Narrow the spotlight
Occasionally I’m writing a scene that begins to feel like a cheap sock-puppet show (no disrespect to PBS or any puppet-friendly network). The characters may argue or banter, but because they do nothing but speak, the narrative thins out and becomes less palpable. It takes on the one-dimensionality of a fast sketch, rather than the flesh-and-blood tangibility I had been going for. The people become talking heads, or, if they’re alone, they walk through a gray landscape where little of their world assumes a form.
Other times, I may read a book whose world is too tangible. Some authors catalogue every detail in a scene—the woodwork of an office doorway, the names of volumes on a lawyer’s shelf, the thirteen toys in a store window. The relentless listing overwhelms me and jumbles my sense of a scene, as if the characters were lost in a hoarder’s house. I’m guilty of this in my own writing sometimes, too.
The solution is a reasonable balance of description to create the impression of a scene. Here is the strategy that has helped me:
A little about me: I’m a writer.
And that’s a lot about me. But that’s not where the story ends. Words mesmerize me just by existing at all. I’m a moth to their verbal bug-zapper. If my stomach were a dictionary I’d eat them all day long until my thesaurus was inflamed.
Besides that, I’m a junior English major at Thomas More College here in Kentucky. It’s a small, lush liberal arts school near a mecca of restaurants called the Crestview Hills Town Center.
Now I have to be straight out with you, though, because I’m skirting around the edge of the real beast--
Anthony Otten has published stories in Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Wind, Still: The Journal, and others. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. He lives in Kentucky.
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