Friday, August 27, 2010

Dude! And then it was like really scary!

I'm still plugging away at How It Feels To Be Attacked By A Shark. I've given up reading it as a source for good sensory information on life changing situations. Instead, its become an excercise in studying why we doze off when people tell what could be a heart-pounding story that makes us hang on every word.

These are true stories of horrible events, getting shot, gettting stuck in a drainage pipe with rain water pouring down on you, choking to death (yes, he did technically die, I finally got through that one), getting trapped in an avalanche, etc. There was also what could have been the inspirational story of how a woman grew to five hundred pounds and then lost the weight, but it just wasn't. As I considered tossing the book against the wall, I couldn't help but wonder how much more compelling these events could be if they were told by a writer instead of the average person who lived through them.

Often the voice got in the way, both in word choice and clearly conveying the situation. Yes, people really do talk like they do in these retellings, but when I can't tell who or what they are talking about, or in what order events transpired, the voice is like totally in the way, man. And the telling... If you were ever unsure of what 'telling' is and why you keep getting told not to do it, pick this book up for a thorough example.
The situations themselves should have been full of emotion and sensory input. I expected that they would. (After all, that's what were told, as writers, to put into our scenes.) But I've come to realize that the average story is just a list of events of what happens to a person. Without the emotion or sensory information to pull is in, we smile and nod, and if we are fortunate to be on the phone, fold our laundry, clean off our kitchen counters and try not to doze off while listening. There's no heart pounding, no "OMG, how will they make it through this?" and no warm glow at seeing someone beat the odds at the end.
After having these examples of what doesn't work put in front of my face, I'm going to be doubly diligent. And for those I critique, be warned, I'm going to be watching you too.


  1. I'm learning show vs. tell and I think I'm starting to get the hang of it, not everytime but I do believe it's very important to invest the reader, get them to put their laundry down, screw the dishes, let someone else pick up the kids (SOMEONE YOU KNOW PEOPLE) I want them so engrossed in my novel they can't look away.

    Nodding in my book is allowed but not for the whole time, I want those feet tucked underneath you when you are excited, jumping up and down at the first kiss and yelling (like they do at football games) when he gets the girl!

  2. Writers are such a special breed. I guess we're hardwired to see events in our life and immediately translate them to the page (my blog is a good example of that!).

    But it's interesting that publishers wouldn't recommend ghostwriters for a book like this, especially if the voice is flat.

  3. Man. Not more writer-snob material for Gypsy. Her crits are hard enough!

  4. Just got back from a weekend camping and catching up on goings-on (no wi-fi this time). When I saw this, I immediately thought of a book I read while away: Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen. In it, the protagonist is mauled by a bear and nearly dies. Sensory input and emotions galore. Maybe you could try that as an antidote to what sounds like a dispiriting reading experience. Preferably before my story comes up for critiquing ;-)

  5. @Botanist - Woo a new entry for critiquing? *rubs hands together*

    @Scott - Don't worry, I won't go too hard on you. Ok, who am I kidding? I will. ;)

    @Elena - No kidding. Or at least have the editor work with the entry writers a little. Or maybe they did and I'd be really disappointed with what they'd first sent in.

    @Jen - Sounds like you're on to something I'd like to read. :)


Join the conversation. It gets lonely in here without you.