Mar 1, 2012

Snapshots in Writing

By Susan G. Haws

A written scene is like a photo or painting, a moment captured. A novel is like a scrapbook or movie, selected moments, arranged and  combined to tell a story.

Just as the photographer or painter chooses a subject and composition, lighting and colors, a writer chooses characters, dialogue, actions, point of view, conflict and  setting to compose a story. Each scene must reveal key information and move the plot forward.

 I have read some books where  the author painted a setting, and unique characters in just a few sentences and paragraphs; then kept me caring about the characters as if they lived days and years after I have closed the book. I marvel at this skill and think: this is how I want to write.

 On the opposite side of the spectrum, I recently I started a book with a promising scenario on the back cover, but the characters have no color and the dialogue and internal dialogue continually rehash--boring. One thing I want to keep in mind is: while in real life we may get into a rut and say the same things repeatedly, a novel is a series of snapshots and the reader got the message about the verbal rut in the first scene and doesn't want to read it repeatedly.

Another thing I need to remember is that while I need to know the back story of the characters and the history of the setting the reader doesn't need to know everything and what they do need to know can be revealed gradually. Like  habanero peppers, just a sprinkle can spice things up.

Sometimes when I snap a picture I have jiggled the camera and I need to delete the pic. Other pics, the person or pet looks fine but the background is cluttered or the size of the picture is too small. I can fix these things by cropping or manipulating the picture in the computer.  Editing pages allows a writer to tighten a story.

I hope that by thinking of my writing as pictures in a scrapbook or sketches that when flipped through make an animation I will remember to select only details significant to the story I want to tell.

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