Saturday, October 10, 2009

Capturing moments

So, I said I'd blog about me taking scrapbooking lessons and what that has to do with writing. I find that learning to use language in different mediums helps me see important skillsets I need from a different angle. For example, I took screenwriting courses to learn more about how to create visual images with words. In scrapbooking, I'm learning that it's all about capturing snapshot images that resonate, and then finding a way to pass that resonance on to the reader.

I'll bend my rule about posting pictures of my son for this example. This picture means a lot to me:
It's my son watching his first Red Sox game, not long after he learned to clap, and here he is clapping for the Red Sox. This image makes me think of the 2005 post-season, watching my husband's mood go from disgust to disbelief as the Sox came from behind to beat the Yankees and advance to the World Series. It makes me think of all those Bostonians walking around dazed after the Sox beat the Cardinals. Their joy thoroughly eclipsed by shock.

Even though Red Sox Nation has gone through much disapointment and tribulation, here's my son in the post 2005 world greeting the sight of this team playing with unrestrained delight. (no, I'm not a Yankees fan. I'm an outsider to this. I'm not into the American League - just can't get past the designated hitter rule.) This image is also about the quirks we have and the details of ourselves that we pass along to the next generation. It's about how we channel a child's new found self expression.

And I've rambled on for two paragraphs there. To scrapbook this picture, I can't just fill the page with text (well, I could, but I shouldn't.) How, then to get all of that into one 12x12 page? Unlike film, which is an almost purely visual medium, a scrapbook is a hybrid. You can use words and journalling, but you convey meaning not just with the words themselves, but how they're set on the page. What means you use to draw the eye to them, and how you juxtapose them with the picture. What color and style you type them in, and whether you put them all in a block paragraph, or scatter them in phrases across the page.

What's this got to do with novel writing? Well, writing isn't just about telling a story with the plain meaning of words; it's about using words to convey multiple levels of meaning. The plain meaning may say one thing, but the juxtaposition of images might convey another. I.e. a long funeral scene in the rain with a lot of narration about how dismal the day was might convey a solemn plain meaning. If the funeral is for a person who's been making your protagonist miserable for the previous two acts, then this scene becomes ironic. The plain meaning and the actual meaning oppose each other. How much space you devote to setting up a scene and whether you express it in long, flowery sentences or plain, simple ones will affect how a reader comes into the images you put forth. Whether you use clear, monosyllabic words or big, Latin derived ones will affect the speed at which the reader comprehends what's going on. All of these tools will shape the reading experience.

Most specifically, in the novel I'm working on now, I'm striving to get my "tentpole scenes" set up - that term is one I borrow from Melinda Snodgrass, who is a screenwriter as well as a novelist. She rightly points out that any good movie or novel has three or four tentpole scenes, ones that prop up the entire rest of the plot, and getting those right means getting them to work on a variety of levels.

How do I do this? Hey, I'm still learning here. I'm still not sure how to scrapbook that picture. And I'm curious to hear what others have to say.


  1. Thought provoking post, Emily. I like the idea of setting up tent-pole scenes, especially when an author writes these scenes subtly and skillfully without excess exposition, so that the reader is barely aware it is happening.

    I never did get into scrapbooking, but I have often noticed how women tend to set up their blogs like scrapbooks, with fancy borders and cute side gadgets. Even while blogging, women are "nesting"-- to make a nice environment for their thoughts and ideas, and welcoming "visitors"--i.e. followers and commentors.

  2. Yeah, as you can see, I'm not one of those women, lol. I lack proper nesting skills.