A Guinness Walks Into a Partagás Smoking a Bar…
Writing is painting pictures with words.
That’s all we get.
No facial expressions, no visual cues, no body language, nothing… unless you write it in. Otherwise you leave it to the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks. That’s the way it works. Some writer’s are sparse in description and some are heavy. Some like to control what the reader sees and some like to leave some space for them to see on their own. The writer directs. The reader follows. If the reader doesn’t follow the book gets put down.
It’s an amazing process of collaboration led by the writer. I don’t think I ever realized this before – how collaborative the act is.
Worlds can be brought to life with just the right details. Civilizations can be raised up from the dust or from beneath the ocean’s floor. Think of the images you just pulled up to see those civilizations in your mind’s eye. Each of your images is different depending on your own life experience and how that influences what you see based on the words I chose. Our experience of words is part subjective, colored by our life experience. Now that is cool, if you think about it for just a moment. That’s also why, when a book is made into a movie some people say it is exactly as they saw it from reading the book and others say that it’s not like what they read at all – even though they read the exact same book.
How do you know when you have found truth in painting your picture with words? How do you, as the writer, know you have chosen words that show something authentic, that you have directed effectively enough to tell a good story?
I edited a script for an e-learning system today and was faced very quickly with an example of how this works. Dialog for a character ran like this:
I acknowledge that there are challenges in conducting service placement.
I read the sentence out loud to the writer and saw a look of understanding come over her face as soon as I said the word acknowledge.
“It doesn’t sound right,” she said, shaking her head.
“Then let’s make it sound right for the character,” I replied.
She wrote: I know as a provider that there are going to be challenges in doing my job.
She changed it to sound right – to sound authentic to her. Writing scripts I tell my staff to read them out loud. “You’ll hear authenticity in dialog,” I say. I find it works the same way with narrative.
A full read through of my manuscript, out loud, to myself, is the final step in my revision process. That is my final check on directorial authenticity. It takes me a day or two with breaks for coffee or English Breakfast tea, sometimes toothpicks for my eyes (not in them) and a bunch of pee breaks. My butt is usually sore by the end, as is my throat.
But when I finish – if it’s really finished – if the words paint a picture that is authentic to me – then it’s time for a Guinness and a Partagás underneath a pale sliver of moon.