the L.A. Equestrian Center. How do you convey the information without a data dump from the mouths of your character-experts?

I solved the problem by making my main character a beginner in the horse show world. She has some knowledge about horses and riding, but her inner dialogue explains what she's doing and how she feels about it.

Here's an example:

* * *

As they passed Emily and Tyler, she heard her trainer say what she dreaded but knew was coming.

“Go ahead and lope her.”

Loping was a gait that seemed faster than it was—it could be choppy if the horse couldn’t keep their rear end pushing forward while their front end contained the energy. Willie took a deep breath, then put her left leg on Belle’s ribs, made a kissing sound with her lips, and hoped for the best.

As before, the horse responded. Willie felt the push of the mare’s rising back end, then the upward roll of her shoulders. In a few strides, Belle settled into a gentle rocking-horse rhythm. Willie kept her butt digging into the saddle, her left hand trying not to pull up on the reins, and her right hand trying to stay on her leg. Every four strides or so, she reminded herself to breathe.

It takes a lot of work to look this relaxed, she thought.

* * *

Writers, do you worry about your readers' level of knowledge in your subject? Readers, do you need a writer to guide you through unknown territory, or are you just interested in who done it?

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