|Photo credit: Raymond Larose on Flickr|
You see, we writers have a pretty unique job; we are tasked with a mission to bring the impossible to life on the page, to create stories that pluck our readers from their everyday lives and to bring attention to details of the world around them that ring perfectly true.
But in order to achieve that, we must first observe the world around us. When there’s a wicked thunderstorm and the trees are bowing to the wind and the claps of thunder and lightning send most people searching for their flashlights, the writer should be listening and watching very carefully, while asking, how would I describe this?
When overwhelmed with emotion—whether it’s happiness, anger, frustration or something else—writers must pause and pay attention to exactly how they feel so that when their characters experience the same emotion, it can be described with authenticity. A great example of this is one of my favorite passages from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green:
“Much of my life had been devoted to trying not to cry in front of people who loved me, so I knew what Augustus was doing. You clench your teeth. You look up. You tell yourself that if they see you cry, it will hurt them, and you will be nothing but A Sadness in their lives, and you must not become a mere sadness, so you will not cry, and you say all of this to yourself while looking up at the ceiling, and then you swallow even though your throat does not want to close and you look at the person who loves you and smile.” (Page 213-214)
I know that seems like a pretty depressing favorite passage, but the reason it stuck out to me so much is because when I read it for the first time, I nodded along and thought, yes, it’s exactly like that. Granted, my way of thinking when upset is pretty different from Hazel’s (the POV character), but the clenching of teeth and looking up at the ceiling and swallowing when your throat is so tight it’s painful are all things I’m sure many of us have experienced when trying not to cry.
“Every butterfly in the world has migrated to my stomach.” (Page 155)
This example is less literal than the first, but I think we all know the feeling Juliette (the POV character) is referencing.
Our goal as writers is to take every day real things and translate them into words that remind our readers of that exact moment. That ring true and honest and have them nodding along and saying yes, that’s it, it’s just like that. But in order to do that we must first pay attention to everything, all the time, and take mental (or real) notes as we move through our lives and experience the world.
Then after observing, we translate those moments back into words so that we can share them with someone else.
Have you ever encountered a sentence or passage that felt exactly right?