Monday, April 5, 2010

This Side Up

"[The writer] has to be the kind of [wo]man who turns the world upside down and says, lookit, it looks different, doesn't it?"

For me, what separates an author from the pack of writers at the top of creativity's bell-shape curve is the ability to ignore obvious descriptors. Truly gifted and conscientious writers, instead, find a way to turn a description on its head, giving the reader a fresh vantage point from where a thing becomes dynamic and emotionally enmeshed with the narration.

For example, a writer could have her narrator complain, "I was sick to death of being constantly bombarded with sensational stories by New York City newspapers." The narrator's feelings are clear, and 'bombarded' is certainly a strong, high impact verb that carries a lot of emotional bang for its buck. But now consider how Sylvia Plath handled the same thought in the opening paragraph of "The Bell Jar":

"...and that's all there was to read about in the papers -- goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway."

Plath turned the idea on its side, describing the headlines and the places where the papers were sold, using modifiers that painted for the reader the emotional portrait of the narrator's feelings. In essence, her descriptions invited the reader to participate in the scene.

I love this quote by Patrick F. McManus: "Write out of the reader's imagination as well as your own. Supply the significant details and let the reader's imagination do the rest. Make the reader a co-author of the story."

Do you think about your readers as co-authors of your story? Does doing so inspire you?