Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Writing Wednesdays-Snapshots

I'm trying something new, yet incredibly old at the same time. As many of you know, I was an English teacher for many years. Specifically, I taught composition and creative writing. I always enjoyed it, seeing it more as a vocation than merely a job (The teaching, that is. The grading, meetings, busywork, discipline---I don't miss that as much...)

There is power in language. Carefully selected words can change the world.

Allow me to step down from my pedestal, and share my idea. Each Wednesday, I will pass on a little bit of what I've learned. I don't pretend to be an expert--and I am far from a professional writer (if you don't believe me, I've got a growing collection of rejection letters/emails for you). Yet, I'll share what I know, and hopefully you'll do the same.

Each Wednesday will include a short writing lesson, a sample, and a prompt. I would encourage you to share your writing--via a note on Facebook, as a comment to this post, as a posting on your own blog, or by email. Or, if you prefer to write a present to yourself, that is fine as well. You can write fiction, non-fiction, poetry. Whatever you wish.

No grading-no judging-no expectations. Just write for the joy of it.

Without further ado...Away We Go (did you see how I used the blog title just now. Oh, Yes. That.Just.Happened.)


Barry Lane talks about the concept of Snapshots, Thoughtshots, and Dialogue in his book After The End. I pilfered his ideas throughout my teaching career, because they are simple and they work.

We'll address dialogue and thoughtshots another day to focus on the building block of a snapshot. A well-crafted snapshot can bring transcendence to any piece of writing. A snapshot, simply put, is a written picture of a moment in time. Unlike a physical photograph, when you write, you're taking a complete sensory picture. You can discuss the smells, textures, sounds, and sensations in addition to the sights.

More importantly, though, you are able to capture a snapshot of a feeling. All of the details should lead the reader somewhere. The same sun can be an oppressive slap or a comforting embrace. The autumn leaves can crunch or snap under your feet. The bird song can be melodious, or it can be piercing. The things you include--and the words you use to describe them---create the tone of the piece.

A few words of caution: Don't list each sense in turn. It sounds sing-songy and rote. It is far better to focus on the most powerful details, and the senses that lead the reader to your intended feeling.

Also, don't lock yourself into a tone. It's entirely possible that you'll sit down to write with a specific idea in mind, but find that it changes. That's normal. Part of the writing process is that the act of writing unlocks the subconscious, allowing old ideas and memories to take root in new, fertile soil.

I could go on and on. For those of you that like structure and lists, Away We Go (ack! twice in one post!):

1. Select a photograph that is meaningful to you.

2. Either mentally, or physically, list the various sights, smells, tastes, feelings, and sounds of this photograph. Zoom your camera in to see the close details, or zoom it out to see the big picture. Some writers are well served to talk this out with a friend--the act of talking can unlock additional memories.

3. Use your list to determine the feeling you're attempting to convey. For example, if you're looking to discuss regret--circle or note the sensory images that are tinged with melancholy or sadness. Likewise, do the same for any other emotion--joy, peace, serenity, etc.

4. Write, and trust the process. Again, don't be surprised or upset if you veer off course. The act of brainstorming was still time well spent.

5. Anne Lamott, another writing hero of mine, says, "Don't be afraid of Shitty First Drafts." Truer words were never spoken. Finish your first draft and leave it alone. Return to it a day later, and keep what you like, change what you're not so sure about. If you like, send it to a trusted friend for feedback. (I'll do it---I especially owe this service to some good friends of mine).

6. When you're ready, send it off to the world. We all can learn from your wisdom.

I'll show you a sample in the next post, because this one is a whopper as it is...


Mrs. Corman said...

Nancy, I think you did a wonderful job of explaining snapshots, and I love the example you included. I am an English teacher, and I would love to be able to share what you have written with my class. May I have your permission to do so?

Nancy C said...

No prob. I hope it works well for you.