Friday Focus: Scrutinizing a scene with full concentration

This baby cat is so... kitten-ish.   And black.  And... brown.
070619_04.jpg cute kitten image by emodogess

How many times have you, as a writer, stopped mid-sentence and visualized the scene in order to explain it just right?  

How many times have you observed an expression on someone's face at the supermarket, or noticed the bad guy's body language on a movie, then written it down the second you had a paper and pen so you wouldn't forget?

Lately I've been doing a lot staring at the screen when I am stumped, unable to make a description sound the way I'd like.   Sometimes I come up with the *perfect* wording eventually, but most of the time I end up changing the words in question to red font, and move on for the time being.  
This Friday's quote comes from John Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist.  

"The bad writer may not intend to manipulate; he simply does not know what his characters would do because he has not been catching the subtle emotional signals that, for the more careful writer, show where the action must go next.  Both because the cogency of his story depends on it and because he has learned to take pride in getting his scenes exactly right, the good writer scrutinizes the imagined or remembered scene with full concentration.  Though his plot seem to be rolling along beautifully and his characters seem to be behaving with authentic and surprising independence, as characters in good fiction always do, the writer is willing to stop writing for a minute or two, or even stop for a long while, to figure out precisely what some object or gesture looks like and hunt down exactly the right words to describe it."

Great quote, right?  Here's what I got out of it:  We writers should never take the easy way out.  (I'm a fan of the easy way out, by the way.)  What we should do is take whatever means necessary, no matter how frustrating or time consuming it may be, to ensure our final product is not only true to the story, but that the writing is also our absolute best.  

Does that sound about right?  Yes?   Okay great.  Now if only my absolute best would stop trying my patience...


Lila Swann said...

This post made my smile because my favorite (and my best) scenes are the ones that play out in my head like a movie. Of course, I think it's slightly more intuitive for me since I write in YA Fantasy. I've tried really hard to put my own spin on classic fantastical creatures, so I spend a LOT of time imagining exactly how my mermaids, giants, fairies, etc are going to look.

I remember how much it used to frustrate me in Art Class when my drawing teacher would simply say, "draw what you see." For whatever reason, I simply couldn't make my hand duplicate the image that I saw...and needless to say, I was horrid at art. It's rather ironic that I've naturally fallen into doing just what she instructed me to do, only the writing version, of course. Simply write what you see in your mind...

It sounds so easy, but of course, we know better! :)

Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...

Exactly, Lila! It does sound so easy, and totally isn't!

I'm the same way with art, one of my close friends' mom was the teacher, and both she and her mother could draw beautifully. I'd stare at the page and have chicken scratch that looked nothing like what we were supposed to be doing. And of course they'd have a gorgeous picture completed. It drove me crazy!

Cassandra Frear said...

I can't get past that picture. Soooo adorable. How in the world can we describe that deliciousness? It's hard. Which is one of your points, of course.

Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...

Isn't it, Cassandra? And yes, that was my point;)

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Great post. I've been plowing through my WiP lately, and I have a sinking feeling I'm not being as careful as I should be. I'm starting to feel like I'm forcing things just to fit into the plot, just to get to the resolution. Maybe it's time to stand back and wait for true inspiration.

And that kitten is unreal, btw.