“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?