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Monday, January 18, 2010
6:40 AM | Posted by Marnee Bailey | | Edit Post
For those of you who haven’t heard me yammer on about this, I’m working on my MFA in genre fiction at a school in Pittsburgh. And this semester, I asked for a new adviser for my thesis, as I wanted to be challenged more.
I’m starting to understand the funny looks I got when saying that, as perhaps I didn’t want to be this challenged. But there’s one comment he had about my writing that’s really stuck out to me. And since it’s been filling my head, I now get to share it with you.
In the opening ten pages of my WIP, there’s a lot of dialog. And interspersed with all this dialog is apparently a lot of nodding. A lot of nodding. As in, seventeen nods in ten pages. He counted.
His comment: “Congratulations, your characters have officially turned into bobbleheads.” Yikes! Then, to get him really worked up, I tried to convey one character’s shock, awe, and excitement by saying, “She blinked up at him.”
Now, in my defense, this sentence is used in a good percentage of fiction to convey shock (though, oddly, in a writing program, “but everybody else uses that sentence” isn’t a good defense J). He wrote in the margin: “She doesn’t blink. She reacts like a bloodhound who just caught the scent of a fresh kill.”
Now that creates an image in my head! With only that one sentence, I saw her entire upper body straighten, her eyes zero in on her new target, her shock quickly being replaced by the new pulse of excitement. Hell, she almost licks her lips in my head.
So I decided to take his advice and try this again. I have a boring piece of description: “The reporters swarmed the car as we drove away.” Not a terrible sentence. Swarm is a good verb that evokes something about reporters. But there’s no real image evoked, and certainly no emotion. So I tried again, and here’s what I came up with:
Through the tinted windows, reporter’s faces, their mouths frantically gaping, bobbed and hovered next to the window before being replaced by the next face in line, their microphones stretched out to the car like lifelines.
It was an inverted fish bowl. I was safely cocooned in the bowl; they were the dying, gasping fish, hoping my story could save them.
“You did good.”
The car pulled away, leaving the fish to flop on the pavement. Yeah, I’d done real well.
Still not perfect – the writing itself is rough – but there’s an image there. Does it evoke any emotion for you? Any mental pictures? Any suggestions for improvement?
So let’s hear it wenches! Who wants to fess up to the same bobbleheaditis I was suffering from? Anybody willing to give this a try? Take a plain piece of description, and let’s see what you can do to make it pop!
Labels: Coxswain's Commentary (Hal)