Rereading: Details, Emotions, Scene Cuts, Conflict

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Reread your story.
Does it surprise you at any point? Does it keep YOUR interest?

Recently I reread a story that I had not read for a while, long enough for me to start to be fuzzy on details. Here are some things that struck me.

  • Interesting details. Stories which leave behind generalities in favor of specific, telling details are winners.

    “To see Mrs. Lopez’s smile was to understand the amazing abilities of a mouth: her mouth was as wide as a whale’s and everyone knew her business–and the silver in her molars.”

  • Emotions. Characterization is hard, especially making emotional connections throughout. You should never have to guess at what a character is feeling, because a story should Show-Don’t-Tell-Then-Tell it. Remember, you can’t TELL until you’ve first SHOWN. But then, you can add enough to make the situation or emotions specific.

    “My heart went skippety-skip. A sideways glance: Marj’s freckles looked friendly enough, even if she wasn’t smiling. But she didn’t answer the question, didn’t say she was my mother.”

  • Scene cuts. The story has several strong scene cuts, leaving out the “boring bits” and jumping to a new setting, new character dynamic or something that at first seems to be a total nonsequitur, but spins the story in exciting new ways. Too often a scene dribbles along with weak conflict or poor dialogue. Too often the next scene is expected–and boring.
  • Escalating Conflict that Never Relents. Finally, the story keeps the conflict front and center, you never get relief. Which means the reader keeps turning the pages. “Conflict on every page,” preaches agent Donald Maass. He has me converted!
  • What are you noticing afresh in your reading these days?

    1 Comment
    • Beth MacKinney
      May 5, 2012

      Really loved this post! I was reading ‘A Season of Gifts’ by Richard Peck last night (for the umpteenth time) and was reflecting on how one of the things that makes his historical fiction from the mid 1900’s so tremendous is his attention to small details. I love his writing.