by Kayla I Shown-Dean, Miss December 2015
Too often when I ask my students to read a passage, they get so caught up in the action of the story that they skim over subtle details that can add to their understanding. Unfortunately, we can do the same thing when we write. For me, personally, this increase in momentum occurs in two types of situations:
1.) I get so caught up in my story that I lose my attention to detail.
Usually, this occurs during or immediately after an intense scene, like when a character has died, or during a moment of intense action, like in Burn Notice when Michael Weston and Fionna Glenane were being chased and shot at. It’s in this rush that I forget to add detail like description of people and scenery, which doesn’t paint much of a picture for my readers. However, the worst mistake that authors make, myself included, is to get so caught up in the action that you lose your character. Yes, those action shots are great, but you have to slow down and assess your character. Yes, it’s terrible that your character discovered his mother’s body after she had committed suicide, but don’t get so caught up in the drama that you forget to show how this event has impacted your character. You may even need to break out those character sheets again and add (or subtract) certain character qualities after such a life-altering event.
2.) Another mistake I make is looking at the score board in the middle of a play.
I know, I know, a sports analogy, but trust me, it makes sense. Just as a football player can’t complete a play if he’s constantly eyeing the score board, we can’t finish our books if we fantasize about our finished product. Yes, choosing a dust jacket for your book is exciting and fun—and rewarding after all the hard work you’ve put into your story, but you probably shouldn’t even bother thinking about one if you still have five chapters left to write. The same goes for querying. While it’s perfectly fine to query agents and publishers before you’ve finished your book, be very, VERY careful. Sending and writing query letters and synopses uses an entirely different type of creative energy. If you switch gears too often, you may lose your mojo on your book.
This quote from my book, Ferocity, is a good example of a magic moment. In this portion of the story, Christopher has finally arrived at him childhood home after fighting his way through the fallen Mobile, Alabama, with a complete stranger. In this snippet, we not only get a description of his house, but we also get to see his reaction (physical and emotional) to his home’s current state.
So how can you create these magic moments?
1.) Focus on emotions as well as actions.
It would have been far easier for me to just describe Christopher’s physical actions here, but by shining a light on his emotions, the reader gets to see the larger picture. They get to experience Christopher’s panic with him; this, therefore, makes the character more relatable and as a result, creates a bond between character and reader—and this is what’s it all about, isn’t it?
2.) S-L-O-W D-O-W-N
I cannot emphasize this enough. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. And that’s exactly how these scenes must be written: one word at a time. Watch your word choice; make sure each word conveys the message that you want it to, as well as being clear and concise. Usually, when we increase our pace, our sentences either tend to get longer (for people who hate to punctuate) or get shorter (for those of you who love quick, quirky sentences). So be wary of this. Read and re-read your work, so you know under which category you fall. Then, combat this, head on.
3.) Practice makes perfect!
Unfortunately, this is just one of those things on which you continually have to work to improve. I’m still improving on this myself. One thing that I find that works for me is this: when I feel myself rushing, I take a deep breath and close my eyes and try to visualize the scene as my character may see it. I sometimes even type with my eyes closed (just make sure you don’t have a drink on your desktop while doing so as that can prove hazardous). If you do this and you still can’t quite visualize it, this might be a good time to take a break. Go browse Facebook or work on your blog for a while—or even better, go take your kids to the park and come back to it later.
This week, I’ve provided a picture; this is actually a picture of my husband, Preston, but we’re going to use it for this exercise (shhhhh, don’t tell him).
Look at this picture and read the emotion on the man’s face. What do you think he’s looking at? How do you think he feels about what-ever-it-is he sees? Write a paragraph about this photo—and remember, he can be anybody to you (you don’t have to make him play the role of Kayla’s husband). I look forward to seeing your paragraphs in the comment section.
Thank you so much, ladies, for spending this month with me as we looked at the magic involved in our own writing. I hope you’ve enjoyed this time as much as I have. Please, come visit me sometime at www.kaylashowndean.com and stay in touch through social media.
Also, if you’re interested in attending the book launch party for Ferocity—which I can promise will be completely magical—sign up for my newsletter. Information will be sent out on January 4th!
I’ve enjoyed getting to know you all.
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