Thursday, November 19, 2009

Telling the Story—Making it Good

Maternite-Nicolas Tarkhoff My daughter would balance on the slippery edge of the bathtub for what seemed like an eternity before stepping out onto the mat. No holding on to the side for her.

“Oh my goodness, you are scaring me to death!” I’d say.

“Why?” Very curiously.

“You’ll get hurt!”

A couple of days later--

“You’re scaring me just looking at you! I told you not to stand there!”


“Because I said so!”

Finally, when the same scenario of the bathtub balancing act played out a third time, I said in my best ghost story voice:

“I once knew a boy when we lived in Birmingham. He was just a little guy. But one day, he stood up on the edge of that slippery bathtub. He was just weaving and wobbling around, and WHAM! He busted out both of his front teeth. Oh the blood and the crying--you just wouldn’t believe it! His mama had to put his teeth in a glass of milk so they wouldn’t go rotten on the way to the dentist. And the dentist had to stick the little boy’s front teeth back in!”

She never stood up on the edge of the bathtub again.

What’s the lesson? Other than the fact that I finally succumbed to the grand tradition of parent warnings (including the granddaddy of them all “Your face will freeze like that!” I liked to cross my eyes at people when I was a kid…)?

That when you paint a good, concrete image in someone’s head with words, it’s powerful.

How to make it vivid? I think it depends on the book and the genre.

I usually like reading vigorous language with strong verbs, spot-on metaphors, and sensory details that are quick but evocative.

Fancy adjectives don’t hurt. And I’m not adverse to adverbs if they’re not overdone.

A good storytelling style, or voice, helps too. Even if an author’s word choices aren’t wonderful, if his voice is strong, it’ll grab me. I can see everything through the narrator’s eyes and it pulls me into the story.

What makes a vivid story for you?