Olympians Do It, Too!

I hope you have been watching the Olympics. Besides seeing them compete, I enjoy hearing hundreds of stories about the awesome athletes and their families.

I especially liked a commentary about one of the snowboarders. The reporter said this young lady’s practice was to spend hours a day visualizing herself on the snow, as she executed whatever she would be performing the following day. A video accompanied the story in which I could see this girl, standing at the gate, eyes closed, going through the twists and turns of her upcoming runs in her mind.

Our writing needs to help our readers visualize our setting and our characters—what they look like, how they move, and so on.

And we can only achieve that if we visualize these for ourselves, as we write. A rich vocabulary (or a handy Thesaurus) is essential to make our writing come alive for our reading audience.

Additionally, we must be capable of visualizing our story as it unfolds. From beginning to end, we must continually step back and look at the big picture, asking ourselves if each scene leads us closer and closer to that satisfying end.

Finally, on days your writing is difficult and you wonder if you will ever finish your book, try visualizing it—amazing cover and all—in your hands or on a bookstore shelf. 

Closing my eyes, right now, I am visualizing a sea of writers standing shoulder to shoulder, newly published books held high and smiles on our faces.

Accomplishment feels good, doesn’t it? And, by the way, your covers look awesome!

Lights! Camera! Action!

One of the first rules of writing, is to begin your story, chapter, or scene by dropping your reader into the midst of the ACTION.

You ask, “But, what about the backstory?”

Well, you tell me. Which is more exciting? The beginning of Story A or Story B?

A)  Claudette, a forty year old nurse, was born in Kansas City, met and married Charlie right out of high school. Together they had three children, a cat, and a dog. Her husband died last year, her parents the year before that.

B)  Claudette crept from behind a cluster of large oak barrels on the deserted wharf. It would soon be dark. If she was going to attempt an escape, she would have to do it soon. With the gag still in place, she couldn’t scream for help. Her wrists were raw where she  strained against the ropes binding them. Surely those hoodlums had mistaken her for someone else—someone rich and famous. Charlie would never be able to pay such a high ransom. He didn’t do well in stressful situations, anyway. No, if she was going to get out of this alive, she’d have to do it herself.

My point is, that once you drop your reading audience in the midst of the story with your character, you’ll have plenty of time to feed them the backstory, a little at a time, in the form of ACTION.

I find it easiest to accomplish this kind of writing by VISUALIZING my characters DOING: talking, moving, reacting. It’s a book, but the characters still have to be SEEN in the readers’ internal eyes.

In a movie, actors SHOW us what they are doing. However, in a book, it is the author’s WORDS that help readers SEE what is going on. If they are just sitting there on a sofa, it is likely the book will soon be tossed aside. (Would you want to watch a movie where the character didn’t say anything, talk to anyone, express any thoughts??)

I have made myself lists of verbs, adjectives, exciting phrases, facial expressions, and so on. These are displayed on huge poster boards hanging inside my office closet.

I refer to the board, often. If I use a word or phrase from my list, I put a mark beside it. I strive not to use it again in the exact same way in that particular book. I mean, do you want to read “huge crocodile tears ran down her cheeks” every time Mary cries? It takes some creativity, but it IS possible to say the same thing in a variety of ways.

So, there you have it. A book is really a movie, in a different format. If you are a screenwriter, you can count on actors and actresses—even animation—to make your story come alive. But, a writer?  Well, you must rely on your words—actions verbs, colorful adjectives, emotionally laden. You’re a “one-man-show.

When you write this way, not only is the book a more exciting read, the entire writing process becomes more exciting for you, as well. There are actually times I feel my heartbeat and breathing accelerate along with my character’s. My mouth goes dry when his does. My hands really and truly shake on the keyboard.

Now, that’s action!

And this is “a wrap!”