Put Power in Your Writing

08 May

“Given all the weirdness of being raised in rural Idaho in the 50’s, though, I’ve got to say that walking the mile home after changing the water (irrigating) on a summer evening—that long solitary walk at sunset down the dusty roads through the sugar beet fields, the alfalfa fields, the barley and wheat fields, was something close to a miracle. Really the connection I felt to the sky and to the earth and to the water created in me a feeling of being connected to an abiding deep mystery.

Idaho: such an enigma. But isn’t that what home is?

The dreaded place where your heart sings.”

I marvel at how much information and power Tom Spanbauer (author of Dangerous Writing) was able to pack into the above hundred plus words. He gives us time, place, setting, mood, state of mind and conflict. And leaves us wanting to know about this person.

Think of the possibilities it presents. As the beginning of a book, it could go in so many directions and fit any genre. And what a powerful ending it would make.

It gives us so much information.

Outwardly—time, place, and texture. Can’t you just feel the heat of the day? The exhaustion from moving irrigation pipe?

Bubbling just below the surface—family, community, the times/social issues and the conflict the person is feeling.

Deep down in the pit of the character’s stomach—the real struggles with home, the barriers of the time period, and the self-imposed limitations.

All the layers woven together seamlessly.

That’s power in writing.

I constantly strive to achieve this kind of power in my writing. I’ve found no formula, no quick fix and no shortcut. Drat!

I have come to the conclusion the best way to conquer the technique is to see how others pull it off. When I find a powerful passage or compelling dialogue, I copy it down. And use it for inspiration. The above passage is one I’ll read and re-read in an effort to stimulate my muse.

It works. I’ve got long lists of both scenes and dialogue. When I come across inspiring insights on making dialogue or description better, I add the tips to a separate list.

When I’m writing, I don’t refer to my lists, but when I’m polishing, they are invaluable. When I feel a scene or section isn’t flowing, I’ll read some of the passages. I’d never plagiarize, but I use the words as hints or inspiration. A simple turn of a phrase or a combination of words will spark an idea.

The idea is to learn from others.

Here are a couple of things I’ve learned.

When you want a character to have an accent, don’t mutilate each word. Instead, pick two or three words, or a phrase. It will convey the idea of an accent without making the reader crazy trying to read mangled words. Who did I pick this up from? Mary Stewart.

Leave the reader with an emotional ending. They’ll remember the book by how they felt at the end. Robert Crais was the one who taught me that.

Originality matters. Try new things. They may not all work, but some will. Brad Meltzer, the man who killed his first person character in the beginning of the book.

Experiment with new ideas while keeping the lessons of the past in view.

What techniques do you have to give your writing power?


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12 responses to “Put Power in Your Writing

  1. Meredith Allen Conner

    May 8, 2012 at 8:59 AM

    Great technique ideas Peg. Thanks for sharing.

    • Peggy Staggs

      May 8, 2012 at 11:40 AM

      I love finding new ideas. I hope this one helps.

  2. Liz Fredericks

    May 8, 2012 at 9:12 AM

    I’ve never seen that first passage, Peggy. It’s beautiful. You’ve a ‘powerful’ suggestion in terms of identifying particularly significant passages and authors to dissect what they do properly in conveying so much. Thank you!

    • Peggy Staggs

      May 8, 2012 at 11:43 AM

      Tom is a very powerful writer. I always keep a notebook close when I read. Especially now that I have a Kindle and I can’t write on the pages. I have a whole collection that I refer to.

  3. stephanieberget

    May 8, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    As someone who grew up in Idaho in the 50’s, that quote spoke to me. Thanks for a great post.

    • Peggy Staggs

      May 8, 2012 at 11:44 AM

      I wasn’t here in the 50’s, but I was in the 60’s and I know what you mean. It is so Idaho. Thanks for dropping by.

  4. Janis McCurry

    May 8, 2012 at 1:47 PM

    The only technique I’m conscious of is trying to put myself in the character’s place to make the emotions real.

    • Peggy Staggs

      May 8, 2012 at 5:56 PM

      If that works…it works. I’m always looking at how others do things well.

  5. Patsy

    May 9, 2012 at 7:00 AM

    Another born in the fifties! Great post. I do as Peggy says, I look at what others do and try to build on those things I like.

    • Peggy Staggs

      May 9, 2012 at 7:30 AM

      I find it so helpful. I also listen to what they say on live TV. They come up with some interesting twists on words.

  6. Lynn Mapp

    May 10, 2012 at 8:30 PM

    Oh, Peggy, you have asked a tough question. I don’t know. I need to think about this. Thank you for making me think. It makes my brain hurt.

  7. Clarissa Southwick

    May 11, 2012 at 6:30 AM

    Great tips, Peggy. When I revise, I always look to see if I’ve included the sense of smell. If it’s there, then I’ve probably used all the other senses to show, not tell. But if the smells are missing, then I know that I’m probably writing in visuals only and might be telling. I doubt that trick would work for everyone. It’s just something I’ve learned about myself from experience


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