Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Heart of the Matter: Week 3

How can you make a crystalline moment?  Well, you want to make the images more vivid and take things one moment at a time.

But, if you're like me, you get really, really, really tired of thinking about feelings, even though they really are one of the reasons I read what I read.  Even non-fiction information is arranged around what someone thought was important, which often (though not always) gets back to a strong emotion evoked by the topic.

So how do you find the important emotion/point without actually thinking about feelings or reliving those emotions?

Well, here's a straightforward, simple way of making your images more vivid and locating the emotions lurking beneath the surface of your story.

Look at your passage.  Identify the most common verbs in the English language (those listed below are from the General Service List of the English Language).  For ease of use, I have linked all verb forms together as one entry.
  • be
  • have
  • do
  • would/will/can/could/may/must/should
  • make 
  • take
  • come/go
  • know
  • see/look
  • use
  • get
  • like
  • give
  • think
  • find
  • own
Once you find these words in your story, try to replace them with synonyms, which you can find easily in an online thesaurus like http://thesaurus.com , the thesaurus provided by your word processor, or in a hard copy thesaurus.

For example, I might write: 

Getting on the sofa, my youngest son burped loudly and looked at me to see what I would do.

 Going back to my list of verbs, I have "get," "looked," "see," and "do" in my sentence above.  If I want to upgrade this passage, I can replace them.  I review the moment in my head for a second and try again:

Leaping onto the sofa and rearranging himself into a exasperated flop, my little son released an enormous burp. smirked with satisfaction, and then glanced at me from the corner of his eye to see if I was going to punish him.

Perfect?  No, but better.  Not only is it better, but, in seeing the action more vividly, I am able to more clearly recognize what feeling motivates my son's actions--anger (frustration from boredom seen in the flop and antagonistic gaze) and joy (burping is fun, as evidenced by the smirk).
Finding better verbs provokes your memory and helps you add more details as well as helping you locate the emotions.  Most emotions fall into one of the following six categories:
  • joy
  • sorrow
  • anger
  • fear
  • shame
  • longing
Noting the feelings gives you more material to fill out your story:

Sighing in protest and leaping onto the sofa and rearranging himself into a exasperated flop, my little son released an enormous burp. smirked with satisfaction, and then glanced at me from the corner of his eye to see if I was going to punish him.

I ignored him and continued typing.  Wriggling over to the arm of the sofa nearest the laptop, he draped himself over the side and positioned his nose one inch from the screen, head blocking a third of the view.

"You promised, Mommy!  Aren't you done yet?!" he demanded for the third or fourth time.  

"Yes, dear," I answered, choosing not to notice the small fist he was starting shake.  "This post is done.  The computer's yours now."
 

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