Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Building a Scene (Writing Wednesdays)

I step outside myself sometimes, and wonder what that deranged crackhead is doing with my face. I mean, there's no way that I, a reasonable, educated adult would pin my child on the ground and force him to try on a giraffe costume.

It's just not possible.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings us to this week's Writing Wednesday: Building a Scene.

A scene is made up of three elements: Snapshots, Thoughtshots, and Dialogue.

Snapshots are little pieces of description that set the tone or establish character. We've worked on snapshots when we discussed snapshots, setting, and zooming in. Snapshots can be long, but are often especially effective as short attachments to the dialogue.

Thoughtshots are a quick picture of the narrator's thoughts. These can be reactions, reflections, feelings, or commentary. Again, they work especially well when they are attached to dialogue.

Finally, dialogue, is what people say. I'm occasionally asked how I remember dialogue. If Owen or somebody else says something especially memorable, I try to jot it down on paper. I've been known to call myself and leave a voice-message so I don't forget.

However, much of my dialogue is re-created. Since I'm dealing with real people, I don't put words in their mouths that they wouldn't say. It's possible that I'll piece together several conversations into one. Also, since I'm writing, it's far more concise and focused than the rambling meanderings of real-life conversation.

Let me show you an example so that this makes more sense. I'll bold the snapshots and italicize the thoughtshots. Hopefully, the dialogue will be self-explanatory.

"Hey, Owen," I called, lifting the costume out of the box. "Come here, please."

Owen walked in the room, and looked curiously. "What is that?" he asked, inching closer towards me.

What that? I thought. That, my boy, is cuteness. One hundred percent bona-fide cuteness. A giraffe-print body, with a poochy little tummy, and a hood, complete with a mane and giraffe ears. "This, Owen," I answered, "is your Halloween costume."

He smiled nervously, touched it, than darted his finger away as if he had burnt it. "Is it a horse?"

"No, Buddy. It's a giraffe. Come here, let's try it on." Inwardly, I quivered with excitement. One of the greatest things about parenthood is dressing your children in ridiculously cute Halloween costumes. The late nights, the tantrums, the verbal abuse---it's all forgiven when your child is wearing something fluffy and hooded.

Owen, however, did not share my excitement. He curled himself into a ball, and said, "I don't like it! Take it away, Mommy! Now!"

This was the moment that a sane person would put the costume away, perhaps trying again after with a full tummy and a good nap. Of course, I had proven, time and time again, that I lacked sanity, or even basic common sense.

"Owen, if you try on the costume, I'll take a video of you." There's nothing my narcissist loved more than watching himself on TV.

Owen chewed him lip thoughtfully, and said, "NO!"

"But honey," I answered, "Grandma Judy got you that, and she really wants to see you in it." Yes, I attempted to exploit the pure love between grandmother and grandson. I did.

Owen turned away and mumbled, "I don't like it."

A surge of anger flashed through me. Good grief, this child thanked God for Trick or Treating and Trick or Treating bags EVERY NIGHT FOR A YEAR, and yet, he won't give his mother the small pleasure of wearing a stupid giraffe costume?

I sighed and said, "Owen, just try it on. It will be so cute." And yes, I was now whining.

Owen laughed to himself, clearly reveling in this new-found power. What would this crazy woman say next?

I cursed my terrible parenting,yet forged ahead with it, saying, "Owen, I'll give you a marshmallow if you put on the costume."

He gave it a moment's thought, his eyes bright with scheming, and retorted, "Two marshmallows."

"Owen," I replied, eyes narrowed. "This is not a negotiation."

"NEGOTIATION," Owen screamed. The walls shook. The fixtures rocked in the ceiling. Babies in a five-mile radius awoke prematurely.

"STOP SCREAMING," I screamed, my jaw clenched, teeth grinding yet new valleys in my molars, "And please, please, please, put on the costume."


At that point, I tackled him. I started to stuff one leg into the costume, and looked down at Owen. His face was red, and his eyes were glassy and near tears. He puffed out hot, terrified gasps.

I put the costume down, gave him a hug, and said, "You don't have to wear the costume."

After I put him to bed, a guilty affair involving extra snuggling and lots of stories, I picked up the phone and called my husband.

"Paul," I said, wearing my shame like a lead blanket, "I really need to get a grip."


I am concerned that people will think I'm a bad mother by publishing this. I know that we're all imperfect, but I'm not proud of this. It could be somewhat funny, if I just knew when to quit. I crossed that line, and I need to learn from this experience.

Writing wise, I think this was heavier on the thoughtshots than the snapshots, which is a tick of my writing. I find that I try to focus thoughtshots on just one character, to avoid confusion. Overall, I think it has promise as a piece.

The Prompt
1) Think about a conversation you've had recently.
2) First write the dialogue.
3) Then, add in the appropriate thoughtshots and snapshots as needed.
4) (Or, do what I do and write it all at the same time, being mindful of the snapshot/thoughtshot balance).
5) Revise-Share-Publish

*If you like, you can use this sample dialogue and create snapshots and thoughtshots around it.

1) We're going to stop here.
2) What are you doing?
1) I'm stopping for gas.
2) Why?
1) Why do you think?
2) What are we doing next?
1) Going to the gym.
2) Why are we going to the gym?
1) Why do you think?

Writing Wednesday Hall of Fame!

Check out these awesome selections from last week's zooming in Writing Wednesday.
Thanks, Coby, Paul, and Corrie!


Corrie Howe said...

I'm going to work on this assignment. In the meantime, I nominated you for a Kreativ Blogger Award. You'll have to check out my red-headed step child blog at to see what you are supposed to do next.


Coby Goesling said...

Oh don't worry. It's funny alright. A tiny bit of pee just came out. TMI, but truly.

Paul said...

Ambivalent at best. But always good practice!

SamiJoe said...

laughing my friggin butt off!
somedays we do go too far.
happens to the best of us.