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Friday, December 10, 2010

Is Your Prose Flat?

Is your prose flatter than a fiddle left out in the rain?

Does the scene you’ve written lie there on the page like malodorous gym socks on the floor next to the clothes hamper? Is your work as flavorless as Aunt Molly’s tofu casserole?


Well, my friend, step up close. All you need is a taste of Nancy Pickard’s pre-

patented prose perking up process. It’s not fattening and sugar free. It contains

no more alcohol than the law allows, although it can become habit-forming.


It’s not my idea but it works. Here’s how.


Read your piece and check Nancy’s recipe. Does your work include the ingredients

below?


Conflict: Conflict is the basis of all drama. Does somebody want something? Does your heroine want to prove that her best friend did not really spike the postal carrier’s lemonade with powdered oleander? Does she want to survive an attack by the baseball bat wielding rodeo clown?


Action: A movie director does not start filming by shouting, “Think about it.” Something has to happen. It may be internal action as well as external action. Does the scene advance the plot? If it does not, pull out your red pencil and start slashing.


Emotional shift (Turn): Someone should experience a change of emotional state. Although it is usually a character, occasionally it may be the reader. Lee Child’s hero, Jack Reacher, doesn’t show much change in emotion as he decimates the opposition but the author does a masterful job of evoking emotion in readers.


Surprise: There is a reason birthday, special occasion and holiday gifts are almost always wrapped. The gift the recipient gives to the giver is the surprise and excitement he or she shows while unwrapping the present. I suspect part of Steig Larsson’s appeal, despite the need for better editing, is his ability to take his readers unaware. Humor and horror both rely on surprise.


For extra flavor and to enhance emotional involvement by readers, try to use as many senses as possible in every scene. For me sight and sound are easy. I have to look for chances to include the rest.


Will Nancy’s pick-you-up make you a national best-selling author, winner of Agatha, Anthony, Macavity and Shamus awards and many others? Nope, you’ll have to settle for being a better writer and earn awards on your own.


Whoa, no pushing, son. There’s plenty to go around. Yes, Ma’am, that’s it Uncork the bottle. Drink deeply.


Step right up, sir. Step right up.


Count your change before you leave the window.

4 comments:

Pauline Alldred said...

Sounds like great advice, Warren. Thanks for the reminder. Worrying about grammar and line-editing isn't going to help if the conflict and emotion isn't there.

Ramona said...

I think clowns are scary--and now there's one wielding a baseball bat? Thanks for the nightmare!

Other than that minor complaint, good stuff! I like acronyms, so Conflict + Action + Surprise + Emotion = CASE. Got it. Will remember it.

Warren Bull said...

The system was invented by Nancy Pickard. I think its great.

jrlindermuth said...

Characters are merely a collection of words unless the emotions aren't there to bring them (and the story) to life.