Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Story Alive

One of the most common problems I find with new writers is not making the story come alive on the page for the reader.The words are there but they fall flat. It's something pounded into us from the beginning. Show, don't tell. Scene vs. Summary.

Think of it this way: when you're watching a movie you have the scene. It's full of action, the characters show emotions based on how they react to things. They cry and you cry with them. They scream and you feel their fear. This is what pulls you into the story and keeps you watching for the standard 2 hours. Now imagine, instead of the action, you had to watch a black screen with a voice somewhere telling you the car blew up, the man screamed. He was in pain. You would not watch for very long because you can't see or feel or relate to what's going on.

The same applies in writing.

If you read a story that goes along, she did this and then did this and then felt tired and then did this, you're not going to be very invested in the story. The reader is kept at a distance and is being told what happens.

If instead you write, she scrubbed the floor with a cloth, the dirt clogging her nails. With her arm, she wiped away the sweat beading on her brow. She sat back on her knees and stared at the ceiling, then tossed the cloth into the grimy, lemon-scented water. Gripping the edge of the countertop, she pulled herself to her feet, her legs shook, felt like rubber as she straggled to the living room. She curled up on the couch and closed her eyes.

It's not perfect but hopefully you see the difference.

Now that doesn't mean you can't use summary, but there needs to be a balance. If there is something you want to impart to the reader but it's not important enough to create a scene around it, then by all means summarize.

Janie held her breath as she pulled into the driveway of her childhood home. (scene, the character is doing something.) Her mother had always been hard on her. Judgemental. Never liked the way she dressed or did her hair. (summary, telling the reader something about the past that's not crucial to the overall story.)

Emotions are something else the writer needs to make clear. It's not enough to say, she felt anxious, or she was angry. Every person has a different interpretation of those emotions. The writer needs to show the emotion in a way the reader can feel it and see it. Can relate.

For example, she felt angry. So what? Now if she clenches her jaw, picks up the keys and throws them at his head, that is showing anger.

You can't simply say, he was sad. Think of it this way...imagine three people at a funeral. It's obvious it's going to be a sad occasion, but not everyone reacts the same way. One might be crying and sobbing uncontrollably while the other is keeping their sadness bottled inside them and then the third, may have no emotions whatsoever. Maybe they're trying to hide a smile of satisfaction. The point is, everyone is different. There is no one way to react to an emotion. So it has to be clear how your character acts in the face of certain situations. Because again, no two characters are the same.

Ultimately, your reader wants to be invested in the story, they want to feel like they are part of the story. They want to see and feel everything as the protagonist is seeing and feeling it.

Make the story come alive. Your reader will thank you for it.

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