Monday, August 12, 2013

Small Moments of Genius: Words as Spacers

Sometimes when I’m writing, I discover a special new way to fit words together. This may not actually be new to anyone but me, for the small moment after my discovery, I feel like a genius.

Today’s small moment of genius: using description to physically and temporally space moments in text.

We all have tics as writers, words or phrases that we reach for repeatedly and then have to cross out during rewrites. One of mine: “They were quiet for a few minutes.” I find myself using this, or some form of it, pretty much constantly when writing dialogue between two characters. I don’t think it’s a bad instinct; giving the conversation room to breathe allows for a more relaxed rhythm and a break from the onslaught of dialogue (unless you want an onslaught of dialogue between two hyper, fast-talking characters, in which case, go for it!).

Writing a scene in which a boy walks a girl home, I found myself typing the dreaded phrase. And then I realized: I could replace it with some description about the scenery they were passing. Since this scene happens toward the beginning of the story, it would deepen the overall setting, as well as creating an environment and mood for the present moment. 

For example:

“Nice movie,” Mona said.
“I liked it OK,” Johnny responded.
They passed the DiMatteo’s perfectly groomed front lawn, then the Hannover’s wild rose bushes. The Feldmans had not closed the curtains on their picture windows, and the glow of their television lit their faces as they cuddled on the sofa.
Mona realized that the clacking of her shoes against the pavement bounced off the quiet houses in a deafening echo, and she made an effort to soften her steps.
Johnny rubbed the back of his neck. “Nice night.”
“It’s OK,” Mona said.

The description breaks up the dialogue, making actual physical space between lines of dialogue, creating the experience of a pause for the reader because of the time it takes them to journey from one line of dialogue to the next. It doesn’t have to be a setting description; physical actions, memories, and flashbacks all work as well. Anything’s better than the bland phrase “They were quiet for a few minutes” repeated over and over again.

What little realizations about writing made you feel like a genius?

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