By Sue Coletta
In the video, I tell you a story. After you watch it, we’ll deconstruct how and why I told the story this way. I’m hoping this will help new writers who submit their first pages for critique. For the seasoned writers, please add tips that I’ve missed.
Pardon my lack of acting skills. LOL Catch ya on the flipside.
Did you notice all the things I didn’t say? Learning what not to write is just as important as learning what to put on the page.
The first line tells the audience “someone I buried thirty years ago visited” but I’m vague. The audience doesn’t need to know more than that yet. Tease the reader into finding out on their own.
Our characters experience a slow build of emotion. In the video, I breeze over sharing my emotions because it’s visual. With the written word, we need to describe what the character is feeling, thinking, internal body cues, what she smells, etc., to paint that same vivid picture in the reader’s mind. Which, in my opinion, is why books are more visceral than movies. The reader experiences the story right along with the characters.
Let’s tear apart the transcript to see the inner workings of the scene.
Please note: For some reason I told the story in present tense. Let’s blame the humidity. 🙂 In writing, however, we should remain in past tense, with a few exceptions that’ve been discussed on TKZ before. I corrected the tense in the transcript below.
Ready? Here we go …
Someone I’d buried over thirty years ago visited me last night. [HOOK] Hooks the reader right away and plants story questions in their mind. A good opening line forces the reader to continue. It also hints at the story to come and defines the genre.
The next paragraph introduces the main character without bogging down the writing with backstory. At the same time, we’re giving the reader a reason to empathize with, or relate to, our hero.
I was sitting at my desk, reading my manuscript, reading the story through one last time, second-guessing every move I made from the opening scene to the end, when static from the TV drew my attention. <– First hint of trouble. [GOAL] [MOTIVATION IS 2ND PART AND TWO LINES BELOW]
It was off. Yet, it popped, crackled, hummed. <– We’ve begun to build suspense. I should add, in writing it’s best to substitute a generic word like “it” with the item we want the reader to visualize. [CONFLICT]
We’d just bought the television last December. <– One line of backstory to show why this situation is unusual. Don’t tell me it’s goin’ already. <– Inner dialogue helps the reader relate to our hero. [REACTION]
When silence enveloped the room, I shrugged it off as one of life’s mysteries and got back to work. <– Adds to characterization and sets up the following inner dialogue, so the reader doesn’t get confused. [1ST HALF IS MOTIVATION, 2ND IS REACTION]
Gee, I really love the storyline, the way it ebbs and flows. But is that the right word? Is this the right reaction for the scene? I don’t know …
Pop. Crackle. Hum. <– There’s the conflict again — the antagonist force isn’t going away. [DISASTER] [MOTIVATION]
My gaze shot to the flat-screen. That’s weird. It’s almost like it’s trying to turn itself on. That can’t be right … can it? <– Reaction, emotions building. If written, I’d trigger the senses here. [REACTION]
As my jaw slacked, voices in the other room whirled me around. I was alone in the house. <– Stakes. [MOTIVATION]
Maybe the breeze carried my neighbor’s conversation through the screens. Wouldn’t be the first time. <– Reaction. Even though emotions are on the rise, our hero still tries to reason the strange happening away. [ABOVE IS ALL REACTION] [REACTION FOR MRU, TOO]
Once again, I focused on my manuscript. <– Hero tries (and fails) to ignore the conflict. I guess that word works. Yeah, it’s pretty good. Plus, I’m running out of time. <– Inner dialogue allows the reader inside the hero’s head.
I glimpsed the clock. One hour left to turn it in. <– Micro-conflict.
I read on.
The voices from the sunroom grew louder and more intense. <– Antagonist force grows stronger and more visible. Stakes rise. Suspense increases. [DILEMMA] [MOTIVATION]
What the heck’s goin’ on? <– Reaction. If this was a written scene rather than a visual one, I’d add more emotion and inner turmoil here. [REACTION]
Unable to concentrate, I swiveled out of my desk chair. <– Our hero is forced to act.
Slow. Cautious. I snuck through the kitchen to the French doors. <–Action, punctuated with sentence fragments to help build suspense. Crackling blurs the voices of talk radio. <– The hero realizes what’s happening. This also sets up the reveal at the end of this scene. [LAST SENTENCE IS MOTIVATION]
My eyes widen in disbelief. With my head swiveling like a pinwheel on a stick, scoping out the room in all directions, I tiptoed toward the stereo. <– The hero’s emotions have reached a crescendo. If written, add more visceral details. [DECISION] [REACTION] Sure enough, the switch clicked up one notch to AM. <– The antagonist force is revealed, but we still don’t know why or what it wants. When we raise more story questions we force the reader to flip the page. [MOTIVATION]
Oh. My. God. She’s come back. <– Sets up future scenes and, hopefully, makes the reader fear for our hero. [REACTION]
Now, could I have shared a better story? Absolutely. But the reason I chose to use this particular story is because everything I told you in the video is true. This happened to me last week.
Quick SEO tip: When including video in your post add [Video] to your title. The bracketed word tells bots to crawl the post. Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. give video the highest priority. I’ll share more SEO tips with you soon.
TKZ family, please share your favorite writing advice, writing quote, or something that resonated with you that will help new writers on their journey.
Read the opening scene of CLEAVED, and you’ll see the same storytelling structure in action.