Monday, July 19, 2010

A Writing Lesson about the Trees

But first: News goes behind the News link, but some news is worthy of an announcement. Fire has won the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. This award, presented annually by ALAN, honors a book that possesses literary merit, widespread appeal to teens, and a positive approach to life. I'm touched that the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee saw the hope in my grim tale. Thank you so much to the committee for this fabulous honor!! :D

On to our writing lesson.

Here's the thing: recently, while I was reading Sandra McDonald's Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories (highly recommended, BTW), I read a wonderful line that, very suddenly, taught me an important writing lesson. Unfortunately, being out of post-it flags, I didn't mark the section, and now I can't find it again to share with you. Curses! But, here's what I wrote in my calendar, presumably because my calendar was the closest thing nearby for writing in: "If you're describing a place or an emotion or anything that is simple and peaceful, your writing should be simple and peaceful. Match your style of writing to the feeling you wish the reader to feel."

This struck me as important, because I get caught up sometimes in trying to use words and excessive description to express something that's better expressed with a lack of words. I actually noticed myself doing this in my own writing last week, and have a little passage I can share with you. It's a throwaway section; nothing critical happens; but it illustrates my point. Here's how I jotted it down the first time through (note: names have been changed to protect the spoiler-phobic):

Leaving the infirmary, stepping into the Great Courtyard, she suddenly came face to face with Sam, who was just about to climb onto his platform and haul it, with Tommy, to whatever obscene height today's work called for. "Oh," she said, shivering, for she wasn't dressed for outdoor weather. "Hello."

"Hello," he said, taken by surprise.

The skin around his bluer eye was bluish. Funny that...

Later on, when I took another look, here's what I changed it to:

Leaving the infirmary, stepping into the Great Courtyard, she came face to face with Sam. "Oh!" she said. "Hello."

"Hello," he said, also taken by surprise.

He was, apparently, just about to climb onto his platform and haul it, with Tommy, to whatever obscene height today's work called for. The skin around his bluer eye was bluish. Funny that...

Like I said, it's not a "wow" sort of passage, or a "wow" sort of change. But the point is that I was trying to get across that subtle sort of feeling that happens when there's no reason why you shouldn't run into someone, but you've sort of forgotten you might, so you're vaguely surprised when you do. In that moment of surprise, what you experience is a sudden, tiny bit of confusion. A blankness. So, it felt to me that the writing also need to be blank. Empty. I needed to get rid of all that initial description, because it got in the way of the blank feeling of surprise.

Make sense? If so, thank Diana Comet.

Not exactly profound, but sentence-level things can make a big difference in the feelings you evoke with your writing, so I thought it was worth mentioning.

Next week, if I have time, I hope to give a little writing lesson about the forest.