As a writer, I try to read books on the craft of fiction as often as I can. While most cover the same basic material, the same basic “rules,” each writer’s perspective varies. I like to mine the depths of knowledge and wisdom each writer offers to find two or three gems that inspire me to write better, or make me re-evaluate my writing philosophy. If I come away from a book with a half-dozen lines that I can hold on to, I consider the book worthwhile.
Enter Jerome Stern’s Making Shapely Fiction. If you follow my blog much, you’ll know I’ve referenced this book several times. This was a joy to read, and gave me much more than my hoped for half-dozen gems. Instead, nearly half the book provided great advice and prompts to spur the imagination.
I thought, over the next couple of weeks, I’d share a few of my favorites with you. Not many, but enough to whet your appetite. I highly suggest purchasing a copy for your personal collection.
JUGGLING is the second story “shape” Stern describes. Essentially, he describes it as the movement between interior thought (or reflection/memory/etc.) and action. The movement between the two helps to create tension, especially when the action is dangerous and the thought is distracting.
I won’t steal his example. Instead, I’ll provide you an example that I wrote in response to this “shape.”
In context of action, I chose to have a man driving too fast in the rain. Instead of paying attention to the road, my character thought of a female colleague of his, a crush, if you will.
The first paragraph sets the scene, describes the action. The second moves into my character’s mind. His thoughts on the woman distract him from the danger at hand, which creates tension for the reader. At the same time, it helps to build his character. We get to know him better, what he likes, what he fears, etc. While I’m building character, I’m also building tension.
If you adopt this structure, remember not to stay too long inside your character’s mind. If you do, the tension is lost, because the reader forgets about the danger. Try to pepper a few paragraphs of action in with the thought as you move the story and interior monologue forward.
Care to give it a shot? Here are two lists, one of dangerous actions and one of distracting thoughts. Mix and match and see what you come up with. Let me know what you come up with for your scene.
2. Firefight in a war
3. Performing surgery
4. Working on high-energy power lines
5. SCUBA diving
6. Hunting big game
7. Driving a bus
8. Fighting a fire
9. Chasing an armed criminal
10. Chopping vegetables with a sharp knife
|a. Marriage trouble
b. Financial trouble
c. Fall out with a sibling
d. Failing health
e. New love
f. An obsession
g. Making sense of a puzzling call
h. Choosing between loves
i. Failing health of a pet
j. Planning an argument