Tuesday, February 28, 2006

More stuff I've learned

Okay, so I've been spending a lot of time in writing classes, going back to basics. Well, not really basics, actually. I'm taking on-line classes and going to RWA meetings with speakers who are advanced way beyond the basics, multipublished authors, who are passing some of their tricks and tips on.

A recent one from a speaker at the local RWA chapter near where I live was Lori Wilde. She offered the best tip I've heard in a while. In her books, she chooses some sort of prop for the characters in her scene that will represent the emotion or theme she's trying to express. That way, it keeps her away from "telling" the story and moves her towards "showing" the story.

An example would be in the Susan Elizabeth Phillips book Ain't She Sweet, the day Sugar Beth learned that her father was never going to love her the way she wanted him to, which winds up shaping her behavior for the rest of her life. Her father has always treated her like a dumb blonde, so she believes if she works hard enough, and gets all A's on her report card, he'll love her more. On the day she gets her report card (the prop), she bicycles over to show her daddy. She's bursting with pride, clutching the report card in her hand--until she sees her daddy sitting with another little girl in his lap, giving her the love and attention Sugar Beth has always wanted. That little girl is his second family, the one he really loves. Sugar Beth realizes she'll never be smart enough to get him to love her that way, and she crumples up the report card, and in her anguish, it drops to the ground, forgotten. We, the readers, realize along with her what that moment will mean in her life, and it's all represented by that dirty, forgotten, abandoned report card--a hope, a dream, trampled in the dirt.

I thought that was powerful, and I've made use of it as much as possible in my WIP. My hero, an alien cop, wears gloves most of the time. It represents his loneliness and isolation, and the way he surpresses his emotions. When the gloves come off--literally--his emotions are explosive and very near the surface. When he pulls them back on, he's under control again. It's a very effective way for communicating the hero's emotional state to the reader without saying, "He was upset."

Good tool, huh? Try it in your writing and see if it works.



Anonymous said...

I like it!

Kate Willoughby said...

What a great suggestion. I think the word "prop" doesn't do it justice. I'd call it a symbolic icon or something like that, because it carries so much more meaning that a mere prop. I'm going to go to my WIP and see if I have one. If not, I'm adding one!

Do you think the heroine's hair could fit the bill? She is a courtesan keeps it braided all the time and never lets anyone--especially her clients--see it unbound. It's the one part of her body she can keep (somewhat) private. What do you think?

TJ Bennett said...

I think that would work great, Kate. The heroine's hair becomes a symbol of her intimate self. I also like the idea of thinking of the "prop" as a symbol, and in fact I believe Lori may have offered that term as an alternate in case we didn't like "prop."

I remember another book where the heroine, who was, in effect, a high class prostitute, would never kiss her clients. She would do anything else they asked but that. It was how she reminded herself that what she did was just a job, not who she was. When she does actually kiss the hero, who became a client but learned to love her and wanted her love back, it was a big moment in the book. It revealed a lot about the state of their relationship and the emotional impact his love had on her.


Kate Willoughby said...

(This is Kim from LARA, by the way!)

I remember that kissing thing also from Pretty Woman. Julia Robert's character wouldn't kiss Edward either. I suppose any prostitute story has to have some sort of symbolic turning point like that.

TJ Bennett said...

Yes, of course I knew who you were, my dear. ;-)

I just figured that's what you wanted to be called. I've used Eden's name as well, for a similar reason.

Hmmm. Come to think of it, I may be remembering that story line from Pretty Woman. Book, movie, whatever. Hee hee!

Welcome to my site!


Robena Grant said...

I read a women's fiction novel once, can't remember the name, but the heroine would dye her hair red every time she had an issue with her husband or her kids. It was so symbolic. They knew, and everytime the hair was red or they saw a package of red hair-dye coming out of the marketing packages they'd freak. It was very humorous and as the reader you were automatically cued in to the "uh oh" factor.
Totally get it. Totally love it.