“…that autumn and the failing off the leaf is the season of the year when maybe here or there a heart among Men may be open, and an eye perceive how is the world’s estate fallen from the laughter and the loveliness of old. Think on Kortirion and be sad-yet is there not hope?” – Book of Lost Tales – Volume 1 by JRR Tolkien
Today, I’m thankful for eucatastrophe. This is a term coined by Tolkien to mean the turning point of grace. He himself says in his lecture on Fairy-Stories that the true turning point of grace in history is Christ’s Incarnation and his Resurrection. Think about that! It is the moment of surprising hope. It is the moment all that is dark and bad turns to good and joy. A true fairy story must have this moment. These are my favorite stories to write. They aren’t so popular right now, the happy ending I mean, but I love them all the same. I am very thankful for real eucatastrophies and fictional ones.
It is because of this I have decided to stop saying I write Fairy Tales and start saying I write Fairy Stories. 🙂
Eucatastrophe is a neologism coined by Tolkien from Greek ευ- “good” and καταστροφή “destruction”.
It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the “turn” comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality.”
“Aunt Abby!!!!” Bruce yelled at the top of his lungs. Jules, Ellie, Constance, and Joshua chimed in until there was a high-pitched cacophony of little boys and girls yelling Aunt Abby’s name. Imogene and Jude looked up from their coloring books, surprised by the noise. They rushed over with shouts and giggles to make sure they weren’t left out.
“Inside voices,” said several Moms at the same time.
“Look what I can do!” Bruce whispered loudly.
“What? What? I’m watching!” Aunt Abby said.
“No, look what I can do,” Jules said.
“No, what I can do,” Ellie said.
“Wait,” Aunt Abby said before anyone else could start yelling. “Why don’t we put on a Talent Show.”
“A Talent Show?” Jules said raising her eyebrows. “What’s a Talent Show?”
“It’s when you show everyone you’re talents,” Aunt Abby said with a smile.
“Oh,” Constance said still confused.
Aunt Abby hurried the cousins into Grammie’s nursery and had them stand in line.
“Okay, Bruce, you start. What can you do?”
Bruce blew a very loud and wet raspberry. All six of the other cousins did the same. Ellie linked her arms around Aunt Abby’s neck and said, “Look what I can do?” Aunt Abby turned away from the inevitable spray of saliva.
“Look! What I can do?” Ellie said.
“I’m looking,” Aunt Abby said, her face still turned away.
“Look! What I can do!” Ellie said again and again until Aunt Abby looked down into her eyes. Elle blew a huge raspberry spraying Aunt Abby.
“Eew! Gross!” Aunt Abby said wiping spit from her face.
Everyone crowded around her, tongues out and lips pursed.
“Wait!” Aunt Abby said. “You can’t all have the same talent. We need to find specific talents for each of you.”
“Why?” said Jules.
“Because you’re each different people with different skills and different gifts from God.”
“What’s skills?” Imogene said.
“Is it something bad?” Jude said.
“No! It’s something very good. Now let’s sit down and think. There’s still lots to do if we want to put on a Talent Show.”
“Like what?” said Jules.
“Like flyers and we need a stage and a curtain.”
“I want to fly,” said Ellie.
“No, not flying. Flyers are pieces of paper used to invite people to a show. Let’s go ask Grammie for some construction paper and crayons, and let’s go ask Grandpa about using the porch as a stage.”
“I bet Grandpa can make a curtain,” Bruce said.
“I bet he can. Let’s go!”
(Several Hours Later)
Aunt Abby stood on the steps of the front porch. A curtain hung behind her hiding giggling cousins. Arranged before her was two rows of chairs. Great Gran, Grammie and Grandpa, Matt and Ruth, Emily and Brian, Jason and Joy, Liz and Brad, and Price all clapped loudly with their different colored fliers in their laps as Aunt Abby introduced the first cousins.
“Ladies and gentlemen, ” she said in a loud voice. “Please welcome Jude to the stage here to impress you with his perfect and award-winning smile.”
Jude toddled out from behind the curtain after a gentle push from Constance and stared at his family. His mamma, Emily, gave him an encouraging smile. Jude grinned from ear to ear. Everyone clapped and Jude smiled even bigger. Everyone clapped agreeing that Jude had a wonderful smile.
Aunt Abby announced Imogene after hurrying Jude down to his waiting parents. Imogene bowed to the audience, ran out around them and leapt at the tree in the flower bed. With nimble fingers and toes she climbed the trunk. Clinging to branches, she made her way to the very top where she waved at the family. Every one applauded while she climbed back down and ran to her Mom and Dad.
“Next up,” Aunt Abby said, “We have Joshua.”
Joshua came out from behind the curtain with Aunt Liz’s dog, Violet, at his side. His blue eyes sparkled.
Violet licked his face with a big wet tongue and sat down.
“Lay down, Violet.”
The dog laid down, resting her huge head on her paws.
“Bang!” yelled Joshua pointing his fingers like a gun.
Violet rolled over on her side.
The family laughed and laughed, clapping at Joshua’s trick. He gave them a deep bow and took Violet down to Aunt Liz before climbing up in his Daddy’s lap.
Ellie came next with her perfect smile. She bowed to her family and then said, “I’m not afraid.”
With arms flung wide, she jumped off the porch, over all three steps, and landed perfectly in Grammie’s path. Several Mommies gasped and then everyone cheered. Ellie giggled and sat down.
Constance followed her out with a handful of flowers clutched tightly. She smiled shyly and held the flowers up for everyone to see. “This is a Bluebonnet, the state flower of Texas,” she said. “And this is a rose, and this is a daisy, and this is an Indian Paint Brush, and this one is yellow.” Then she reached in her pocket and pulled out a rock. “And these are rocks. They’re very pretty.”
“Woot woot!” cheered Aunt Liz. Everyone joined in clapping loudly. Matt even stood up to clap louder.
Constance blushed and hurried to her Mama.
“Bruce, please come share your Talent,” Aunt Abby said.
“Please,” Aunt Abby said.
Bruce peaked around the curtain at the audience. Uncle Jason yelled his name. Everyone started chanting, “Bruce. Bruce. Bruce.”
Stepping out, he held up his fist, closed tightly.
“Do you know what it is?” he asked.
“NO!” everyone answered at once.
He opened it to reveal a four-inch long grasshopper. It leapt from his fingers off into Grammie’s flowerbed.
“And I have this,” Bruce reached into his pocket and produced a long earthworm. It slithered to the end of this fingers and he dropped it in the dirt.
“Last, this,” he reached behind the curtain and produced a jar. Inside sat a large yellow and black swallowtail butterfly.
“It’s so pretty,” Constance said from the audience.
Bruce opened the jar and the butterfly flew away while the crowd oohed and ahhed.
“Yay Bruce,” Aunt Abby said clapping to send him off to sit with his parents.
“Last, but far from least, we will end this most impressive Talent Show with Jules.”
Aunt Abby waved her hand at the curtain.
Jules stepped out and clasped her hands in front of her.
“For my Talent, I’m going to recite a poem:
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
Jules bowed. Jason stood, applauding loudly. Everyone else stood cheering, yelling, and clapping.
“What was that?” Aunt Em said.
Jason bopped her on the head. “Tolkien of course.”
Em sighed. “Of course.”
Aunt Abby waved all the cousins back onto the porch and they all bowed to their adoring audience.
“Watch what I can do?” Bruce said. He blew a giant raspberry.
Jules, Constance, Joshua, Ellie, Imogene, and Jude took one glance at him and all blew a raspberry as loudly and slobbery as they could.
“If you can’t beat them,” Aunt Abby said. “Join them. ” She blew a raspberry too.
I’ve been asked several times in my life why I write and why I blog? To give back to a community that has given so much to me while also answering that question, I decided to ask several of my favorite bloggers (sorry Josh, it’s never going to leave my vocabulary) the same question and collect their thoughts as guest posts. There are links at the bottom to each of the articles and there you will find links to these five wonderful blogs. Now it’s my turn:
Well, to be honest, I’m one of those strange people born with a need for self-expression. And not so much self-expression, as a need to share the beauty of what I see with the world around me. I see trees, clouds, sky, grass, birds, a magnificent horse, the heart-breaking death of a warrior, a child’s laugh and I feel the need to capture it, package it, and share it with the world. I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. What does this mean? Before I’m a writer, at my most inner core, I’m a story-teller. I love stories. I always have.
I tried painting. Oh, how I wanted to be an artist with a canvas and a world of colors. But, paintings never flowed from my fingers. I tried drawing and got an A for coming to class every day, not for any great piece of art—although my doodling improved. I tried music. How I longed to capture what I felt and saw in the stringing of notes together. Is there anything more powerful than music for expressing the human condition? I did okay. But when I reached the crossroads of more practice or dropping my lessons, I dropped my lessons. More practice just didn’t seem worth it. I tried photography. And while I can shoot a pretty picture, I fail to see the story in my own shot. It’s just not there.
Somewhere along the way, much inspired by Tolkien, and encouraged by my husband, I picked up the one art form I hadn’t tried. I picked up a pen and started writing. It was like coming home. Writing allowed all that I saw in my head to flow out of me. It gave me a means to share the magic of the world that I constantly saw around me.
I couldn’t capture the dust floating like so much fairy-powder in a golden sunbeam in music, paint, shutter lens, or graphite, but I could capture it in words. I could show you how they dust glitters and sparkles. I could let you see the magic through my eyes that would change how you look at the common sun shining through the window. I can turn common into a glowing soldier locking tiny sparkles in an incandescent prison. I can drive common away with mention of Peter Pan, happy thoughts, and fairy dust. I can sit you in a sunbeam and sail you away to Never Neverland. With words, I can paint. With words I can weave together a song all people can cling to. With words I can capture a moment and freeze it forever. With words I can smug just a little gray to make a powerful shadow.
Words, writing, storytelling. This is why I blog. I blog because blogging is the easiest way in our modern-day and age to share what I’ve always wanted to share. Blogging lets me interact with readers in a way in which I couldn’t if I had to wait until my novel was finished. Blogging lets me encourage, inspire, challenge, and build up in a way that would be impossible in any other time. I could submit articles to magazines, but why not let you just read what pours out of my fingers?
This way, you the reader can sort and find the authors you want to read. You can find people who are like-minded, or very different in their mindsets and beliefs. You can read my blog, or Heather’s, Deanna’s, Raelea’s, Josh’s, or Rob’s and find articles that make you ponder, that help you as you tend to those in your life, that inspire you, inform you, and share a little of each of us with…well…you.
That, my friends, is why I blog. I blog because I’m a writer, and I’m a writer because I’m a storyteller. So jump in the deep end of blogging. Read, comment, and start one yourself, if you’re so inclined. Take the advice and thoughts from this month’s guest posts and put them to good use. Ask questions. Get advice. Network with other bloggers.
And if you’re not a writer, thank goodness. Cause there’s one thing us writers need: Readers. We need readers to cheer us on, offer a counterpoint and advice, share our musing with others, suggest article ideas, and connect us with the world. We need you! This is why I blog!
I hope you’ve grown to understand why we bloggers do what we do. I hope you’ve seen that our takes on blogging are as diverse as we are. Maybe you’ve even a little inspired. The blogging world is a pretty friendly place, ready to offer advice and support. Feel free to comment on any of our blogs and ask questions! Thanks again for reading!
Your favorite book now a major motion picture.
I have a love/hate relationship with the concept of turning books into movies. When one of my favorite books is slated to become a movie, I tend to be excited and antsy. I search the cast list for any resemblance to the people I love. I watch trailers looking for that moment that was personally pivotal to me in the book. I read articles to discern the director’s depth of understanding of his material. When Peter Jackson first announced plans to make Lord of the Rings, I obsessed to a degree that was beyond fan girl. Way beyond fan girl. Why? Because Lord of the Rings is my favorite, not-the-Bible book of all time. Favorite.
But this isn’t an article about Lord of the Rings. This is an observation about translating books into movies, and how movies have changed our writing. I want to explore this idea by comparing The Hobbit, Hunger Games, and Ender’s Game. I’ve read and enjoyed all three books and all three movies. I hope they make an interesting comparison study.
Tolkien penned The Hobbit long before fantasy-type books became movies every summer. I can’t imagine Tolkien IMDB-ing actors to see if Martin Freeman would make a good Bilbo. When Card wrote Ender’s Game having a book turned into a movie was more likely, but still a shot in the dark. Then we come to The Hunger Games. It was almost a guarantee that if the book had any success, it would be made into a movie. Suzanne Collins worked in the TV business, writing shows for children. I can’t imagine her writing The Hunger Games without a movie in the back of her mind. How do I know that? Because I do the same thing. I grew up with movies and I can’t help but think of them when I write.
We have one book with no thoughts for a movie, one with a little thought, and one heavily influenced.
And their movies? (Please remember this is just my opinion.)
The Hunger Games was a great movie that followed the book closely adjusting pacing as needed for a film. My husband, who isn’t a fiction reader, really loved it.
Ender’s Game followed the book closely, as far as I can remember, but with more concern for the book’s fans than movie goers. My husband found it boring and a bit confusing. I didn’t feel as into the movie as I was the book. It came across as choppy, and poorly paced. I should note that it’s been many years since I read the book.
The Hobbit was so different from the book. In fact, I hated the movie when I first saw it. Right after watching it, my husband and I dove into the book and found the movie to be surprisingly accurate, all things considered. Of the three, this was the only one that my husband had read both the book and seen the movie.
I think it would have been impossible for Peter Jackson to follow the Hobbit as it was written. The barrel scene? Twelve dwarves floating down a river in closed barrels as river elves pushed them along: worked in the book, boring on the screen. In a book, the author can give the reader a brief sentence saying the town chief is gross and greedy. A reader has no problem accepting that a moving on. In a movie, you have to show it and establish it. It can’t be tacked on somewhere.
In fact, as I refreshed my view of the Hobbit, I became more pleased at what Peter Jackson preserved that he could have left out. There are writing tools you can manipulate in a book that you just can’t spring on people in a movie. The odd part is that even when I acknowledge the good things Peter Jackson did, I still don’t really like the Desolation of Smug taken in the broader context of all the movies. It’s pacing seems really off.
In Ender’s Game, I think they stuck so close to the book that that became more of a concern than making a good movie. If they focused on making a good movie, I think it would have been better. Instead, it felt confusing and emotionally unrelatable unless you’d read the book.
Hunger Games had no problem going from book to screen. The book just adds and develops the characters a bit more, but you get a good sense of the story and characters from the movie.
Has the silver screen changed how we write? Has it changed how we write scenes? Probably. I think this may be why the concept of Showing instead of Telling has gained such ground. If you read older work, they do an extensive amount of telling prior to showing. Older books also spend less time explaining battles, or fight scenes, if they even have them. Older works don’t seem as focused on character descriptions, partially, maybe, because they weren’t thinking about the actor who might be selected to play them.
Is this bad? No, not necessarily. I enjoy a book with a lot of showing instead of telling. I enjoy books with masterful battle scenes. But, I also think it opens the door to a lot of bad writing. (This is not the only day and age with bad writing, but it does seem easier to find than it used to be.) I think writers can focus too much on character description instead of just character. I can’t stand a novel that gives me a character’s measurements as if that is going to help me picture him better in my mind. I want to get to know this person, not that he’s 6′ 4″. Some people write scenes totally based on what they’ve seen in movies. Maybe they should just be a screen writer, instead of a novelist. I’ve had to tell new writers that they can’t write slo-mo action scenes. It doesn’t work when you’re reading. Matrix styled fighting and good cop/bad cop only work if you’re a really great writer. The rest of us just need to do more research until we find something based in reality that we can use.
I’m a product of my time. I can’t stick my head in the sand and pretend I live in a different time…unless I’m writing a period piece…which I’m not. I always have a ‘cast’ file. It’s filled with pictures of actors that I have in mind for the characters. Some of the actors aren’t alive anymore because I’m looking for a match to my imagination, not hoping to submit it to Hollywood. I don’t anticipate my books every becoming movies, thought I’ve daydreamed about it. Generally it ends up with me shuddering cause I don’t really like Hollywood that much and don’t want to get caught up in that world in any way, shape, or form. Besides, they wouldn’t like me. I’m too conservative, too Christian. It wouldn’t happen.
All that to say, yes, movies affect how we write. We don’t live in bubbles. We probably all write as if we were watching a film and just reporting on what we were seeing. I even refer to different parts in my book as scenes, as if I was directing a film. But, writing is so much richer and deeper than a movie. Writing let’s you escape to a whole new world in a way movies never can. You get to be in a new place and in a new person. Through the journey, you often learn more about yourself than you ever could watching a movie. Movies are wonderful, but books are often better. Don’t stop writing. Enjoy the gifts of the silver screen, but don’t rely on them.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” – Lord of the Rings
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for awhile. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” – Lord of the Rings
“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.” – Lord of the Rings
“At that sound the bent shape of the king sprang suddenly erect. Tall and proud he seemed again; and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before:
‘Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!’
With that he seized a great horn from Guthláf his banner-bearer, and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder. And straightway all the horns in the host were lifted up in music, and the blowing of the horns of Rohan in that hour was like a storm upon the plain and a thunder in the mountains.
‘Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!’
Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away. Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it. After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them. Éomer rode there, the white horsetail on his helm floating in his speed, and the front of the first éored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Théoden could not be overtaken. Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Oromë the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and the darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.” [The Return of the King: The Ride of the Rohirrim]
Today is Tolkien Reading Day! These are four of my favorite Tolkien Quotes.
Re-posted from my old blog to share with others:
September has been a very busy month. It started with a head-cold, then a wedding during the cold, than a dear friend passing away, then a conference. I coordinated the wedding with the cold and almost no voice. I was the person in charge of the five meals for about 200 people attending the conference. It was crazy. But what I’m sharing today is about my friend who passed away.
These are notes I took while sitting in the hospice room for the last few days of his life. These are very intimate notes, but I feel it is important to share them. I’m leaving them much as they were when I wrote them, so please excuse the rough draft format.
9/14/13: Early AM
I’ve never been with someone when they died. I’ve been to relatively few funerals. My fear and repulsion for hospitals and any and all things medical coupled with the one too many things I know about crime scenes and thus how the body decays after death has led me to fear the side of a dying friend for many years.
But, I have entered a stage of life where I can no longer avoid hospitals and death. God’s grace is sufficient and like a good hobbit I screw up my courage and visit my friends. I have found love to be a great motivator.
So, here I sit, having been in the hospice room for almost 12 hours and only three of them spent asleep. My brother “breathes” loudly in the hall. My husband is finally lying down covered by my St. John throw, faithful to his friend to the end. Glenn is sleeping for the first time in days and Flo stays by his side, nurse, wife, and friend.
We have kept the night watch. We have been with Harry as he struggles to breath – labors! – and as his body shuts down.
I’m amazed that I have done this. I have visited Harry, my Grandma and spent all day with my father-in-law in the hospital. And while I have not changed my revulsion for them, I am here. I haven’t “felt” the hand of God, but I have thought, “I love these people and I must do my duty.” (Maybe that’s what the hand of God feels like.) It is so ordinary and I am so thankful for it. For the quiet working of God to aid me to be motivated by love.
So, Brother Harry lays dying. Not real quickly I must say. He has no family here, only his church. But as far as I am aware, he has not been alone at all. Men and women have gathered to sit at his side, hold his hand, stroke his brow, pray, read the scripture, sing. We have sung his favorite hymns and the hymns he wrote. We watched him try to sing with us. We felt him squeeze our hands when his favorite passages are read, and like Sam at Gandalf’s death, we have spoken often of his banana pudding.
So, I sit and watch a friend die. A man I love because he encouraged my husband. And you know what I think….Harry’s gonna get to see Glenn Wilkinson before the rest of us.
My facebook post that day: For the believer death is but a door to heaven. It is the ending of one story to begin the real story in the presence of Christ. And dear believer….this story has the best ending through the path to it has been dark.”
A quote sent by a friend: “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” – JRR Tolkien
9/14/13: 9:00AM while Price reads Revelations out loud to Harry.
Listen for his last breath,
Feel the twist in your gut,
Is this the one?
A moment of bi-polar emotion.
Fight. Fight to stay alive!
Go. Go. Let go. We will soon follow.
So we gather.
We hold tissues tight in our fists.
We sing in broken voices.
We share intimate moments of tears.
We hold his hand unsure of being held.
We talk unsure of hearing.
We read unsure of comprehension.
And we listen
Together, we listen for your last breath.
Even now, when he lies lost in dark halls of his mind laboring to breath, hot with fever, he serves his church. Even as his last few hours slip away, we are encouraged, brought together, given new opportunities to serve, given new love for each other. As you come closer to haven’s door, we, gathered around you, examine our own future deaths and find peace. We see the love of the saints. We see you surrounded by hymns and the Word and by tears and laughter and we know we are not forsaken. Even in death, You are with us, our mighty brother who already conquered death!
(I have, on my next page, the words written out from Before the Throne of God Above and Into the West.) (http://instagram.com/p/eP6SugTFFU/)
Watching Harry, I’m struck by God’s beautiful multi-tasking. I’m beginning to understand joy in the midst of suffering. Our church hurts, yet here we are gathered around Harry with all the members singing, praying, reading the scripture. We are laughing and crying, crying with people who I’ve never cried around, watching people cry who I’ve never seen cry. And we are united. So as the Lord takes Harry home, as he finishes the work which He began, we are made stronger. We are untied and we are challenged. As the Lord takes him home, he is using Harry to help us love each other more. He is using Harry to sanctify us. Harry’s faithful testimony has been mentioned again and again. And the Lord even used that. If Harry hadn’t been faithful, he might have died in his apartment alone, but God used his faithfulness to preserve Harry.
“I have so many friends, and I don’t know why,” is what Harry told his niece before he became mostly unresponsive.
9/18/13: (Harry passed on the morning of the 16th.)
I spent the weekend carefully watching my husband. When did he become the man I always wanted him to be? When did he get so strong? As I watch him hold the hand of a dying friend, as I listen to him sing and read the scripture, I couldn’t be more thankful for this man, my friend. He sacrificed his time, sleep, his work to stay by Harry. The Lord granted his request to be there with his at the end. But the part that I remember and cherish the most is him holding Harry’s hand and reading the book of Revelations barely able to keep his voice steady.
(We were there at the end, when Harry died, along with my parents, our other pastor, Glenn and Flo, and Ben. It was the first time I held someone’s hand as they passed away….I know it will not be the last. But I do know that God is good. He will finish the work. He has conquered death. I hope and pray my death serves my church as well as Harry’s did.)
Last time we introduced the idea of Making Every Word Count. Now let’s get more specific.
Make every paragraph count. Make every scene and description count. Ask yourself, as you edit, if this event is important. What am I learning about the situation and the characters? Every word counts. Your book is your baby. Your reader wants to enjoy it, but in the end, it’s another book on their shelf. Even if they adore it, they can’t spend their life studying it. Appreciate and respect this fact by making every paragraph count.
What does this look like for the writer? Emotion.
Sometimes rough drafts can be quiet dry. They have all the plot points and all the action but little of the emotion. (Sometimes they’re the other way around: all emotion and no plot. But that’s a different problem.) This is especially true of new or young writers. Never fear. It’s all part of the process. What you have to do, after you’ve written those two great words, THE END, is go back and add in the emotion. You have to go back and make every paragraph, every word count.
There are a two key places I regularly see this problem as an Alpha Reader, and as I edit my own work.
Description: You know the paragraphs where you spend several lines and a few hundred words talking about clouds, trees, grass, sand, snow, and wind? Or maybe you invested some words in the description of a beautiful car, a surprisingly fast motorcycle, or the long limbs of a racehorse. Descriptions shouldn’t be dry. They are the playground of the writer and the soul of the story. Descriptions are mood setters. Wait! What’s that? They effect emotion? Yes! Descriptions pull the reader away from their world and into yours, be it the same one they inhabit or a fantastical one. Adjectives and adverbs clue the reader in on who to love, who to hate, when to be nervous or at peace, to slow down or quicken their reading pace. If you write an emotionless description, go back and look at your word choice.
Have you read Lord of the Rings? If you haven’t, I highly suggest it. If you have, think back and remember how you felt when the Hobbits entered the Old Forest. Did you feel its twisted nature? What about the feelings you experienced in Fangorn Forest, the Misty Marshes, Lothlorian, Rohan, or the Shire? These places take on a life of their own because Tolkien harnessed the power of descriptions, and used them to set the emotional stages of the story. They feel alive, almost separate from the people who live in them. Emotion in descriptions is a powerful tool in your writing smithy.
How do you do this? Easy. Ask yourself how your character feels as they observe the world around them, or what you want your reader to feel as they look in on the world you’ve created. Are the clouds overhead ominous or uplifting? Is the car a deathtrap or a thing of beauty? Does the dog’s hair stand on end while its lips curl back, or are his ears perked and his tail wagging?
Plot: You know the little in-between plot points were your character cleans the house, goes grocery shopping, travels from point A to point B, and does their laundry? We all know they have to do these things. Even if you’re writing a futuristic story, there’s always laundry to do. Maybe you cover a few non-important days in their life by listing out all the mundane things that they did. Or maybe you tell us how their friends were late to see a movie, or their car needed to a wash. These scenes should be filled with emotion or cut. Noting is more annoying to a read than a pointless list of events….especially if it looks a lot like their own To Do list.
If your character is doing laundry, how do they feel? Happy, content, defeated, frustrated? Maybe the laundry time is just an excuse for the character to think, giving us needed insight into their mind. Don’t tell me they did the laundry, give me a point for the laundry that drives the story forward. If you need to tell your reader several days had passed were nothing happened, then just tell them. Don’t give them a list of all the mundane things done.
Back to Lord of the Rings, no one thinks that Aragon didn’t shower and wash his clothes ever. We all know he did at one point in time or another, but Tolkien never tells us this. Why? Well, it wouldn’t fit in the story. It wouldn’t drive the story forward. It would bog us down. He does tell us about making campfires and eating. Now eating is pretty normal, but Tolkien uses food and pipes to show us the comfort of home, or the lack of comfort. The lack of pipeweed on the journey to Mordor is used to show us how out of their element the Hobbits are, and how far from civilization they are. Tolkien doesn’t give us a list of Sam’s backpack contents. He uses those contents to drive the story forward or to help us look back at crucial moments.
How do you combat useless plot points, or lists? Easy! Ask yourself if the reader is learning anything about the character based upon what is going on. Is this scene driving the plot forward? If yes, than draw out the emotion of the scene. Develop it. If no, cut it! If you aren’t sure, see if it can be used. Ask yourself how your character feels as things slow down a bit and work that angle of the story. Make sure there’s a point.
Waste nothing. Every moment, breath, scene, paragraph, and word counts. They’re all important. Look for clues. The longer you write, the more books or articles you get under your belt, the more familiar with your own strengths and weaknesses you will become. You will find words that clue you in that a scene needs to be developed. It becomes your personal short hand. When the words are flowing let them flow. Then go back and add, develop, and cut, as you need.
And for goodness sake, if you haven’t read Lord of the Rings, go do it!