Bringing a Story to Life – Vive La Difference!

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I was sitting here, editing Dark Bishop, Book 7 in the Metatron’s Army Series, which is a challenge given how many times I’ve read this manuscript.

My eyes kind of defocused – which turned out to be just what I needed!

The dialogue between two of the characters in the scene I was reading filled in the missing piece of an article I wanted to write – this article.

If the mind is able to relax, be lulled into a meditative state, amazing creativity can be unleashed!

How do I relax?  Let me count the ways…

I love to read. Unfortunately, after spending hours upon hours writing and editing, my brain gets story fatigue.

This can be bad because nonfiction is either dry or – as in the case of the news – less than positive.

I was recently rereading an oldie but goodie, admiring the author’s style, and contemplating the irony of 80’s male agent/editor influence directing women authors.

Romance, if not fiction, has come a longgggg way.

The author is good. Her vivid description of a sudden summer thunderstorm was so crisp, I could picture the scene as if I was there.

When the first splat of cold water hit the hero’s arm, I could imagine the shock, given it was summer just outside of “N’awlins.”  Talk about hot and humid!

When the author mentioned the sky turning green, I paused.  Being from the Midwest, I’d seen that plenty of green sky during tornado season but never outside the Midwest.

And never when I lived in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.

It made me consider

  • The author lived elsewhere
  • Louisiana may also get the green sky effect just before a tornado touches down

That made me think of the challenges author’s face when painting a scene for the reader.

Show don’t – yeah yeah…

Writing 101 teaches aspiring authors to show don’t tell. 

I imagine this is a little like telling a lawyer not to lead a witness.

The challenge, I thought as I read through that storm scene, is in assuming the reader will know what you’re talking about if you don’t tell.

I once had a European read something I’d written.  He had suggestions for a few changes and while they would likely have been right at home in Europe, if not his home country, they wouldn’t have struck the right tone in the US.

I considered the scene. Most people, regardless of where in the world they live, have been in a sudden downpour.  In spite of this, something bothered me about it all.

Something I could not put my finger to.

Aha!  My own dialogue scene revealed it.  Readers have been in a sudden downpour but unless they’ve been caught in the type of storm that is Mother Nature’s way of cooling an ungodly heat-humidity situation, they don’t exactly know what that’s like.

And unless they’ve lived in the location in which tis story takes place, they wouldn’t know what the air smelled like, or the color of the ground, which would be different than the color of the Arizona desert during a Monsoon downpour.  Not to mention, Arizona won’t have the level of humidity that Louisiana does.

You don’t know what heat is.  As I just wrote that paragraph, I remembered a colleague of mine in the Bay Area telling me that I didn’t know what heat was.

Unlike he did apparently – given he lived in an area that at the peak of summer got to 108.  Okay, Phoenicians, stop laughing.  The day I moved into my house in Scottsdale – unloading the truck with my husband – it was 118.

I remember explaining to my colleague that heat index was a better way of measuring than temperature, and if he really wanted to feel heat, he ought to try summer in New Orleans.

Translate please.  The scene reminded me of how much emphasis is put on description – how much effort goes into it – and yet how it can still fall short, but why?

What is it to you?  This question, posed by one of my characters to another, gave me the answer.

An author can be brilliant when it comes to describing an event or a location but still fall short for the simple fact that it’s shared experience that allows someone to step into your world.  In short, sudden storms are different depending on location and a reader’s experience.  A number of factors are outside an author’s control:

  • Age (critical as it sets up emotional response)
  • Location
  • Circumstance
  • Cultural and/or social influence on event interpretation

It applies to characters, too.  I remember someone once telling me they were happy about something bad that happened to an actor in one movie because this actor had been a bad guy in a different one.

Um, weird, but okay.  I mean – it was just a movie – the actor didn’t do those things…

Less is More.  I give my readers a lot of credit.

I give people credit.

I assume my readers can fill in certain gaps so I don’t have to go on and on with descriptors.

It’s a good bet that my readers have seen a forest, so I don’t have to spend paragraphs describing the flora and fauna unless there is something particularly unique about my forest.  I assume they’ve seen a military jet – at least in photos if not movies – so I don’t spend a lot on describing the one my character is in unless it’s relevant to the scene.

I would much rather focus on the plot and the characters than taking up pages and pages writing about location details.

Or the color of the threads on the hem of a dress.  I mean, who’s looking?  Unless – someone is looking and the color is relevant to the story.

I sprinkle descriptors in but don’t drown the reader in them.

You know and I know.  I believe my readers have enough experience to be able to fill in the gaps.  If I do it for them?  I run the risk of

  • Insulting their intelligence
  • Painting over their imagination and ruining it for them

Vive La Difference!  Of course, another author will do it differently.  That’s the beauty of it all!

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