Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Write Order: Week 1

We have to live chronologically.  There's not much we can do about that.  But we don't remember that way, and, while we do need to be clear enough that our readers can easily discern beginning, middle, and end, we don't have to tell our stories that way.

This week, we are considering one specific, compelling memory.  What makes it compelling?  Our order should reveal that.

Below are a few common ways to reveal what is special about your memory:
  • There are the cheap ways:  "I will always remember...," "I'll never forget...," "It seemed like any other ordinary day...."  These rarely work well, but they can depending on your memory. 

    "It seemed like any other ordinary day...." works well if your memory is a stark contrast to the way the day seems--if your ordinary day ends with an earthquake, if a beautiful day is studded with tragedy, or if an ugly day holds unexpected promise.

    "I'll never forget..." and "I'll always remember..." are harder.  I find they work well with a trait carried over several memories rather than a single one.  "I'll always remember Mom and her half a stick of Dentyne.  The torn half-inch piece of cinnamon pleasure shared between two girls was the epitome of thrift and Mom's war on sugar."  But even so, I'd prefer "Mom always had a half-stick of Dentyne" or "Ask Mom for gum and you'd take your chances of getting a half-stick of Dentyne."
  • Say it straight.  Make some straightforward comment and then plunge into the memory.

    This happens all the time in fiction.  Consider Toni Cade Bambara's "The Lesson" from Gorilla My Love.  The first sentence is obviously reflection as an adult when the main character confides in us, "Back in the days when everyone was old and stupid or young and foolish and me and Sugar were the only ones just right, this lady moved on our block with nappy hair and proper speech and no makeup."  The remainder of the rest of that paragraph is ambiguous in the time of its telling--reflection or description--before the story settles into the point of view of a child narrator. 

    You can easily replicate this strategy in your own stories.
  • Start in the middle with dialogue and then inform and move forward.

    At a loss to find a good example on the spur of the moment (but I will update later), I'll write one like this:

    "'Your going to be in big twouble,' my brother warned my little sister, who sped up her activities rather than slowing them down.

    We were sitting downstairs arranging booby traps..."

    You don't want to continue with a full blown conversation because that tends to drag at the beginning, but a line of dialogue spoken in this way serves to immediately alert the reader to underlying tensions and activities.  Using relatively few words, dialogue is a quick introduction to the mind of a character and his or her situation, which can then be vividly elaborating upon.

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