m = change in y-value
change in x-value
y = mx + b
These are the reason’s I haven’t written in two weeks. Basic Algebra. I decided to give it another go this semester, with only one year left to finish my degree. Only 9 math credits and a few classes in my major are holding me back. Yet, I can’t seem to pass Basic Algebra. Numbers just don’t compute in my head and I’m frustrated that I may never graduate from college because of nine credits. Defeated is a good word for how I’m feeling tonight. Defeated and lonely because I miss writing.
I had a test to take tonight and was sure that I would have some time to settle in with the laptop. Thoughts of diving into some serious editing filled my day and made it manageable. My brain has switched from writing mode, with an open range where my imagination could roam, to editing mode, a scientific approach to sentence and paragraph structure.
And I began to devise a plan.
Every sentence in a novel, or short story, needs to do something. Take, for example,
“She walked across the room.” (Simple, I know. But for example sake, let’s go with it.)
The purpose of the sentence is movement. To move “her” from point A to point B. Sometimes characters have to move. While the sentence can be padded with extra fluff, perhaps the color of the carpet or a piece of furniture to maneuver around, the main intent is movement.
“Mr. Fleist smacked the laminated pastel map with a creased forehead.”
The most basic of all sentences, and the one most relied upon by writers. Seeing. Look around your room right now. What do you see? I see a glass of wine with a water bottle beside it. A painting my son made. An oriental painted egg from a friend. Christmas Stockings I forgot to take down. The fat bird we bought in Germany. My son’s book bag. And a sprinkling of seed remnants that our parrot tossed.
Our characters see things too. Suspicious black vans. Crotchety old men in plaid suits. A cigarette butt that is half smoked. What’s important in these sentences are the characters views. There is no reason to mention the cigarette butt they walk past. A pointless detail just for filler. Unless the character has quit smoking. Then, a half smoked cigarette might mean something. Or if the character lost a father to lung cancer. It might be a sign of hope. Perhaps she imagines someone throwing away their last cigarette. Perhaps they won’t die.
The details in “Seeing” sentences aren’t important until you add the importance, which comes from your characters experiences. As I work through “Dolly”, I’ll check and double-check the details and rewrite to reflect Lisa.
“Now, face to face with his bulge, goose bumps covered my body.”
Characters feel. I feel fatigued after failing a pretest tonight. My eyes are sore and my shoulders ache. I worked through 40 problems, plus the twenty on the test. My mind processed numbers and formula’s all day. Yet, I’m up writing a blog post, even though I’m not sure how I’m going to make my feet move up each stair to my bed.
Our bodies talk to us every day. Certain customers at work make me feel uneasy and I want to leave the room in a panic of self-defense. A look on a parents face can make a child’s stomach turn as he realizes that something is wrong and it could be a long night. The smell of a certain cologne still turns my head and reminds me of my High School boyfriend. A kiss on the neck sends shivers down my spine.
As writers, we need to know, not only our own body, but the bodies of characters that don’t even exist. Putting those senses down on paper can be challenging, at best, while trying to avoid clichés. But every good piece of writing uses sense sentences.
““I’ll just catch the bus.”
Other’s call this dialogue. Some sentences speak. They say words. I think I’ll expand on this another day.
“After two years, I still didn’t want to burden him with my poverty or opinions.”
I’ve always wanted to write an entire story based only on thoughts. No action, no discernible plot, no real setting. Just thoughts that reveal the situation, as one would when pulling back the layers of an onion. For me, character’s opinions and thoughts are some of the most telling parts of a story. The fun of fiction is getting into someone elses head, even if only for a short time. When used appropriately, thoughts can be the most story revealing sentences in a story. They give insight into motive, fears, anger. It’s best when done with subtly as our thoughts naturally are.
“I walked past the office and lunchroom without a pause straight to the large glass doors that spelled freedom to every student at Watertown High School.”
And then, there are the doing sentences. Movement. Point A to Point B. They can often be bland and I struggle to make a walk down a hall interesting. Or picking up a book. Or easing into a chair.
In the end, it’s character attitude that makes or breaks the movement.
And thus, the editing process begins. I will wade through each chapter and a color code for each kind of sentence, deciding what ones fit in which categories. Highlighted, I will then copy them to pages with others of the like, apart and separate from the story, where they must stand alone. Single sentences judged for their ability to fulfill their purpose. Many will be rearranged and strengthened.
Step one of the scientific process that I take in editing. My personal scientific method that makes sense and breaks down the process.
If only Algebra made as much sense, I wouldn’t feel so defeated.