PAINTING WITH WORDS
I've always equated writing with painting. Well, painting and magic but I'll get more into that later.
You see, when I taught my children about writing, we'd start out with a sketch: bare bones. Let me show you.
The dog ran.
This gives you basic information but it doesn't tell you much. So we'll add some color. In this case, literally.
The brown dog ran.
Still we don't have much information. So we add a little more color.
The brown dog ran down the street
Hmmm. Let's just cut to the chase.
The brown dog ran down the empty street, pausing to sniff at each intersection before frantically resuming his mad dash.
In my imagination, I see this dog running between tall, grey buildings. Deep purple clouds skate across a dusky sky that promises rain. But it wouldn't do to just tell you that. I have to show you, to transfer the image in my mind to yours.
You see the goal of each sentence is to paint a picture in your, the reader's, head. But it doesn't stop there and this is where the magic is. I don't know about you, but I'm curious about that dog now. Is he in search of someone? Is he lost? Was he abandoned? What's his story? He's caught my attention. I care. It's my job, as a writer, to make you care too.
So how do we do that? Honestly, sometimes I do think it's part magic. How else do you describe arranging words in such a way to cause you to fall in love with characters, to react passionately to love a story, to grown with the hero's defeat and tear up when he finally succeeds? With words you can transfer emotion, ideas, thoughts, create realities. That's heavy stuff.
Oh come on, did you think I was going to share my secrets with you? Just kidding. Kinda.
A lot of it is falling in love with the characters long before a reader sees the first word, and some of it before the first word is even typed. If I don't cry with my characters, I don't expect my readers to. If I'm not passionately angry but strangely intrigued by my villain, I don't expect any one else to be either. This means creating characters that existed before a time the book begins.
When creating a world, it must be real to me. How did they get there? What would their history lessons by like? How do they pay for things? How are they governed? What do they worship? Sometimes, there will only be a small mention, a tidbit here and there, that makes it into the book. But these tidbits give an impression of a complete world. A world with depth.
Tolkien did this better than anyone I know. I read everything I could find on the love story between Aragorn and Arwen because he hinted at a complex history between the two of them, history that happened before the first book took place.
And then, it's taking all that information, going back to the beginning and creating that rough sketch.
She knelt before the gravestone.
That's my rough sketch sentence with one detail. I know the color of her hair, what's she's wearing, and her emotional state. I can clearly see the surroundings and even time of day and weather. I need to convey that to the reader, but I don't need to put all that information in one sentence. What I will do is step by step, sentence by sentence paint a picture with words that will lead the reader into my world.
If I did this right, you'll be able to see the rough sketch sentence parallels a rough sketch plot. You start with bare bones, adding color, depth, drama, until the picture, and story comes alive. It's painting with words and I do believe it's magic.
Thanks so much for blogging with me Shawna. I love your analogy for writing :) You can find Shawna on Twitter!
Here's the blurb:
Selia has run her family's tavern since she was fifteen and can hunt and fight the equal of any man. When she rescues a badly wounded man and nurses him back to health, she has no idea she's about to change not only her life, but also the destinies of two peoples...
The battered warrior is Svistra—a race of bloodthirsty savages determined to destroy her homeland. Or so the stories claim. Jaden reveals a different truth: how his ancestors were driven into the barren northern mountains. Now they are strong and war parties are pushing south wanting their land back.
The son of a Svistra Commander, Jaden is looking for a way to bring peace to both humans and Svistrans. He tries to ignore his growing passion for Selia, but when she is captured he has to decide what he would be willing to sacrifice to save the woman he loves...