I’m embarking on another Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson this coming weekend. I’m really excited to be working with her again and to get my head back into my story (where it hasn’t been for the last several weeks – pretty much since the last Immersion in November). Before it starts, though, there are a ton of things for me to do in a short period of time — to get the family ready, to get me ready, and to get my writing ready.
A complaint many of us in the writing field have is time (really, the lack thereof)…we’re not Nora Roberts or James Patterson, where writing pays our mortgage, car payment, and personal assistant/marketing guru. We’re typically balancing writing with husbands, families, full-time jobs, aging parents, and often more.
Something I’m learning about myself is that I make excuses for not working on my book or writing in general if I don’t have vast stretches of time in front of me. Sometimes, I do have the time, and I manage to get in a couple hours of deep editing, writing a new chapter, or (as in the case of this blog post) finishing up other writing-related things.
But there are lots (and lots and lots) of times where I don’t have hours ahead of me. I have 30 minutes. Less if I’m picking up the kids from school. I’ve resolved to take advantage of that time – maybe not EVERY time I’m sittin’ and waitin’, but at least some of it.
So what can I do? One of the things Margie taught us was to make lists. The lists I’m talking about here aren’t basic…they’re rich, detailed descriptions of whatever it is you’re listing. Hair? Think of ways to describe it that are atypical…not “honey-colored,” but “streaked with gold and honey and biscuit and beige.” Think of all five senses when you’re making lists about physical things; dig deep for lists about emotional things.
Remember, too, to make your lists reflect your style. If you write snarky, sexy paranormals, like my critique partner Jennifer Windrow, your lists should reflect that. I write historicals, so the words and phrases I use in my list should be vastly different from hers.
Margie suggests creating one electronic file for each type of list. I think you need to do what works best for you. Perhaps you have a file for physical descriptors, then break it down into sections (or tabs if you’re using a spreadsheet) for hair, faces, expressions, etc. Maybe you use Word. Maybe Excel. Maybe you create a project in Scrivener that is just Lists (which is what I intend to do).
You can make lists about anything, including (but certainly not limited to):
- Physical Descriptors (how it looks, but also how it sounds, smells, tastes, and feels)
- Hair – color, appearance, texture
- Skin – same as hair. Don’t forget scars, freckles, warts, etc.
- Clothing – particularly helpful if you write historicals
- Body Parts
- Find different words or phrases for basic emotions, like anger, hatred, fear, happiness, guilt, sadness, etc. For example, she wasn’t “mad.” “She clenched her hands together behind her back to avoid planting her drunken fiancé a facer.”
- Find words or phrases to describe those emotions on a person’s face…how to do they look when they’re angry, surprised, etc.?
- Visceral Reactions
- What are the different uncontrollable physical reactions that happen when someone experiences the emotions listed above? Come up with creative ways to say “his heart raced” or “her stomach fluttered.”
- Dialogue Tags
- Eliminate “he said” and “she said.” Find more interesting ways to attribute dialogue to a character. In particular, find words or phrases to use to convey emotion or delivery without using telling tags (like “she said angrily” or “he said bitterly”).
- Colors – there is more than one way to talk about something that is “white.” Try eggshell, taupe, silvery-white, cream, nude, stark white, moonglow, bleached, etc.
- Body Movement
- How do you describe someone moving through a room? Sitting and reading? Spying? Sleeping?
- Sex/Physical Interactions
- You can break this down into the Four Bases…what happens on first base, second base, etc.
- Think of the physical actions, the physical (visceral) reactions, and the emotional reactions
- Come up with lists for the different body parts – again, depending on your style and genre, they might be crude/direct or euphemisms.
This is a very short list of things for which you can create lists…it’s a start and surely you can think of other things you should make lists for (particularly things that you tend to do all the time — common phrases you use or ways you describe a character or situation). But when you’re in the middle of a scene or you’re editing and are stuck for a word or phrase, pulling from your list can save you, trigger a new thought, freshen what you’re writing, and add emotional impact to your words.
What other things can you think of that you can make lists for? Write them in the comments below!