Thanks to Gerrie for yesterday's post. Writing seems to be something inside us, and we're going to do it no matter what.
After wrapping up notes from the Writers' Police Academy, it's time to plunge into recapping workshops from the Emerald City Conference. The first workshop I attended was about writing emotionally gripping scenes, given by Margie Lawson.
First, it's important to understand that we, as human beings, have involuntary responses to certain situations and stimuli. These are visceral responses, things we really can't control. In high-emotion situations, our hearts beat faster, mouths get dry, hands sweat, etc. These responses are tied to the body, not our conscious thought-processes.
When writing, especially in scenes with emotional impact, we should draw on these responses and make the reader feel them as well. We've all heard, "show, don't tell" and we probably know better than to say, "She was scared." Instead, we might say, "Her stomach clenched with fear." But is that enough?
However, Lawson stressed taking these high-impact moments a step further by using fresh similes. She used the example, "Her stomach shifted like a Buick on black ice" as a much more evocative way to show the character's fear.
Any time your characters, especially your POV characters, are dealing with strong emotions such as fear, lust, surprise, there should be a visceral response. You want to viscerally engage the reader. Major turning points in the plot require these kinds of 'showing.'
She gave examples, one from an author friend of mine, CJ Lyons, which I'll use here:
"Her stomach did a tumble and roll, like being sucker punched by a wave off the coast of Malibu, dragged under by your own stupidity."
A whole lot better than, "Her stomach clenched" isn't it?
Also, when doing this, it's important to show the visceral first, to engage the reader's response, then show the action. Otherwise, you've lost the impact.
Another point Lawson made was the importance of cadence, and the power of repetition. These will add strength to your writing. Basic, more "trite" similes will work if the cadence is right. Stack them, and add fresh ones at the end.
She also spoke of Motivation Reaction Units.
1. Visceral reactions are instantaneous
2. Reflexes are actions that are instinctive.
3. Rational action and speech come last.
Punctuation and beats can also add power.
She addressed rhetorical devices, saying most of us rely on a mere half dozen, such as metaphor, simile, alliteration, etc. There are many, many more that we don't use (or, in my case, aren't really aware of, at least by name). Rhetorical devices add power by speaking to the subconscious of the reader.
She gave examples of anaphora – repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of a sentence or paragraph 3 or 4 times. This "auditory echo" speaks to the reader's subconscious and makes the read imperative.
Her closing words: "Find your voice. Find your comfort zone. But challenge yourself."