I seem to have a writing with depth theme going on here. Depth is one of those very advanced writing skills that’s incredibly hard to understand. And the scary part is that it sounds simple to do, and it isn’t. It took me three years to understand how to do it.
The title of the article is pretty poor, but it’s an article on writing with depth with some great examples. It focuses mainly on the five senses, which I’ve seen many people write about–and it’s still an incredibly hard skill to master.
I think today’s political culture has made it hard for writers. We’re both encouraged to included diverse characters (always a good idea because it makes for better stories), but at the same time, describing diverse characters can turn into a minefield. The examples here are surprisingly simple.
When I was first on the writing message boards, I saw a lot of writers do an action scene in a very short paragraph. They thought it had to move fast, so they kept it short and disappointing. Fight scenes aren’t about being fast, fast, fast, but about the excitement, and the danger. You don’t get that without #3 on this list.
I’m a geek when it comes to stationary supplies. Target and K-Mart are just getting their school supplies in, so I’m plotting a reconnaissance mission for some on sale writing supplies like composition books and pens.
But when I was kid, we had actual stationary stores where you bought supplies like this. I always loved to go in there and browse through the paper and the notebooks, and especially smell the paper. There was a wonderfully inviting smell on every piece of paper that says, “Use me for writing!”
Finish an unfinished story: I picked one I had started last year and hadn’t finished, for the purpose of not leaving unfinished work.
Sense of motion: I just randomly picked this as an element to play with in the story. A lot of times, something I see that week influences me, like Jami Gold’s post on the senses.
It came in at about 2,100 words.
I’m not sure if I accomplished the first goal or not. I started the original story with the intent to build it out of the setting, and it turned really dark — so dark that I couldn’t figure out how to resolve it. So I was picking parts I could use, only I couldn’t make them work together without the ending being awfully convenient. Then organic writer muse kicked in, and the story changed very dramatically.
I’ll admit though that I wasn’t sure I was going to get the story done by the end of the week. I was fried by work for three days, and I couldn’t initially get around the problems the convenience was causing. I had to keep telling myself I couldn’t just walk away like the first time. I jotted ideas in my composition book all week, and on Friday, the story started jelling. I wrote about half of it on Saturday and the rest on Sunday.
One question everyone always asked me when I got back from Desert Storm was “What was it like?” It’s a tough question to answer, because there’s so much of it, and it’s hard to convey the sense of it in words. But The Daily Post had a prompt about doing lists, and since I was practicing writing the sense of sound at a local waterfall, I’m going to do the sounds of war. But I’m also going to avoid all the usual trappings, like gunfire and artillery.
War is thunder and lightning rolling across the sky. A rumble in the distance, then violent booms. It leaves us worn down, impatient for something to happen. Yet, we dread the moment it will.
War is the silence that comes out with the chill of the night as stars crowd into the sky. It looks like it should be peaceful, but the war is ever present, hiding in the darkness while he waits for us.
War is the two voices drifting past the tent and fading out. People I thought I knew, and people I know too well, and people I don’t know at all, all wrapped up into one. I listen to my voice. Do I even know me any more?
War is suddenness: a boom, a hand holding down a truck horn, anything that sounds like an alarm. We jump up, our senses jarring loose and scattering to the wind. Where’s the danger? What direction is coming from? Has it come for us now?
War is what’s in our voices. It’s what we don’t say, what we don’t talk about. It’s everything but war, what might happen to us. We talk, but we don’t connect any more. It’s like we’re all trying to pretend like this isn’t happening to us.
Arlington National Cemetery is likely to be the setting of at least one scene in my next book Hunger. So a trip was in order to experience the cemetery. I’d been before, but it was during summer and crowded with tourists. This time it was late November.
The most memorable thing: the sounds. I went right when the cemetery opened and the tourists hadn’t arrived yet, so the sounds stood out. It started with a suffocating quiet, as if someone were pressing a hand down on the place for silence.
Then the sounds came through, one at a time:
The buzz of a leaf blower.
The wind ruffling the leaves in the trees.
Water spraying against concrete.
The clack of the soldier’s shoes as he pivots in a right face.
A child’s cry as she bounced down some stairs ahead of her parents.
The sense of smell is easy to neglect when writing any kind of scene. I’m always forgetting to include it myself, and I have to make an effort to check for it.
But consider the following:
When I was deployed to the Persian Gulf for Desert Storm, we had a long and exhausting flight. After we arrived, we drove around for hours before finally stopped at a port that was a temporary staging area. We dropped our great under a carport for trucks and sprawled out on the ground to go to sleep.
And I couldn’t sleep because, all night long —
Asphalt, completely saturated with oil.
It’s still the most memorable thing about my first day in Saudi Arabia, even 21 years later.
Today, I’m dropping in for a guest post on Sue Santore’s blog. A sneak peak:
In a movie or a TV show, the camera pans across the scene in an establishing shot and the viewer gets an instant impression of the setting. The opening sequences in Hawaii Five-0‘ show beautiful beaches, surfers taking on the waves, and girls in bikinis. But in a novel, it’s up to the writer to use words to evoke the images of the setting. Read about the four tips on Sue Santore’s blog.
I hope you’ll also have a look at my article on writing called “Strawberry, Chocolate, and Vanilla,” published in Topstone Publishing’s Rejection Lessons, part of the Inside Writer’s Guide series.