I’m told that idle sketches on napkins and written blurbs, the doodles of some of the great artists of our time, fetch millions of dollars when put on the auction block. I sure hope J.K. Rowling has her stash of serviettes. The story goes that all her writing for Harry Potter started as bedtime stories for her child, and then graduated to napkins when she took the child to MacDonald’s for his happy meal.
When a thought strikes a writer their first instinct is to write it down, for fear of forgetting. I’d like to believe that someday my stack of shredded notes and stained envelops might turn into currency, but I fear that may never happen.
I always have tons on paper in my purse—shopping lists and bills—but the sad truth is that I never seem to have a pen. I’ve been known to destroy my eye-liner in an attempt to preserve what I’d just heard.
The reality is that should I ever be mowed down and be at the mercy of paramedics, as they search through my personal belongings in pursuit of a medical card, the likely opinion they might form is that my purse is a mess and I’m a slob.
You’d think that hoarding might translate into some great dialogue, but every five or ten years—without fail—when I face the mess, I’ll likely throw the entire contents into the trash without looking at the notes. My reality is that once I’ve written it down, I usually remember the words without a prompt. To admit this would signal critics that perhaps I’m not really saving these snippets for posterity. Perhaps there is no deeper meaning. Maybe my purse really has become a portable garbage can.
I’ll never forget the day I heard the words ‘synthetic sympathy.’ Forget the classic alliteration, the emotion those two simple words when strung together evoked an immediate emotional response in me.
Didn’t it describe to a T a person who feigns compassion, but truthfully couldn’t care less?
I didn’t have a pen. I was nowhere near a source where I could buy, borrow or steal a pencil or crayon.
I must have repeated those two words a hundred times, trying to will them into my memory bank. I needn’t have worried. The strength and the emotion the words created made them memorable.
There is nothing remarkable about either word. They’re simple, everyday words we hear and never pause. Common language, stylized to reflect a character’s personality or create a mood in a story, is far more effective than an author’s playful pastime flipping the pages of his thesaurus.
Writers who love language will often overwrite stories. They might impress themselves with their string of three and four syllable gems, but if the reader begins to trip over these treasures, it’s bad writing.
Unless the story flows, allows the reader to devour the paragraph wondering what comes next, one of two things has happened. Either the author has a weak plot with insipid characters or he has tripped the reader with his own ego.
It’s a healthy exercise to stop before posting or sending a submission to an editor and ask oneself, "Is this the way the character would speak if we were to have a conversation? When in third person, does the narrator’s voice reflect the times and the mood of the setting?" If it sounds phony or contrived, save yourself the public rejection. Time for a rewrite.
♦ After a thirty year career as a sales and marketing executive, Ingrid Thomson is a top-ranked author in a website writing community and a published short story author who is working on the final draft of her first novel.
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