Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Sparkle in Our Writing

Interno--Baccio Maria Bacci--1888-1974I have a neighbor who is interested in my writing and frequently asks me questions about it. She’s from South America and expresses herself in refreshing ways sometimes.

One day this week she called me on the phone around lunch to ask me something about our girls’ drama class. “Elizabeth,” she said, “I’m sorry to have to call you! Did you have the inspirations and I am interrupting them?”

Sadly, no. I was actually writing when she called, but I was definitely not having the inspirations. Being on a schedule, though, means writing every day—and not just when I’m inspired. The story comes out just as easily, even when the muse is silent. But the words don’t sparkle as much.

I’ve gotten over the lack of sparkle in the uninspired days because I know I can add the sparkle later, in revisions.

The sparkle to me in a book is the feeling I get when reading it that the author was enthusiastic. And, maybe, that the characters themselves are enthusiastic and vibrant as they face whatever challenge they’re up against.

Sometimes it’s hard to put my finger on exactly what makes for sparkle. But this is what I’ve been able to find that helps:

Strong verbs—Usually they show instead of tell. And sometimes if you look for ‘to be’ verbs like is, was, been, you can find passive construction that could be written stronger.

Vivid imagery-- adjectives that go the extra mile (using all the senses.) Words that add texture.

Clever metaphors and similes. Just a dash. Too many and I tend to see the puppet’s strings.

Precise nouns—Try not to overuse pronouns. And name things—”the diner” is Bo’s Diner. “The chair” could be a rocking chair, an armchair, or a recliner.

Varied sentence structure—Something a little different than a subject-verb start. And both short and long sentences.

Characters that are animated instead of stagnant. And that can be both literally animated—they’re in motion—or that their speech is lively.

What do you do to bring the sparkle back to your writing?