Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Snip Skimming in the Bud: How to be Eloquent and Snappy

Skimming. A writer’s nightmare. Here we are pouring intense thought and meticulous planning into each layer and fold of our story... but the reader is getting antsy. And thus, missing the sheer genius of those carefully prepared words.

I hate to admit that I do this sometimes. Skim. A sacrilege! And I know that some poor misguided reader has likely glaze over those precious details I've slaved over to get to the meat.

Because I write suspense I tend to be driven by action, pacing, and cliff hangers. But interestingly enough, I am equally wooed by the details, the little nuances of romance that tease and excite until we are chomping at the bit for more.
The point here is balance.

We’ve all been schooled with rulers to “show don’t tell,” because well, a plainly told story would bore us all to tears. We want to touch, taste, smell, see, and hear everything the characters are feeling because therein lies the magic of story. It’s power to transport us outside of ourselves into another dimension.

But sometimes, more isn’t really better for the reader. The excess becomes clutter, it bogs our pace, dwindles our excitement, and your beautiful message-your long labor of love-becomes the casualty of overwriting.

To sound official I am going to coin this affliction Hyperwriteosis. Please consult your editor if symptoms worsen.

Prescription to keep you snappy (Use in moderation):

-Insert action tags to break up heavy introspection.

If we can see what is happening outside of the mind, how the person responds physically, we are more inserted into the moment and the scene has movement. Your page will have a pulse. 

         -Sprinkle in your senses.

            Susan May Warren does a great job teaching about utilizing the five senses in every scene. If they are all present, they almost disappear and the scene is alive all around you. But don’t plop them all in at once because it becomes an information dump. And you don’t want your scene to read like a checklist. 

            Yep, she’s smells the dank air of the alley. The brisk wind shivers through her coat. It’s umm… dark, and the casts of shadows warn that she’s not alone. She can taste her own fear as nervous bile creeps up and spills onto the back of her tongue. And well, despite the cold, her fingers are slick with sweat. These are all great things to know, and each detail is a new smear of paint on your canvas, but I doubt your character notices them all at once so why paint like a three year old?

-Write with purpose.

            Everything you plant on that page needs to be a seed. Some thoughts are seedlings—little sprouts of insight into your characters personality, their uniqueness, their setting, what makes them tick. Other thoughts have roots that run deep under the foundation of your story. They peel away motivations and fears. They raise the stakes and bring the house down when we get hit with the black moment. Bam!

            My point is, don’t waste your words of things that aren’t important to your story. The reader is smarter than you think and will not always be patient with your tangents. They will skip over your nonsense, or simply become annoyed by the delay, and forgo the rest of your fabulous book.

-Create compelling characters.

            Yes, this is fiction so we get to play. We could technically sculpt some super fine hero with rock-hard abs and a smile dangerous enough to be illegal in all 50 states. But we also want these people to seem real. Beautifully flawed. We want to fight through their struggles alongside them. Believe in them. Creating characters with honest vulnerability can be a challenge. Sometimes it’s easier to write the uber-confident-smokin’-hot-bad-boy/nice-guy that any woman would trade her left ovary to ride off with into the sunset with. But we don’t fall in love with cardboard cutouts. We fall in love with wonderfully broken pieces of humanity that somehow fit with our own. Make these people and their problems real and relate-able. Your reader will swoon and will most definitely stay tuned.

-Write a chasing pace.

            It doesn’t have to have an actual chase scene with explosions and tumbling cars to have a fast pace. It can be an achingly slow and tender kiss scene that reads like a pedal to the metal ride on the Autobahn. Keep your sentences short. Stay away from large blocks of script or dialogue. And for me personally, puh-lease avoid reader uncertainty. Be clear about what is happening. Okay, so what, they are kissing. Not all kisses are created equal. If I am bored during a kiss scene you are missing the boat! Utilize those senses; draw me in so I can see it play out like a scene from a movie. If I don’t know where anyone’s hands are, what they are thinking, feeling, or even if they are still kissing after an unspecified time elapses, am I to assume it was a crusty peck kiss? Oh, that will win her over! You can be specific without being graphic. Your reader will thank you! They will sigh and remember exactly what it is like to be kissed senseless. Ow ow!

When do you feel you usually start skimming? And do you have anything other remedies to add to my prescription?

<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

Amy Leigh Simpson writes romantic mysteries with honesty and humor, sweetness and spice, and gritty reality covered by grace. When she’s not stealing moments at naptime to squeeze out a few more adventures in storyland, she’s chasing around two tow-headed miscreants (Ahem)—boys, playing dress up with one sweet princess baby, and being the very blessed wife to the coolest, most swoon-worthy man alive. Amy is a Midwestern-girl, a singer, blogger, runner, coffee-addict, and foodie. Her Sports Medicine degree is wasted patching up daily boo boo’s, but whatever is left usually finds its way onto the page with fluttering hearts, blood and guts, and scars that lead to happily ever after.

Check out her NEW romantic mystery novel FROM WINTER'S ASHES! Available NOW!


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

This was great, Amy! I loved the line:
We fall in love with wonderfully broken pieces of humanity that somehow fit with our own.
That is so true! We want to relate with the characters we are reading about, and see victory and happy endings.

I confess that I do skim. I tend to skim on long introspection or long descriptions. I am a dialogue and interaction kind of reader, so all that thought and description brings me down.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Thanks Sherrinda! The surest way to detach from a story is be unaffected by cardboard characters. If we don't care about what happens, why read?

I agree with the dumps of dialogue and description. If we sprinkle them in they surround the action and enhance the atmosphere. If we plop them all in a paragraph it's like... skim, skim... and we're back. I do that too!

Thanks for commenting!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Great advice, Amy!

I love this line: These are all great things to know, and each detail is a new smear of paint on your canvas, but I doubt your character notices them all at once so why paint like a three year old?

I need help finding the balance in both directions. This post is wonderful!

Unknown said...

Awesome tips, Amy! Yeah, sorta makes me cry to think of someone skimming something that I've slaved over and yet...I know I do it! :) You mentioned Susie and I've re-read some of her books just to learn how she balances the five senses, description, internal monologue and all that with the actual, well, action of a story. And I think it comes down to tension...when we hold the tension in our stories, readers CAN'T skim. :) It doesn't even have to be conflict, but tension--romantic tension, comedic tension, emotional tension. That's what keeps me glued to the page. :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Thanks Julia! Its definitely a balancing act. We all still struggle with it. But like everything else, practice makes perfect. And well... lots and lots of editing! :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Melissa, so glad you came by! Susie's senses and story layering are just plain magic. I've learned so much from reading and re-reading her books. Gotta say, the Noble Legacy series are my favorites. Tension, gobs of it in every form. The woman is a rock star!

Can't wait to read your upcoming debut!

Rajdeep Paulus-Writer of Young Adult Fiction said...

I second Melissa Tagg's enthusiasm for tension. Picked up that golden nugget from Jenny B. Jones! :)

Since I'm married to a doc, it was fun to read your diagnosis and prescription for crowded pages. And I'm with you on the kiss. To capture the wow of a kiss, the writing has to leave you wanting… to be kissed! I think! :)

Happy Weekend! -Raj

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Oh, Raj, I LOVE Jenny B. Jones! Sister's got it down! I studied sports medicine in school and interned in physical therapy. I was a math and science nerd, so those little medical aspects almost always find their way into my writing. How my mind words, I suppose.

And yes, reading a good kiss should inspire the real thing! ;) yes, ma'am!

Pepper said...

WOW! Amy - what a fantastic post.
And...ugh....I don't want people skimming my writing. I want to grab hold of the story with those elements you mentioned and hold on until after the last page...or longer!
I want the story to simmer in their souls and characters to visit their dreams, even AFTER they've finished.
But I'm not there yet in my writing. I've read books that leave a linger aroma to my senses...oh yes, but I'm not there yet as a writer.

AND KISSES! Yeah, we've talked about THAT! Why write it if it's not worth a swoon or two? ;-) LOL

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Pepper... If you're not there you are darn close!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Seeing you background I now understand why your suspense writing is so fantastic and believable. Thats because you know your stuff.

And this is a great post. It's so easy to let our stories clump. Like getting the unstirred garlic. Good spice, not all at once.

Rinelle Grey said...

I skim sometimes when reading. Mostly long descriptions (anything more than a sentence or two, definately if it goes on for several paragraphs).

Probably why I tend to keep descriptions short, and sprinkled among the action in my own writing.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Thanks, Mary! I'm still learning, but I do love writing suspense!

And Rinelle, thanks so much for coming by! I wholeheartedly agree, sprinkling is best! But all those spices need to be there to build the scene. Like mary said, good spice, but not all in the same bite :) They just can't distract from the action and movement.