Emote, I say!

Last week I explored writing with specificity, the flip side of vaguity.  Speaking of which, soon we’ll have to discuss neologisms and solecisms – but not this week.

Not only is it desirable for your writing to be definitive and precise, it must also evoke emotion in the reader.  Emotion is what makes your readers give a flying fig what happens to your characters.  When your words pour into the brains and hearts of readers, you want them to bite their nails, worry their bottom lips with their teeth, create Botox-resistant creases between their eyebrows and have to put the story down while they laugh, imagining themselves as the protag.

We can’t just tell them a character was happy, but show them how happy so they feel it too.  I feel a bit like a voyeur sometimes when I watch people read my stories.  It’s heady stuff to see physical signs they’re invested in the story.  If they laugh, “Awww,” or look worried, as long as there’s no pause in their reading, I’m ecstatic.  I’m like a junkie with a fix, a kid on Christmas morning, a dog with a new bone.  That’s what I’m talking about.

I have to work at this myself.  If I don’t, my writing tends to be sweet and boring.  One of my critiquers told me some of the dialogue in a short story was kinda Hallmark-y.  Nothing against Hallmark cards or the Hallmark Channel, but that isn’t what I was going for.  I took the same piece to a critique group.  After their critiques, I mentioned what the other critiquer had  said about my dialog being Hallmark-y, and they all nodded.  Uh-huh.  They had pointed out the same weakness in the dialog, they had just used different words.

So that particular short story is back on the drawing board.  While I decide exactly what I’m going to do with it, I need to work on writing and evoking emotions.  I know the only way to keep getting better is to practice.  Who knew when I blew off the advice of my grade-school piano teacher that I’d be spouting the very same thing myself?  Practice, practice, practice writing forever and ever, amen.  That last part was my addition, but now I am a believer.

Another layer in the business of conveying emotion is creating a situation where it has to happen.  Shake things up.  Create conflict.  At heart, I’m a peaceful let’s-all-get-along kind of person.  When I read, I want murder, mayhem and non-stop action.  Hoo-yah!  Go figure.  When I write, I need to work at creating situations where emotion is built-in and all I have to do is let it happen.  Let’s  say our protag is on her way to the store and she runs into her former best friend whom she hasn’t seen since they both left for different colleges many years ago.  That’s a big ho-hum.  Now say this is the ex-friend who was seen kissing our protag’s soul mate just before they both disappeared without a trace?  Can  you imagine that run-in sans emotion?  Not so much.  It would boil off the page.

All this makes me want to get at it.  You too?  So practice already.

Monday’s KAPOW challenge

It’s time for Monday’s Kick-Ass Prompt of the Week.  My last post was about specificity in writing, specifically involving all the senses to intrigue your readers and pull them into your story.  Today’s prompt is to write a situation or scene that involves all five senses: taste, smell, hearing, sight and touch.   For you science-fiction, fantasy and horror writers, feel free to add any extra senses you’d like.  You can include people and dialog, but it’s not necessary.  There are no imposed parameters or restrictions except to be sure to include all the senses.

Do it for yourself, but if you submit it to caroljgorden@gmail.com so I can post it on the KAPOW page, I’d be thrilled.  Now I have to write my own piece for the prompt.  Still thinking.

Okay, here it is.

EYE TO EYE

by C J Gorden

My dream faded as soon as I realized that’s what it was, and I became aware of mid-day sun warming my back as it crawled across the bed from the south-facing window.  My nose twitched.  Mmmmm.  Fresh coffee.  Eyes still closed, I could almost taste it.  I was still sprawled across the bed flat on my stomach, one arm flopped over the edge.  I had been so ready for this rare nap I hadn’t moved a muscle in . . . two whole hours, my squint up at the bedside clock told me.  Heaven.  But I still didn’t want to move.  My head was still turned toward the clock at the edge of the bed when I heard my man standing in the bedroom doorway having a stage-whisper conversation with my little man.

“Can I wake her up now?”

“Sure, I think she’s probably ready to wake up and have come coffee.”

Mmmmm.  It would surely beat the taste of cotton dust coating my tongue.  Still I played possum.

The tapping of small toddler’s sneakers on tippie-toe closed in on me.  Couldn’t wait to find out how my little man would wake me up.  I could tell my grown-up man was watching from the doorway, probably smirking.

I felt breath on my face and little fingers that oh-so-carefully pinched my eye lashes and pulled up one lid.  One vibrant baby-blue was so close our noses almost touched.  As soon as my eye focused on his, he let go of my eyelashes and erupted in gales of giggles that prevented conversation and made me laugh with him.  I heard serious man-chuckles from the doorway as I scooped my little man up and carried him to the doorway for a family hug hoping we’d always see eye to eye.

The advisability of specificity

Writing is comprised of words that can elicit numberless responses.  Conveying boredom is good, creating it in the reader, not so good.  One thing to strive for is specificity.  In other words, don’t be vague.  Many years ago my job was to conduct surveys, everything from store questionnaires about coffee can labels to door-to-door questions about magazine ads.  What I learned from that job has been invaluable ever since.  I learned to recognize and not settle for vague words.  If the survey subject said something was “nice” I asked them in what way it was nice.  If they said something made them feel good, I asked in what way it made them feel good.

For example “wonderful,” “lovely” and “depression” are vague words.  They convey states of mind, but not in a way that elicits a picture or an emotion.  They’re descriptive, but not evocative.  Whenever I asked someone to be more specific they invariably replied with a phrase or a simile.  “It wasn’t just wonderful, it made me forget where I was and unable to keep the smile off my face.  It made my body thrum and my mind sing.”  “It wasn’t just lovely it made a jewel-toned sunrise over the desert pale by comparison.  Her face was so lovely she made my knees weak and left me tongue-tied.”  “The middle of a newly formed glassy-sided depression the size of a football field made me feel like I was standing in a cereal bowl waiting to drown in Paul Bunyan’s Breakfast of Champions and milk.  This in turn created in me a depression that felt like the lights had been dimmed and I was standing on the lip of a bottomless chasm that was sucking me over the edge.”

Another way to evoke a response is by involving the senses.  So it smelled bad.  Did it make you wrinkle your nose and clap your hand over it? (touch) Was it acrid like burned hair? (smell)  Did it stick to the back of your tongue like rotting swamp grass? (taste)  Did it remind you of the hiss you heard the last time you smelled it? (hearing) Was it so strong you could almost see the fumes hanging in the air like misty tendrils of death? (sight)

I recently read Hush by Cherry Adair.  One of her descriptive phrases (of which she has plenty) made me laugh out loud – in the literal way, not the LOL way:  “Acadia’s gaze skittered away like spit on a griddle.”  That description brought several senses popping into my head.  I loved it!

What are some examples of specificity from your writing or from something you’ve read?

Monday’s Kick-Ass Prompt of the Week (KAPOW)

Up to now my loose goal for this blog as been two posts per month.  As a goal, it’s too loose for an inveterate procrastinator.  Good intentions with no structure become only good intentions, and we all know how that works out.  My February 10, 2012 post was all about “life” getting in the way of writing, so no need to rehash that.

Onward and upward.

My new plan has two parts.  Every Monday from now on is KAPOW day.  I don’t know about you, but I love writing prompts.  The strangest things appear on my keyboard when I finish something somebody else started.  I end up going somewhere I never would have gone before.  In this case I hope you’ll be going somewhere you’ve never gone before if you decide to follow my prompt.  Some will be the finish-this-phrase type of prompt and others will be scenario prompts.  This week will be the latter.

In addition, Thursdays will be for general posts, continuing exposés of my struggles and occasionally (hopefully increasingly) my successes as a writer.  I’m hoping the addition of structure and the increase in frequency will help keep my creative juices flowing and keep bringing me back to writing even when “life” interferes.  In this context “life” equals “distractions” be they illness, family drama or the classic zombie attack.

This week’s prompt came to mind when something (can’t remember what any more) reminded me of Bob Newhart and his classic one-sided telephone calls.  For those who haven’t had the opportunity to hear them, here’s the only one I could find online:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7YBaiJMnik&feature=related.

For those of you who can’t resist a challenge, here it is:

Write one side of a phone call.  The result is one-sided dialog that conveys a situation without the reader able to “hear” the other side of the conversation.  Try to keep it to 300 words or fewer, but if you have to go over, do it but be as concise as you can.

There are no losers.  Everyone who submits wins.  I’m taking a page from the NaNoWriMo book sans the stickers, certificates and merchandise.  You’ll have to be happy with bragging rights and a place to send friends and family to see a sample of your writing.

Send submissions to caroljgorden@gmail.com.  Put “KAPOW Submission” in the subject line.  They will be posted to the new KAPOW page as soon as I can get to them.  Make sure I know what name I should use for attribution.  I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with.  Comments are appreciated, especially positive comments.  Kind critique is also appreciated.  Mine is posted.

I am so excited I’m doing a low-level internal hum like a cell phone set on silent.  But I’m not.  Silent.   Heh.

 

FAMILY NEWS

by C J Gorden

Hey, bro!  What’s up?  Haven’t heard from you in ages.

Get out of town!

No lie?  You gotta be kidding me.

Yeah.  I wouldn’t  know what I do if it happened to me either.   I mean I’ve thought about it, dang, who hasn’t?  You just don’t really think it will happen to you, you know?  Never mind.  Of course you know.

Listen to what they tell you.  They’re the experts.  You can’t go it alone, bro, it’s too dangerous.

Yeah, I hear you.  News like that puts a real spin on your reality, dude.

So what can I do for you?  I’m glad you called and told me about it.  Anything I can do, I’ll be there for you.  You know that, right?  No pressure.

You’re making out a will?  Oh, man.  Now that there, that’s pressure.  I know I should make one too, but I keep putting it off, you know?  Never mind.  There I go again.  Of course you know.

How’s the better half handling it?

Yeah.  It would affect everybody in the family.  Huh.  I still can’t get over it.  You always know it could happen to you, but you never really believe it will.

Sure, bro.  I’ll let you go.  I’m sure you got a lot of calls to make.

Yup.  You do that.

Soon as I get off the phone I’m gonna go invest in some more Lotto tickets myself.  Dang, bro.  I’m happy for you!  Yeah, you too.  Bye now.

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