Outside Your Window

            Try to recall a time when you sat by a window. Normally your neighborhood is fairly quiet. No small children live there and very few cars rush in and out during the day. One family owns a large dog, another had a small, yapping mix breed of some kind.

            On this particular day you’re supposed to be completing a work assignment. Your computer desk just happens to be located by a large window that looks out on the street.

            Something both interesting and unusual is taking place.

            Your task is to write the story. Begin by identifying the characters by age, height, color and length of hair and any other details that might make for a story. Next think about what might be happening. Are there kids playing basketball? A delivery driver trying to turn around? A dog gets loose and is terrifying adults trying to exit their car?

            How do your characters react? Is there screaming or fighting? Is one of the passengers a dog whisperer?

            Write from the perspective of the watcher. To make things interesting, there might be an open window so that words can be heard.

            Have fun with this one.

Setting Scene

Recently I attended a conference in Mendocino, CA. One of my afternoon sessions was about memoir writing. While I am not working on memoir, I hoped to learn something or at least be reminded of something that I might have forgotten.

The instructor talked a bit about scene. We all know that a given scene contains time and place. It can be past tense or current tense, or if you are interested in giving it a try, future tense.

Scene must have a purpose, a reason for being. It is going to show us something about the protagonist and maybe at least one antagonist. The opening scene inspires the reader to keep going.

A good writer will include sensory details so that the reader can “see” the scene. For example, are there chocolate chip cookies baking? Imagine the smell, the taste, the melted chips. Maybe the garbage hasn’t been taken out for a while. Imagine that smell and how it makes you feel.

Not all opening scenes have dialogue, but if possible, include some that create conflict or tension.

The main purpose of the opening scene is to ground the reader in place and time.

Your task is to write that opening scene of a story that’s been rattling around in your head. Remember to include sensory details and to create conflict.

Have fun with this one.

Suspense is Critical

Story revolves around suspense. From the first page, there needs to be a compelling story developing. Tension. Argument. A chase of some kind. A search for something important. And possibly even a dead body, be it human or animal.

Recently I picked up a book that sounded interesting. The youngest daughter had been implicated in the murder of her father and the near death of her mother, but the boyfriend was found guilty on circumstantial evidence. Sounds compelling, right?

The problem is that the story moved too slowly. It felt as if the same thoughts and actions happened over and over. Worry about the youngest daughter moving back home. The accused being released from prison on a technicality. The oldest daughter, once a thriving mother with tremendous potential, now wallowing at home.

I kept waiting for something to happen. Some action that brought renewed fear into the protagonist’s life. A window found open. A bloody knife left in plain sight. A note or call that threatened. But none of that ever happened.

As a writer, you have an obligation to engage your readers with suspense, even if your story is not a murder mystery or thriller.

How do you do this? Your protagonist has to interact with others, animate or inanimate. This interaction brings up a strong emotional response. The character reacts, either by confronting the “thing” or by running away or by putting it out of mind. This leads to more tension as the “thing” comes back again and again to haunt the character, spurring the character into action once again.

Your job is to take something that you’ve written, that perhaps you find less than compelling, and reread, looking for spots where the story bogs down. Where there is a pronounced lag.

As you discover these places, fix them either by eliminating them altogether or by turning them into scenes with dialogue, action, tension.

This will not be easy as we often do not like to rewrite our pieces, but you must.

Good luck on this one.