Are you writing real? I mean, humdrum real? I know, most of the conscious authors—at least, those who don’t do “unreal”, like fantasy—try hard to keep their characters, settings and dialogs real. But humdrum real?
The maid Janet quits because her jealous mistress makes nasty, for the nth time. She collects her wages and is walking out when the phone rings. Out of sheer habit, she answers with a “Good afternoon. The Timberlake residence.”
Or take an instance when you were dumb enough to accept a ride from an over-lubricated nut. You found yourself stamping hard on the bare floor, hitting the brake, as the nut took a corner on two wheels. Your instincts forgot you were in the passenger’s seat.
What about the instances your dog wags his tail vigorously and utters little yelps of pleasure when he is deep in a pile of bones, deeper in a dream?
How many times have you seen, even experienced, a mother who quietly sacrificed a portion of her own dinner because her child was especially ravenous that evening? A lad who had “a private word” with the guys who were bullying his kid brother at school, and never said a word about it to anyone later?
Commonplace, right? Things like that happen to all of us. Humdrum real, human real, but are you working them into your books? They are great material for judicious addition of elements like poignancy or humor.
You can achieve improved impact by writing about unspoken nuances. Think of how many times you failed to confess something to someone you love, not because you were afraid of the act of confession, but because you were afraid of the consequences of that act? How many times did that inner tension make you lash out—tear something to bits, break something into pieces, snap at someone who did not deserve it?
That lashing out is expressive, lovely fodder for your writing. When you write about Cool Cath losing it for once and smashing her smart phone on the rocks, you are making your readers sit up. When you tell your readers about Heartbroken Harry skipping that last turn to his office and heading out for the countryside, you are conveying some serious undercurrents to them.
When you describe Amicable Al buying a movie ticket and sitting through the movie without registering a single scene or a single word of dialog, your readers get it. They have been there, done that.
While writing real, are you also writing innovative? You know, there is all this truth you keep reading about writing in your voice and stamping your personality on your books. A large part of that voice is the kind of inventiveness only you can bring to your books.
Take metaphors and similes, for instance. They are “seasonal”: hot for a while, passé thereafter—a good reason for you to be inventive. You may not want to be Shakespeare and invent new words, but you can use existing words in new ways. Who knows, you may inspire a hot trend or two.
Would you say “The young punk was smirking at the cop, tempting the taser” is one effective way of coining a new metaphor to describe a potentially volatile situation?
What about “He gleefully waved the mission accompanied banner” to describe a jerk who triggers a major disaster while under the delusion he is Superman?
Staying on the same theme and going on to similes, I like this specimen: “He is as dense as a bush at the white house.”
Let’s wrap up metaphors and similes with this one: “After the victory, she felt like a queen, as smug as a purring cat.”
The idea is, you need to be a little risqué, somewhat risky and a confirmed rule-breaker if you want a unique voice. Every time you arrive at a choice between breaking a rule or losing flavor, the flavor should win. Rules and regulations are fine, and should not be broken as a matter of habit, but the occasional flirtation with danger will make sure your writing does not resemble the old China: all gray and uniform.
I think Hugh Howey said it better than I ever could: “Write your books with the idea that no one will ever read them. This will allow you to take risks, worry less about following trends and conventions, and produce your best work.”
Well, then, go get some humdrum writing done. Write your comments with the idea that I will read them. And respond.