When the writing draws you in

I don’t watch TV much. Every season I have two or three programs I never miss. I mentioned my guilty pleasure, American Idol, in my last post. The other shows I follow are dramas. In recent years, I was a big fan of series like Oz, The Sopranos, The Wire, and Lost. Now it’s Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, True Blood, and Treme. (Hmmm, I guess HBO wins.)

Treme is set in New Orleans during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The show follows several characters as they try to put their lives back together. I have my favorites, though the writers are capable of changing my mind about a couple of the others. And you never know when they’ll kill off a main character like they did in the first season.

This season, one of the storylines has been about the rise of crime. People who used to feel safe in their homes and places of business are finding the “rules” have changed in post-Katrina New Orleans. I watched one scene with growing dread.

As La Donna turns off the lights and prepares to close up her bar for the night, a young man in a hooded sweatshirt knocks on the window, “We’re closed,” she tells him. He’s looking for a different bar and lost. She talks to him through the glass and gives him directions to the place he’s looking for. Then he asks if he can come in and use the phone. Wisely, she tells him, “No phone.” She asks his name, he’s evasive, and she pulls out her cell phone, telling him she’s calling the police to come down and help him.

The kid walks away. As La Donna’s talking to the police, she waves to friends who’ve called to her as they walk down the other side of the street. She gathers her keys and purse. She pauses for a moment, looks back at the window, then she lifts her chin, tosses her hair back, and walks to the door. The street is deserted now. It’s quiet. The scene is shadowed, reddish, barely lit from the streetlight in front of her, the Christmas lights behind her.

I’m on alert; afraid I know what’s coming. “No,” I say. La Donna opens the door, steps out, and turns to relock it. Before she can, she glances to her right, and the camera pans to show the kid step around the corner of her building. He asks her about the directions again, sounding innocent, but the camera pans back to La Donna and you see the fear in her eyes. A shadow looms behind her. She turns toward it. There’s another man. I speak louder now. “No. Don’t.”

She scrambles back inside, shoving with all her might to close and lock the door, but it’s a futile attempt against the guys on the other side. As they burst through, she backs away, and throws her purse to them. “Take it,” she says, “it’s $200 dollars.”

“Please, don’t,” I plead—with the intruders or the writers or both. I hold my breath. La Donna tries to sound tough, cursing and ordering them out, but her voice betrays her. She stumbles backward, grabs a sawed-off broomstick, and starts swinging. “Yes!” I say, hopeful.

But then, I see the intruders still advancing slowly, quietly, determined. I am crushed.

The scene cuts away. I won’t tell you the rest. I just wanted to share how good writing grabs me, pulls me in, and makes me feel it. That’s how I want to write. That’s how I want you to write. Let’s do it.

Treme photos credit: HBO.
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One useless writing tip!

Last month at a critique meeting, I recounted my experience with a writing tip I’d read. Some famous author (I’m bad with names) said that he always ended his writing day in the middle of a sentence. For him, it was a jumpstart into the next day’s writing session. For me, it was sheer frustration.

I sat with my fingers poised on the keyboard for a half-hour trying to recapture the words I had intended to write. “As he ran back toward home, he strained to make out the stairway  … “ Hmmm. I read it again. And again. I knew, of course, this was Jalal running on the beach, and I knew why he was looking for the stairway. But how had I intended to end that particular sentence? And what was the next line meant to be? In the end, I deleted that sentence and “meditated” to re-visualize the scene. Eventually, I saw that Jalal doesn’t see Renee on the stairway because she’s descended to the beach. He doesn’t notice this and runs by her. She calls out, startles him, he turns around. Then, as the whole scene unfolded, I typed away, irritated I had wasted those thirty minutes on a half-finished sentence. Now, no matter what, I not only finish the sentence, I finish the scene before I end my writing day.

Obviously, that author’s writing tip is not useless for him, nor likely for many others, it just didn’t work for me. Have you tried any writing tips that didn’t work for you?

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It’s always about chocolate!

First, let me define a “candy-bar” scene. It’s one that you’re just itching to write — something sweet enough that you can dangle it on a stick in front of yourself so that you can say, “When I’ve done these next three chapters, I’ll get to write that one. – Holly Lisle

chocolatesDuring one of my marathon click this link, then click this link, then click this link sessions, I stumbled across the above quote from Holly Lisle.

She advises that you write only one sentence—a teaser—to keep you writing toward it. I do this in my Scenes file. I create a Word document in which I list the scene descriptions, including the “candy bar” scenes. As I write, I go back and detail what happens in each scene, including the story-time date it takes place, if applicable. I also add the page and chapter number after the last scene in a chapter.

But I’m not overly strict about the one sentence rule. Sometimes I “see” the scene played out and I have to write it down. Sometimes I “hear” only the dialogue and need to record it before I lose it. So, I have other files: one for each character, titled [Character Name] Notes, and this is where I write bits and pieces that will be incorporated into full scenes at some point.

For me, chocolate doesn’t get any better than truffles, so I have a pineapple truffle I’ve almost written up to and a raspberry not too far off. Yummmm!