Friday, March 4, 2011

Looking at Life

Someone said to me recently, "You have four kids, a full time job, and you write? I don't know how you do it. You make it look so easy!"

I was at a family function and I was discussing the masters degree program I was in up in Vermont. We talked about my job being so busy, the kids schedules being busy, and life in general, just being busy. We've recently started taking care of my mother-in-law on a more-than-part-time basis. And soon, soccer season starts. Yes, my husband and I have been busy.

I don't know how we do all of these things, either. We just do. It's part of life for us. What some people see as something extraordinary, we see as normal.

The conversation made me think about my recent WIP, the story about the girl with cancer. I've gotten comments about how detailed it is, how the medical aspects ring so true. Those comments were from my non-medical friends who read it. A few of my nursing friends read it and didn't mention those parts. Why? They're pretty ordinary details for nurses--things we see every day.

Our job as writers is to take those ordinary details, the things we see and deal with all the time, and make them see unusual. We zoom in on them and make them extraordinary. How do we do that? We pay attention to those details.

I watched Lord of The Rings: Return of the King the other night. There was a scene in which Arwen was speaking with her father in the garden at Rivendell. She was sitting on a stone bench, holding a book. Her long, pale fingers caressed the pages until the book slipped slowly from her grasp. It tumbled downward, pages shuttering in the breeze as it brushed the folds of Arwen's flowing, pale blue gown. It hit the hard ground with a deep, resonating boom. In essence, the book fell.

Peter Jackson (the director) could have shown just that: a book falling to the ground. It would have taken two seconds of film time. But he chose to draw it out and make a moment from it, just as I did in the above paragraph. I don't know that Tolkien did that in the book (I can't find my copy! I think Andy stole it.), but in the movie, it was a dramatic pause in the story. Nothing unusual, nothing huge, just a normal little event which was turned into something big.

You can do this with your writing. You can look at your character's life, filled to the brim with activity and busy-ness and make it seem ordinary. Or, you can take minute details, meaningless events and make them HUGE. It's all in how you look at the situation.

Take a moment to think about what details warrant exploring in your story. What details have an impact in your character's life? Does the fact that your character has long, flowing auburn hair really make any difference in the story? Maybe not, unless she's earned the nickname "Rusty" as a result. What does your character do that seems perfectly normal to them that might seem unusual to the rest of us? Maybe he paints hermit crab shells. Maybe he lives at the edge of a landfill. Explore these details.

And have fun exploring!



Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading/following your page.Please keep it coming. Cheers!

Patti L Brown said...