In a creative writing session this week, I learned a bit about perceptions and perspectives. The facilitator divided the twelve individuals (who write a broad range of genres) into groups of four and assigned us a role. The scenario involved a pedestrian, a street gang and an undercover police car. We had ten minutes to write a mini-scene from the perspective (another word for viewpoint) of the role we’d been assigned. When time was up, we went around the circle and the selections were read aloud grouped by perspective.
Of the twelve writers, ten chose first person viewpoint, personalized the role to their gender, and used only snippets of dialogue. One man wrote in third person in a narrative style, and I wrote in third person close (police officer) but almost all dialogue between a male and female officer. The next day, we were discussing the mini-scenes and a woman told me she hated mine, HATED IT so much she’d even lost sleep over it. We were sitting beside each other and she lightly shoved my shoulder. This reaction fascinated me and, while I kept from giving myself a round of applause, I did ask her if she could explain what about my scene bothered her. [Someone else responded “because it was so vivid.” A woman said “it got her in the gut.”]
Actually, the woman who was bothered is a trial attorney, and she objected to the ultimate decision the police officers made. This was because she had seen firsthand the repercussions of incidents where officers had placed a higher value on their case than a potential problem right in front of their eyes. She internalized my scene to what she’d experienced in her day-to-day life and her psyche reacted.
What I came away with is a solid confirmation that a few well-placed showing details evoke emotion and deepen the connection with the reader. This technique is called by some writing in deep point of view (POV) and is the type of writing the Sweetheart editors like to see. We want a story that establishes enough setting detail to ground the reader in a physical world and enables the reader to create mental images of the place (a room, a park, an office, a yacht, etc). Then establish POV character by including sensory details relayed through that person’s experience (breeze on his face, smooth granite under his fingertips, sip of bitter coffee, bird chirping out the window, Winston the cat stretching on his padded bed).
My mini-scene follows with showing details in bold type:
“Uh, oh. See what I see, Hank?” Detective Shelly grimaced and pointed.
“Tall blonde in the platforms coming from the west?” He shifted on the seat of the patrol car.
“Yep. Thinks she sees them?” She eyed the group of loitering men under the pool of streetlight by the corner liquor store.
“Not yet. She hasn’t broken stride.”
Shelly checked her watch and glanced in the rearview mirror. “No sign of the suspect yet. Not due for another ten minutes.”
“You’re thinking we should intervene?”
“Too late.” Shelly’s stomach knotted at the sight of the men creating a blockade across the sidewalk. Her hand gripped the door handle.
“Don’t do it.” Hank’s tone was low but firm.
Her grip tightened as the tallest man strutted forward. Sometimes this job sucked.
By writing with details so the reader is involved what the character experiences, you keep the connection strong. The reader will get wrapped up in the story and won’t put it down. That start, along with realistic characters and a plot containing believable and sustained conflict, will be a story that excites and intrigues the editors. Looking forward to some great queries.
Leanne MorgenaSenior Editor