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Monday

All in the Details

The longer I write and study literature, the more I realize how the simplest things can make all the difference in stories. Let me explain. Say you're reading a book, and the characters are in a coffee shop. If the writer just says, "coffee shop," it's clear--you get the jest of what's going on and can imagine the scene. But if the heroine's got a rose and a copy of Pride and Prejudice, suddenly you're in You've Got Mail.

The question is, how do we get these details in the first place? What do we do to make our writing sing?

For me, it's so tempting to write in the same places. Coffee shops, my house, etc. But these places provide limited environmental creative sparks. I've found that getting out and, ideally, even into a setting similar to the setting of my book, can work wonders. Suddenly I start noticing things like the particular song of the birds, the chilling effects of the breeze, old ladies' hats, and butterflies.

I've found that writing down these details, or even clever lines, as they come is key for me. I don't know about you, but if I don't write these things down as they come, I will lose the idea. This is especially true when ideas come to me late at night. I can't tell you how many times I've been about to fall asleep, when all of a sudden, some incredible line or idea will just pop into my head. I've even gotten some of my "first lines" this way.

Another thing I try to do is tap in to a similar emotional setting. It can be a challenge to write empathetically about situations we've never experienced, especially from the perspective of people we've never been. But for me, the trick is identifying a similar situation in my own life, even if it's miniscule compared to the "big picture" struggle my heroine is facing. For instance, a couple months ago, I lost my wallet. I felt so frustrated with myself for letting that happen, and I was also desperate to get my wallet back (which, thankfully, I did). When I finally realized it'd fallen out of my purse at a pet store parking lot, I was overwhelmed with feelings of thankfulness to the person who picked it up and turned it in--a person I may never know. I wish I had a way to thank them, but I don't. What a different perspective I got on random acts of kindness when I was on the receiving end in such a big way. Life's situations and experiences, such as these, allow us the opportunity to extrapolate our emotional responses and then give them to our characters. Start paying attention to your reactions, and then write those into the narrative. You may even want to just write a list of descriptive words you feel at the time so you can come back to those later.

I want to hear from you! What tricks do you have for making your writing shine and coloring the storyworld so it's particularly unique?



8 comments:

  1. I know what you mean about it being tempting to write in the same places. After my last manuscript, I said to myself "I WILL NOT write another book that has a coffee shop in it!" For some reason, that's a popular place in my books.

    So my goal was to try to find new places, so my perspective was fresh. And hopefully it made my setting sound more unique.

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    1. That is so neat, Cindy! I'll have to make a point to do that too. :) Thanks for sharing!

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  2. I probably look like a crazy person when I write because if I get stuck, I'll close my eyes and think, "What is she feeling right now? What's going through her head?" I feel like I have to climb into my character or I end up with cardboard cutouts on the page.

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    1. That is really great advice, Julie! I caught myself interviewing my characters out loud the other day, and it actually worked! I got so much out of that, even though it would've looked ridiculous to anyone watching. I like what you said about getting in your character's heads!

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  3. I've heard Beth Vogt talk about using an emotional journal before we write a scene. You think of the emotion your character is feeling in the scene and then write about a time you felt the same emotion. I haven't tried it yet...but I'm thinking I might.

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    1. That is a REALLY neat suggestion, Linds! Thanks for sharing! I'm going to have to try that.

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  4. Ashley,
    I also like to think things out before I start writing a scene. So, I think about the five senses and then list out things my main POV character might see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. (This is recommended by the talented Susie May Warren.) It really helps to do this before I start writing because I can refer back to my notes to create a more vivid storyworld.

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    1. Ohhh, great advice, Beth! Thanks for sharing! :)

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