When I help writers with their stories, a lot of the times one of the things I tell them is that they need to dig more deeply.
They need to dig more deeply into the emotion and feel it with the characters.
They need to dig more deeply into the scene and see the characters there, interacting with their surroundings and each other.
And a lot of us writers in our early drafts of story, don’t dig all that deeply because we’re too busy making sure we get words on the page and plot moving forward and story right there, you know?
That’s totally okay! It’s normal. There is no judgement here, but what you want to do (if you want to make the best story you can) is dig a bit more deeply.
You go back in and look for places where:
- People are shrugging, smirking, giggling, and nodding and smiling.
- A lot of distancing words that keep the reader from feeling the moment with the character. Those are things like: He felt. She saw. They noticed.
SO WHAT DO YOU DO THEN?
You find those places and—boom—you insert something that shows character or setting or scene or you can more simply take out the offending words.
“Find and Replace” for those nods and when you see them you can either:
1. Cut them
2. Use those places as a spot to show setting or physical reaction with the setting.
3. Show a full body motion that is more grounded or telling.
Here, I’ll show you each of the examples.
Shaun nodded. “Yup. It’ll be full circle.”
You can just cut it.
“Yup. It’ll be full circle,” Shaun said.
You can use those places as a spot to show setting or physical reaction with the setting.
Shaun ran his pencil across the line of the hallway’s tile wall like he was trying to find a straight path forward. After a second, he dropped the pencil into his bag and refocused on us. “Yup. It’ll be full circle.”
You can show a full body motion that is more grounded or telling.
Students scooted by, rushing because of the bell, trying to be good, trying not to be late, not having their whole worlds randomly ripped apart. Shaun ducked back to avoid a cluster of students in goth t-shirts who were trudging quickly forward, heads down.
“Yup,” he said. “It’ll be full circle.”
Those nods and words like them are really just opportunities, placeholders for writers to go back in and make some richer setting or details to show and distinguish how each character is a bit different in how they react to the environment.
In that same scene, one character might duck his head down, shoulders slumping forward as he tries to wedge himself out of the way and out of the prying eyes of other students.
Another character might stretch and take up all the space he wants with his confident self and accidentally break someone’s nose with his elbow.
But the point is to use those moments to show the reader who the character is and what the setting is, to make it feel super immediate and real.
DOG TIP FOR LIFE VIA A CAT
Take no prisoners. Don’t live a shallow life. Take control of it.
WRITING EXERCISE OF THE PODCAST
Go into your story. Do a find/search or find/replace for a word like “nod.”
Count how many you have.
Cut that number by half.
PLACES TO SUBMIT
Hudson Review Short Story Contest. Genre: Short story up to 10,000 words. Prize: First prize is $500. Second and third prizes are $250. Winning stories will be published in The Hudson Review. All entries will be considered for publication. Payment at regular rates. Deadline: November 30, 2023.
J. F. Powers Prize for Short Fiction. Genre: Short fiction. Prize: $500. Deadline: November 30, 2023.
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License.
Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.
We have a podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream biweekly live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and YouTube on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook. But she also has extra cool content focused on writing tips here.
Carrie is reading one of her raw poems every once in awhile on CARRIE DOES POEMS. And there you go! Whew! That’s a lot!