Growing up, I used to frequent the movie house. I’d be there once a week or so, especially in the summer. I even took an “Art of Film” class in college, which, to this day, is one of my favorite courses I’ve taken at any level. Truth—I’m just like the rest of America—infatuated with the movies, or television, or both. But I think our infatuation has done us an incredible disservice as writers. We’re impatient—a fatal flaw for fiction.
In my years of teaching fiction, I’ve seen several people turn in work that is rushed. They want to get to the action, so they skip things like character development and specific detail. They feel if they’re writing about a car crash, that it needs to happen instantly. They’ll write something like:
The car smashed into the passenger side of her vehicle, whipping her to the side. Glass shattered. She climbed out of the wrecked vehicle and screamed at the offending driver, until she realized he was dead.
On the surface, this isn’t a poorly written scene. But the writer’s thinking more movie that photography. What I mean by that is this: as writers, we can snap a picture—freeze time and give details that appeal to all five senses. What may only take a few seconds in reality may take up a few pages of prose. Often, slowing the pace down heightens the tension.
If we slow it down and add detail for all five senses, we’re left with a far more impactful rendition, one wrought with tension:
The squeal of tires on wet pavement whipped my head around in time to see the blue Nissan smash into the rear passenger side of our car. Thank God I was alone, thank God I’d left the kids home with their mom.
Glass shattered in the squawking of crumpled metal. Something red flashed before my eyes as the airbag deployed. Everything went dark, exploded in shrieks and wails. The pain came quick—my neck, the airbag punching my face. My chest seized, refused to take breath.
The tires left the pavement. I tasted blood and smelled gas, wet pavement, rain on leaves. Rain splattered my face, or was it blood? How did I get outside?
I could go on, but of course, I won’t. I think you get the idea—a picture is worth a thousand words, they say. So here’s my challenge to you: Find a photograph (preferably one you take on your own) and write a 1,000 word story to accompany it. Remember, the 1,000 words should be focused on only a few minutes of time. Send it to me, and I’ll put the best one up.
Until then, good writing.