Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Writing Vivid Scenes


A couple of weeks ago I started us on a writing journey and then detoured you with two weeks on Inner Conflict. Well we’re back on the main highway again. Just to refresh your memory on November 18th we discussed the importance of grouping words into motivation-reaction units. Using Dwight Swain's book Techniques of the Selling Writer as our guide we went over the process of selection, arrangement and descriptions. All three identify your style of writing.

I planned to discuss scene and sequel next, but I think we need to discuss something that is very important first. Vividness. Swain says that vividness is at the heart of writing. I wholeheartedly agree. A vivid scene will stay with a reader long after he/she closes your book. So how do you write vivid scenes? Nouns and verbs. That’s simple, right? Wait a minute. Let me explain a little more.

You know that nouns are words that describe things: cat, car, or chair. Right? In and of themselves these words are very plain. Remember selection. A cat in vivid writing just isn’t a cat, it’s a feline and better than that it could very well be Siamese. Compare the three: cat, feline, Siamese. Which is most descriptive, most vivid? Now how about the noun car. In vivid writing a car could be a Ford, better yet a Mustang. Now a chair could be a recliner, better still a La-Z-boy. What we're going for here is specificity which equals vivid writing! As you can see the more specific you are the more vivid the scene. But what about verbs? How do verbs make a scene more vivid?

Verbs show action or a state of being. They can be very complex. There are transitive verbs and intransitive verbs. There are five major forms of verbs: base, infinitive, present tense, past tense, past participle, and present participle. There are regular verbs and irregular verbs. However, the verbs we’re going to dwell on are “active” and “passive” verbs. Guess which one you need to use to make your writing vivid? Yep, active. Let’s do a comparison.

Jack was in the truck.
Jack sat in the truck.
Jack hid in the truck.

Was is the passive verb. Nothing descriptive nor active about was. It’s a to be verb which describes existence only. Avoid these verbs whenever possible. Sat is active and better still hid is active and draws a picture for the reader. In Swain’s words, “Active verbs are what you need…verbs that show something, and thus draw your reader’s mental image more sharply into focus.”

Try making your writing more vivid by using nouns that are descriptive and verbs that are active. Next week I'd like to discuss what's in a name. And I promise we'll get to scene and sequel...eventually. I just want to cover a few more basics first. Hang on we'll get there.

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