We enter rooms, houses, buildings, and cars through doors. Try not to enter a scene the same way. Look for another way in that’s unique, artful, dramatic, funny, ironic or unexpected. The same goes for ‘the beginning’ of a scene, sequence, chapter or arc. It is not necessarily the place to start. Maybe, imagine a few seconds or minutes in, a few feet or yards, a couple of beers, the 2nd cup of coffee or the roll over and go at it again. Any of these may be better, more interesting and less plotting and trodden than the natural beginning, as time and real life would have it. “Spit in the Ocean, again? Okay, but the third time is the charm, and this time I’m going to win.” Keeping a four year old focused and seated was not a skill they taught Jack Harrison at Quantico, but when he signed up for the Secret Service, the thought never crossed his mind he’d be assigned to the surviving child of the attack on the President’s family.
Up cut dialog is also intriguing in that partial thoughts, sentences and expressions create engagement and foster imagination. Then (if you’re good) you will deliver a context, which the reader did not consider but is elated to discover. “Then you’ll be correct,“ he said as he left the room. Francine didn’t know how to take that; was he playing with her? Daring her? Or just couldn’t muster enough feelings to care one-way or the other?
The same is true on descriptions of setting or circumstance. Two paragraphs detailing the furniture, curtains and rugs of the room which the insane matriarch of the most dysfunctional family to ever procreate is sitting in, to me, is a snooze. But, “Golden afternoon sunlight was fighting to get through the heavy, pleated and dusty drapes that hadn’t felt the healthy suction of an upholstery attachment since Hoover discontinued the canister model.” Two graphs later, drop the notion that, “The checking in the fine king wood veneer of the spindly French Empire style writing desk with ormolu fittings, testified to the unforgivable crime of neglecting the fine antique’s thirst for tongue oil. That alone made him want to slap her pruney, pancake-crusted, Patrician face.” Done. You get the room and her.
Right now, there are 33,218 English teachers reaching for the red pen to fail me. But hey, this is my Tip.
Next Tip, #3 TEXT APPEAL!
Text, Context, Pretext, Subtext, Supertext – The Emotional GPS