Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Private Snapshots

I was rereading Stein on Writing by Sol Stein, a terrific book on writing, and came upon a chapter I hadn't noticed before. In it Stein talks about a technique that can add a whole new layer of depth to your writing.

He recommends thinking about a snapshot from your life that you would not be comfortable showing anyone, something you would NOT carry in your wallet. Then think about how adding that snapshot to your story might help. What he's getting at (I think) is that writers must not be afraid to show readers things that are far too intimate to discuss or show people in real life. The best writing illuminates these dark corners of our secret lives in some way.

Oy. So that means I/we/writers are supposed to confess our most secret personal snapshots in our writing? Scary stuff. But Stein uses an example that isn't all that freaky. He's not trying to find out your sexual kinks. He talks about a woman writer whose book about a female cop wasn't really resonating with him. He asked her about her own personal snapshot. This writer was herself a cop, who had to be a tough cookie in her job. The shapshot she didn't want to show people was the moment where she tenderly kissed her daughter good night every night. So after talking to Stein, she added a scene just like that to her novel, adding a depth to the cop character that hadn't existed before.

I'm not sure my private snapshots would suit my lead character, but it's an interesting idea. I think I unconsciously sort of stole what I thought might be a (now deceased) friend's private snapshot, morphed it a bit, and used it as my own character's biggest fear. But right now I'm trying to flesh out my villain, who desperately needs depth. Maybe I can come up with a snapshot for him.

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