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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Churchill Said It Best, part two

by Ruth Logan Herne

Click here for part one

First, we’re close to our work. It swims in our heads, dances in our brains, invades our spirits. We lose the objectivity because we’re involved in the account. (Okay, sometimes too involved.) That’s where the ‘book of your heart’ comes in, through that very process. But the heart and the head are quite different, and a good tale needs the best of both.

Sure, Denise loved Goofus. Or thought she did. He was, after all, daring, inventive, aggressive, cocky and intelligent. But he got caught, and now he’s doing six-to-ten in Attica. Poor baby.

And our little Denise, caught in her fog of distrust and betrayal? How will she ever cope?

My heart might say that she’d think and pray, contemplate her bad choices, vow to give up men forever as simply not worth the bother, and consider a convent. Right up until she meets Gallant and realizes that all men are not created equal!

My head says she should have a ceremonial cleansing party, burn everything the louse gave her in a big bonfire, invite all of her friends to participate, dance and sing around the perimeter of the flames, then roast Goofus by revealing all the reasons he was by far the worst possible boyfriend a girl could ever have. Make that double if he tried to implicate her in the aforementioned crime. Then, when she meets Gallant, she’s on more equal footing, having resolved a lot of her conflict with inner strength.

Probably the truth lies somewhere in between.

A good reader is essential to a writer. Someone removed, who reads for reading’s sake, and doesn’t necessarily critique, but advises. She sees the story you laid out, through the public eye, long before the public gets a chance. That reader (or readers) help to finesse your tale to the polished work that finally meets binding in a publishing house.

Why do so many novels get published that hit you over the head with conflict repeatedly? I don’t know, but from the numbers I’d guess that most of us have the same problem. We don’t separate well from our work.

Dee Henderson says that once she finishes a book, she sets it aside. Puts it away for a few weeks, moving on to research her next story. Then, after a sufficient amount of time, she pulls it out and re-examines what she’s done.

It works. The break in time gives the writer a whole new vantage point. You see things you didn’t notice when you were engrossed in the writing process. This is a great time to delete some of those multiples. Keep a checklist as you read, if necessary, revealing how often you rehash the conflict, both external and internal. Then get rid of some of them!

Sometimes, less is more. A well-placed sigh, or eyes that stray to an old picture, hung on a nail, can impart the same level of feeling in the reader as a paragraph full of platitudes and self-recriminations. Picture the scene. Play the scene. Then get out of Denise’s head and into a corner of the room, a vantage spot where you can watch the subtle nuances of her struggle. Describe that to the reader. The hand raised to graze the picture, that drops back down before touching it. The lift of the chin. The narrowing eye. The grimace.

Then move on.

We get it.

I promise.

Ruth Logan Herne loves God, family, country and sometimes dogs. When she’s not hard at work torturing young children, she writes wonderful stories of faith, family, hope and inspiration. She loves chocolate and has discovered Starbucks caramel/mocha frappuccinos. Watch out.

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