I was prepared to dust off the trusty, old Topic Wheel and give it a spin for inspiration when I came across a post from a fellow aspiring author that made the Topic Wheel idea obsolete.
There are many aspects of my writing (style) that I’d like to improve upon, with the biggest improvement need being flow. The ability to write in a way that leads the reader on, and on, and on some more, so that they don’t simply skim over the first sentence of a few paragraphs and then move on to something else; something with a bit more verve.
Words are what propel a reader, and the way those words are structured become key elements of enticement and staying power.
The easiest thing to read is a poem, and the hardest thing to write is a poem.
The easiest thing to understand is a children’s book, and the hardest thing to come up with is the right topic.
The easiest thing to do is to sit down and start forming coherent words on paper, and the hardest thing to do is to sit down and start forming coherent words that mean something, tell a story, and that interest the reader.
I’m over advice columns in magazines and on the internet. They managed to confuse me to the point of having a negative effect on my writing style, and I’ll resent that until the day I die, too.
Still, I remember the way I used to write, before reading said advice columns that covered a lot of topics on writing style, flow, and verse. I remember the use of descriptive, explanatory sentences meant to give the reader a better understanding of who it was they were being introduced to, why they were there, and eventually what their role was in the story being told.
After reading all that bad advice, I wrote lots and lots of dialogue clean through with little, if any, description but was never happy with it and never got past the first few chapters before giving up.
I went back to my old style of writing, but I had to find the places where I was interjecting my own opinion into the story. It was harder than it sounds, but now that I’ve figured it out, the occasion rarely arises in my writing now. I get the voice thing.
But, that doesn’t mean I can’t describe my characters and their surroundings. An example of something I’m working on right now: (and, this is a rough first-draft with zero edits yet)
Devastated to think his grandma might not make it through the night even if the nurse did say she would likely recover, Matt made his way to the small bathroom inside Patsy’s room and shut the door. He stared in the mirror above a sink, and as the thought of unleashing agonized tears began to take hold, someone entered the room, stopping them.
“Hey, there, Pat!”
It was the voice of the woman he’d met at the front desk. Mrs. Wilson. John’s grandmother. She sounded as upbeat as ever, too. Matt didn’t need to see her to know she probably smiled.
“Guess who’s back in town?” she said. “Such a handsome devil, that Matthew. He’s managed to get all the nurses panties in a bunch. You should see them,” she laughed. “Tripping over themselves trying to get a closer look at Mr. Tall, Blonde, and Blue-eyed, and with muscles to spare. Gosh, he reminds me of his father.”
Matt stood with his back to the mirror, leaning against the sink and staring blankly at the floor. Mrs. Wilson’s observation of the way the nurses behaved wasn’t how he saw it, and it wasn’t enough incentive for him to change his opinion about the way others perceived him, either.
“He’s lost that wholesome, good boy image, though,” she continued, sounding disappointed. “Let his hair grow out and forgot to shave this morning. A bit of a rebellious look about him now. I can see it in his eyes. He must still be angry, but then who can blame him after what happened? It wouldn’t surprise me none if he’s got a tattoo somewhere on that big body of his.” Matt cringed at the sound of her disapproving tongue click, but then she said, “He’s still every bit a heart-breaker, though.”
While she laughed at her own remark, Matt dismissed the image of a small, blue tribal turtle he’d had inked onto his left bicep by a native artist back in Montana and wondered why Mrs. Wilson behaved like there was nothing seriously wrong with his grandma. Was she going blind, or maybe becoming senile?
HOPEFULLY, we now know where Matt is in this scene, what he looks like, and not through my eyes but through the eyes of the people in this scene (his grandmother’s friend, Mrs. Wilson).
I don’t think it’s imperative that I describe what the hospital room looks like as I’m relatively confident that a vast majority of my readers will already have been inside one at least once. If not, then they’ve watched at least one medical drama in their lifetime.
It’s early in the first chapter, and Matt has returned after five years away from the town he grew up in and lived with his paternal grandmother. She’s been hospitalized, bringing him back from somewhere out west, and made to have to face the people from his embarrassing past.
Later, I’ll introduce him to his new neighbor. First, he’s got to come to grips with the fact that his grandmother had remodeled the home he grew up in, renting it out while she resides in a nursing home in a bigger city and closer to the hospital that caters to her deteriorating health – something Matt isn’t aware of yet.
Matt stood near his SUV in the dirt driveway and smiled as he gazed at the familiar late-Queen Anne style house with it’s grey shingled roof, darker grey siding, and pale yellow trim. Seeing the house again made him realize how much he actually missed being there almost as much as he missed his grandmother.
Not wanting to dwell on anything depressing, he managed a smile and sighed, shaking off the blues as he started up the few wooden steps of a wrap-around porch and unlocked the painted-yellow door. Before the scent of musty air hit him, Matt was startled to see a solid wall that ran the length of the house, cutting it in half down the center.
“This used to be wide open, didn’t it?” he thought, scratching his head with wonder. The livingroom was gone but not the parlor on his side, which led to the diningroom. He headed in that direction and set the bag of food down on a lace-covered dining table, gazing at the obstruction in confusion.
Continuing down the length of the house, he trailed the fingers of his left hand along the freshly painted wall until he reached an arched entryway into the kitchen. Nothing seemed different there, so he continued to the back of the house and into what used to be a long, narrow breezeway that spanned the width of the house. Where the wall now stood, he recalled there being big, twelve-panel windows on either side of a glass door that led out to the porch and yard. Now, he stared dumbly at the repositioned door directly in front of him, with just one twelve-panel window facing the stairs on his right.
The stairs lead to the second floor bedrooms. At least the large, octagonal window above the landing was still there. As a boy, he couldn’t wait until he was tall enough to see outside that odd-shaped window. By the time he was able, though, the novelty had warn off and he didn’t care about it or the fact that he’d grown so tall.
Turning back to look at where he’d just been, panic struck to realize he may have entered the wrong house. It didn’t last long when his worried gaze rested on a large, framed mural that hung on the outer wall of the kitchen above the stairs. It was filled with pictures of him from the time he was a baby until he graduated from college.
Sure, the need for editing is evident, but this is a rough first-draft, and I’m not permitting myself to go back until this story is through. The point is, I’m not injecting anymore, which is a good thing. I’m writing the way I used to write, and this is great. The WALL, by the way, is a significant metaphor for Matt’s life. It is significant to the story. I like writing with this trope in mind.
The girl he’ll end up becoming romantically involved with lives on the other side. He’s got to figure out where he’s been, why he’s stuck in limbo now, and what he intends to do in the future – breaking down these metaphoric walls in order to discover himself and win the girl’s heart.
Now, the last excerpt I’ll share is an area of my writing that starts to create blurry lines for me. This type of dialogue is usually the most visual in my head and seems easiest to transfer into print, but then no. Something just doesn’t sound or seem right. The resonating thing I struggle with and don’t quite get how to correct so that it makes sense and engages the reader better.
Matt discovers there is no food, so he decides to buy some. As he leaves the house, the pretty woman next door is also about to leave. It’s their first encounter, and she possesses the right charms to immediately catch his eye and make him want to get to know her better. Instead of heading into town herself, she hands him some money and asks that he buy her a few staples and the Sept. issue of Vogue. She goes back inside, and Matt walks into town to do her bidding. He’s spent too much time daydreaming about her beauty to recall the things she asked him to buy.
Standing in the aisle of magazines and books, a small handle-basket hanging on the crook of his right arm, Matt frowned at the many and varied choices at his disposal. All he could see was the seductive O shape her lips made when she spoke the word that still escapes him. Just as he caught sight of the big, red O of Oprah, he heard someone call out to him and turned to see who it was – again.
It was the fourth time someone recognized him and wanted to play catch-up, ask a few nosy questions about his current affairs, and then make him promise to wish his grandmother a speedy recovery on their behalf.
This time, it was a girl he knew in high school who later worked as a teller at the bank.
“Long time, no see.” Sara Hartwick smiled like a tease; the way he was used to seeing her smile. “So, I guess all that wide, open spaces and cowboy life agree with you. You’re looking good, Matt.” She giggled, and it reminded him of his time at the bank, about her reputation as a flirt, and the many times when she would pop into his office to refresh his coffee or ask about his plans for lunch.
He caught the laser beam that emitted from her brown eyes and scanned his left hand for a ring, and then she smiled demurely at his unaffected gaze. “So, are you staying at Patsy’s, or at the Regent Hotel?”
“You’re the type of girl who likes to keep up with things, right?”
“Huh?” She sounded confused, but then she smiled and nodded. “I know pretty much every trend out there. Why?”
“So, you browse through magazines and stuff, then.”
Still smiling, she slid up to the rack and reached for the latest issue of People, turning toward him and flipping through a few pages, yakking about her expert knowledge of all things Hollywood gossip. He frowned, not seeing a connection between the cover’s title and the shape of the pretty tenant’s kissable lips.
Still frowning, Matt followed Sara’s movements as she set the magazine back on the rack and reached for another, still talking about this, that, and the other without his being very cognizant of the sentences she formed.
“Vogue,” he read internally and then snatched it from her and smiled. Turning away from Sara’s startled mien, he used a thumb to fan the pages of the thickest magazine he’d ever held before. “This is the one,” he said aloud, turning to thank Sara for her help and then heading to the check-out counter, not giving her deflated expression a second thought.
Again, it’s a scene so vivid in my mind I can practically reach out and touch it, yet I’m not happy with the way it came out in print. I feel like it lacks … something. Something that is more vivid to the imagination and that would pop with the reader if it were written somehow different (or better, lol).
So, the bottom line is that I do write the way I used to write, and Harliqueen’s post helped me to embrace this fact, and to make me want to run with it the way I used to do, before the world intervened and attempted to make me not write the way I want and need to write.
That’s one small step for me, and one giant leap for my writing!