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Tips-y Tuesday: Cracking Open Scenes

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we looked at how illogic can make your writing feel more real and exciting than something perfectly logical. This week we’ll look at another way to make your writing come alive: cracking open scenes.

As a writer, one of my greatest weaknesses is writing too generically. I forget that the reader isn’t inside my brain and can’t see everything I’m seeing. So what I like to do when I go back and edit is making sure I’ve “cracked open” any generic scenes.

What I mean by that is taking a bland scene then opening it up to reveal hidden, juicy details. Here’s an example of a scene in desperate need of some cracking:

“He woke up and made breakfast, then got ready for work. He kissed his wife on the way out the door then started his drive to the office.”

Yikes, that’s about as generic as it gets. The writer may have a clear image of who this guy in their own mind, but it’s not coming through clearly at all. It’s too airy and makes the reader feel detached from the scene. So here’s what we need to do:

Masterpiece Monday: Harry Potter Show and Tell

Last week on Masterpiece Monday we looked at the magic of one really well-written line, but this week we’re back to the actual magic with Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone.

Showing vs. telling. Ah, the term we all love to use. As writers we’re supposed to show show show and never tell. Just like a good documentary, we’re supposed to give the reader all of the information visually and let them decide for themselves what it all means.

Except that’s not entirely true. Unlike a video documentary, writing relies on the reader following along with the writer pulling words out of their imagination. If there’s a confusing sentence or section, then we have to go back and reread – or even worse just stay confused – taking us out of the story.

That’s why “telling” can be a powerful tool. Sometimes the reader just needs a little push in the right direction to ensure they don’t get lost or confused. Showing vs. telling shouldn’t be thought of as “always show and never tell,” rather it should be more like “showing is fries and telling is ketchup.” A little bit goes a long way and can make the final product even better.

Here’s an example from Harry Potter of how “telling” can help make a scene even better:

Masterpiece Monday: Oh For “The Love of God”

As you do when you’re a struggling writer, every week I write and submit short stories by the barrel to any online magazine that doesn’t shut its virtual door in my face. And when you’re checking out the online magazines to see if they cater to your kind of genre (I like to dabble in the lesser-known genres of Horribly-Written and Needs-Improvement), you get to read a lot of stories – some of which are pretty good.

This week I’d like to share a short excerpt from a story I read while peeking around the magazine Nimrod International Journal for Prose and Poetry. The story is from the current (Summer/Spring 2016) volume, and the title is “The Love of God” by Laura Jok.

It’s about two teenage girls who go to a summer Catholic retreat, one less willingly than the other. The two girls are going off to college together as roommates when summer is over, and here’s the conversation they have after the narrator failed to wake up her friend when she overslept:

“You sleep like a dead person,” I told her in the afternoon. “She is risen!”
“Is this how it’s going to be in the fall? Are you going to let me sleep through my college exams and stuff?”
“Exams, yes. Stuff, no.”
“I mean it. Can I count on you to wake me in the future?”
“Sista, iamb yore roommate knot chore keeper.”

That last sentence put a huge smile on my face when I read it. It’s a rare feat to express sarcasm and mockery in writing without it coming off as awkward or forced, but Laura Jok pulls it off perfectly here. The intentionally misspellings – which conveniently double as “fancy-sounding” words – let you hear the narrator’s mocking, fake-polite tone in your head as clearly as if she were making fun of you to your face.

It would’ve been so much more boring if the author had simply gone instead with “Sister, I am your roommate not your keeper.” Sure it would get the point across, but there would be no spice or life to it, and it certainly wouldn’t help create a memorable scene. This is a great example of taking a generic interaction, and then cracking it open like an egg with added detail to reveal the colorful (and delicious!) insides.

Click here to read the rest of “The Love of God,” and here to see more of Nimrod magazine. We’ll be back to looking at Harry Potter next Monday with a section that’s so good, it tells you. See you then!

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Masterpiece Monday: Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Express

Of all the things I miss about living in the U.S., it’s not having libraries around that hurts the most.

Don’t get me wrong – Japan has plenty of libraries, but their English book selection is pretty limited. It’s not like I blame them though; the foreign language sections in American libraries usually aren’t a huge priority either.

But I’ve got to work with what I have, and my local library has copies of all the Harry Potter books in English, so that’s what I’m currently reading. It’s been a lot of fun re-reading The Sorcerer’s Stone for the, uh, three-hundredth time.

Now I’m reading them through more of a writer’s lens, and each week I’d like to share some passages that I think were extremely well-written, so that  we can all try to get one step closer to god-tier J.K. Rowling. Here’s a single paragraph from when Harry passes through the barrier at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters:

Smoke from the engine drifted over the heads of the chattering crowd, while cats of every color wound here and there between their legs. Owls hooted to one another in a disgruntled sort of way over the babble and scraping of heavy trunks.

What I like about this short passage is that every word is chock full of meaning, helping to paint the scene of a idling train engine with just a hint of magic. Cats weaving through legs, owls hooting “in a disgruntled” way, and then the “scraping of heavy trunks” that is probably either great nostalgia or horrible PTSD for anyone who has traveled with lots of luggage before.

One thing that I struggle with is writing too generically. If I’d written the above scene, it probably would’ve just been Harry making his way through a crowd of people, and that’s it. I would’ve missed out on all the little details that help bring it to life.

When I do my writing today (and hopefully tomorrow too, and the day after – if I remember!) I’ll try to crack open my scenes a little bit more and let the juicy details spill out. How about you?

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Tips-y Tuesday: Writing Warmup

So I’ve been writing for a whole bunch of years now (some years better than others…) and I’ve accumulated a bunch of crazy ideas that I use myself and have shared with others at writing groups. Since they work well for me and some other similarly crazy people, I’ve decided why not share them with the internet as well.

I’ll do my best not to advise you to burn down your house, but I make no promises.