One of my recurring disappointments when it comes to writing is the first read. When I’ve laboured on a scene, poured out passion on the page, sifted and sorted for just the right word, moved my characters to a new place in their story arc, I shut down the computer with a sigh of content. I’ve written “good stuff.”
The next day I read what I wrote and my bubble bursts. Where’s the passion? Where’s all that emotion and angst? It’s in my head all right, but it didn’t make it to the page. Why not? One of the reasons, I suspect, is that I’m a slow writer. Just because it took me several hours to wrestle out that scene, I think it must be huge. In truth, I discarded more words than I committed to the manuscript, so instead of the earth-shattering scene I thought I’d written, I’ve a couple of paragraphs that don’t do much.
Once I’ve gotten over my disappointment, it’s time to rework that scene, get the passion on the page. Here are some of my methods.
- Metaphor/simile: We’re all cautioned against “purple prose” but emotional writing has to call on the reader’s senses, her experiences and her culture. So, if my heroine is angry, here’s a place where I can up the emotional quotient. Is her anger white hot rage that bubbles and flows into every nook and crevice of her mind, burning everything and everyone with molten fury? Or is her anger cold, calculating, vengeful, coiled like a serpent, ready to strike when the time is right?
- Pace: If this is a reflective scene, where the heroine comes to a new understanding of herself or the hero, it doesn’t hurt to slow the pace of the narrative. Give her time to process the new information. She doesn’t need to sit still while she does this. She can do the dishes, pick apples, talk to a mentor or go running. Giving the character and the reader a little breathing room will give your next adrenalin-shot scene more impact. If it’s an action scene, make sure the heroine and the reader are breathless.
- Humour: Even Shakespeare used comic relief in his tragedies. No character and no reader can function on high intensity all the time, they burn out. Your character runs out of ways to heighten the tension and your reader decides to put down the book and watch cartoons for a while. You can give everyone a break but still keep them involved in your story with a little light-heartedness.
- Details: If my scene is too short – it usually is – now is a time to layer in details that carry an emotional impact. The setting, the time of year, the time of day, the pattern of the carpet. All of these details can stretch out the scene, give it the importance required by the story, without coming off as “fill.” Maybe the complicated pattern of the carpet represents the complicated feelings of the heroine for the hero. Maybe the first star of evening offers hope to a character in despair. No need to get the story bogged down in pointless details, but a few carefully chosen ones, can lift the writing from blah to brilliant.
- Print it out: I’m old school. I read better on paper. Often what is blindingly obvious in print eludes me on the screen. I recycle and reuse, but I need to print it to truly see it.
- Read it out: Once I’m sure I’ve done everything I can with the written word, I read it aloud. If the prose can pass the read aloud test, I’ve done my job.
Now I’m off to practice what I preach.