Monday, April 11, 2011

---I Spy!---

Not talking about the ground-breaking TV show (though I will, in a future blog, be featuring an interview with Marc Cushman, one of the authors of the definitive work on it.)

I'm talking about I Spy the word game - remember that? Maybe your parents played it with you in the car...? 

For you young whippersnappers, there was a time when there were no DVD players in cars, nor portable electronic games, either. In the days when there were no cellphones, and dinosaurs roamed the earth.  Back in the Dark Ages, people in cars actually interacted with each other.  Even if half of it was, "Mo-om!  Tell him to stop touching me!"

Hence, playing word games, because authorities even in those dark and troubled times frowned upon bashing one's annoying children over the head with a shovel and burying them by the side of the road.

In I spy, one person (usually an adult) says, "I Spy, with my little eye, something that begins with the letter 'B'."  (Or H, or C, whatever.)

The other person has to guess what it is.  Bus?  Banana?  Bald-headed driver in the next car?

We're playing  a game something like that here, in the A-Z challenge.  In some cases, even in the blog posts themselves.  Are we doing it in our work?

Are our characters looking around, noticing and being impacted by their environment, or are they talking heads against a blank background?

from Lehigh UniversitiesWhich draws you in more?
We, the authors, have to play I Spy.  We have to look around our characters and see what visual, auditory, and aromatic effects we can work into each scene to make it richer, more realistic and interesting.

Doesn't mean we need to go overboard.  Speaking for my own personal tastes, even though it was the way to go in earlier centuries, I don't want to read page after endless page describing the color of the walls and the curtains, the depth of lace on the pillows, every note of the music playing, the peacefully sleeping dog, farting in his sleep...

"Sammy" from The Firefly Forest

Actually, I kind of do want the sleeping dog to fart, because that brings up some interesting possibilities.  What do my characters do, if they're in the middle of moving towards a romantic encounter, and the dog passes a silent-but-deadly gas cloud two feet away from them?  Do they recognize it's the dog, or wonder uneasily if it's their partner?  Ignore it with dignity, even if their eyes are watering?  Make a joke about it?

Whatever details we work in need to have a purpose: they should add conflict, move the story along, or help the reader better understand our characters.  Does he scream like a little girl when he sees a spider?  Is every surface in her living room covered with a hand-crocheted doily she made herself?  Do they get caught in traffic, or the rain?

Adding these kind of details both help the reader feel connected, and gives the story depth and dimension.  Unless the story is Man vs. Nature, and our MC is determined to be the first deaf woman with an artificial leg to climb Mt. Everest, the background does need to stay in the background.

But it also needs to be present.  So let's always play I Spy in a scene, and let the reader experience what the characters are seeing, hearing, and smelling.

Got an "I Spy" story?  Or a dog fart one?
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