How Not To Write Meaningless Stuff
TODAY’S BREW: Spiked Eggnog. Basically, I’ve been drinking it for a month
I’m lucky enough to be reading THE SHADOW OF LIGHT by Summer Wier, a YA novel that I cannot wait to be published. We’re working on doing something you don’t hear much about—ADDING text, as she’s a sparse writer, something that I can identify with after writing THE HARPY and THE ANIMAL, and something I have to loosen up on in writing the sequel to RUNNING HOME, as that series is written with a bit more flourish.
Summer does a great job of still giving little details that tell you so much about the characters without hitting you in the face with backstory and a lot of “she was this” and “she likes that.” Here’s the example that made me need to write this post:
“We brought your favorites—black olive and jalapeno pizza and strawberry cake.” Faye was the only other person I knew who liked jalapenos on pizza.
I winked. “You know me so well.”
This could have so easily been:
“We brought pizza and cake.” Faye loved pizza, and I didn’t care what I ate as long as it was edible.
“God, I’m starving.”
This is a tidbit that is absolutely meaningless in the long run. They got pizza and cake, whatever. But in Summer’s version, we see that our main character likes strong flavors, implying that she has strong opinions and probably isn’t a quiet onlooker about much of anything. I love the cheeky little wink. You also see that Faye is very close to her, that they know each other well without her having to say so.
In the two liner I wrote, it says nothing specific. It implies nothing, except that maybe this character is passive.
Take the interactions and transitions and seemingly unimportant lines in your work and make them actually say something. Remember the books you’ve read where you breeze over the more humdrum action, the cooking of things, the driving to places, the going to class or work or whatever. How could the author have made that part that probably bored them to write into a bit that has significance to the character?
An English literature major with a creative writing minor, I take this shit a little too seriously. It also means that I look to add depth where there could easily be none.
I do shit like this to keep me thinking. There’s a brown bowl on the table in front of me right now. I could say “I looked at the brown monkey bowl and lacked the initiative to put it in the sink again.” Or I could say, “the only reason I’d bother to put the bowl in the already sky-high sink was because the monkey on it looked at me like I was doing something wrong. Like my entire life revolved around what it thought, and like I should be doing something to wash the brown out of my life in general.”
Sure, not fucking Shakespeare, but I haven’t even had a second cup of coffee. You see what I mean, though? Of course you do, Smarty Pantalones.
Your work as an author is to write something that nobody else would have written. Not just could have written, but would have written. It’s your job to come up with stuff that makes us see inside the character’s minds and their hearts. There’s a level of thinking that you naturally let us in on, but what does the character feel without saying “it felt like I sucked at life.” You get it.
Thank you, Summer, for giving me inspiration again to write with more depth and complexity, and for learning about characters in the most obscure ways.
Here’s an idea. Try this with like, regular people. When you’re cashiering at Stop and Shop, what does the crappy Boba Fett Velcro wallet say about the guy in the suit who’s carrying it? That lady who never smiles no matter how many times you smile at her, what would make her smile? Who took it away from her?
Long story short, be active in your work and interactions. It’s more fun that way.