Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Single Moment in Time

In writing contemporary romantic suspense, like any genre, it's hard enough to sit down and write that first paragraph of a new story. But most of us don’t necessarily have a clear plan plotted out all the way to “the end.” At least I usually don't. Why not?

Because I am a “pantser,” or, I tell a story by the seat of my pants, without knowing from one scene to the next what is going to happen. When I first heard that term, I resented being called it, mostly because I have a hard time defending myself against anybody criticizing me. It’s not in my nature to confront anybody. But after I had a chance to think about it, I figured out that I am not a true pantser. No, I am a cross between a plotter and a pantser. I mean, I can clearly “see” exactly how I want certain pivotal scenes to “look like” and all I need is the time to find the right words to describe those scenes, including the ending. I always know how I want the story to end, even before I know how it begins.   

I’ve been an artist since I was six or seven years old, and I’ve always been able to “see” the piece of work before I start it—I mean actually see it! It’s called visualization. Every pencil stoke, every swipe of colored pastel brings me closer to that finished product. I don’t do anything to that painting that isn’t advancing my project. Why would I? It would be a complete waste of precious time and energy--and it might ruin the project.  

A painting is a single moment caught in time. I think that's why I like writing so much. It takes that moment and makes it move, creating a scene that leads to a whole story. Visualizing each scene as if it were real life is important, but what is more important is having that scene mean something. It needs to work. 

Everything you write needs to push your story forward! 

Would you have your main character stop and smell a pretty rose if it had absolutely nothing to do with the story or her character other than you wanted to have a chance to describe a rose? I don't think so. It would be a waste of your time in writing it, and a waste of time for your reader to read it. But--if she needed to be there so a handsome hero could push her out of the way of a truck with darkened windows intentionally trying to run her down, then you've just driven home that fact that your character is in mortal danger--and advanced your narrative forward. 

Ah, but in the next scene your character clobbers the handsome hero with a solid upper cut to his jaw with a closed fist and tells him she doesn't need or want his help, you've just given us insight to her unappreciative, or even independent nature. This is also moving the narrative forward. As readers, we need to know more than just the action around the characters. We want to know what makes that characters tick, their motives, the desires, their idiosyncrasies. If they are stiff and uninteresting, then we won't care if that truck runs over them, and we most likely won't turn the next page, either. 

Make every word count. Make every scene work optimally.  


Diane Jortner said...

Debra, I attended a postmaster conference with my husband once, and the speaker said: "make every word audition." I love that, and try to remember to use it. For writing novels, I guess I should say make every character and scene audition too.

Debra Erfert said...

Diane, that's an interesting perspective. Sometimes I do delete scenes, so in essence, characters and scenes do audition, and if they make the cut, they get to stay!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Great post. Yes, make every word count--and do double duty if you can. That's why writing can be so exhausting!

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