Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Stay in the Moment. I said STAY!

by Susan

I critiqued a lovely poem the other day. The one thing I found myself wanting was for the author to linger longer on the most powerful moments. I wanted a deeper picture of that point in time.

Stop, I wanted to tell the author. Let me stay with that feeling. Don't rush by it. This is the punch to the gut you want to deliver. Swing through -- don't just jab.

In his book, Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach talks about "cracking open" a scene in creative nonfiction: "look for a sentence (or even a phrase) of voice-over or other exposition that condenses or skims over or rushes past a possible scene." Build it into scene, he says.

So how can you slow it down?
First, stop and smell the roses. Look at their color. Note how the thorns prick your fingers. Listen to the insects chirping in the garden. Not sure you'd want to chew on any petals, so taste might be a stretch, but there are those rose hips to pluck and bite in the fall. Why yes, I am talking about the five senses. They're a good checklist any time you want to flesh out a scene. Don't forget action, either. He didn't just walk across the room; he kicked a teddy bear out of the way, set his coffee cup on the piano and exhaled a long sigh.

Where are YOU?
Our writing group worked with Colorado writer John Calderazzo for a time (he'll be at the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference in June). His challenge to me was always, "Where are YOU in this scene." He never let me off the hook. Where are you or your character in the scene emotionally? Sometimes, leaving the personal emotion out is mere oversight. Sometimes it is discomfort or even fear. Either way, I need to be aware of what I am (not) doing.

Of course, do as I say...
... not as I do. I'm notorious for not following my own advice. You know what they say about free advice: worth every penny. I am sure I will blitz right by the moment unless I remind myself not to. That's one of the great things about critiquing. I see that sawdust in your eye and become more aware of the plank sticking out of mine.


How about you? How do you stay in those powerful moments when you write?



8 comments:

  1. Nice, Susan. This approach does much. It gives us more material, it gives us options, and it sometimes takes us to places we had not dreamed before we wrote those few more lines.

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    1. It's funny - we are visual people and sometimes afraid of revealing too much of ourselves. It takes some thought to go back and fill in those other senses and the emotion. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. My problem often is that rather than stopping with that moment, I continue to write and spoil it, let it dribble off into mediocrity. In poetry in particular, I think because of it's compression, knowing when to quit, when to chop out those last four lines, is as important as exploring my feelings for the reader.

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    1. Very true. It's a balance, definitely. I know that in the one I saw, though I just wanted more. Concise is good. Detached, I'm not so sure.

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  3. Guilty as charged. I can play the "fly on the wall" part so well in my essays, for example, but neglect to inform the reader what's going on inside-- when I am in turmoil, or embarrassed or going through an epiphany. As you (and John) would ask: Where am I in the scene? Definitely got to go back and build that in, even if it's uncomfortable.

    Great kick in the pants--thanks!

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  4. Great suggestions! I need to work on this. I like focusing on an emotional experience and sometimes I even describe it physically, but I forget a lot of my senses!

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    1. It's easy to do. Often, sight makes it into the writing because we're such visual creatures, but the other senses I have to consciously think about. I once did a wonderful poetry exercise in a WyoPoets workshop where you were to write a poem incorporating every sense EXCEPT sight.

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