Shannon Stacey


LB&LI Workshop: When Only the Right Word Will Do—Part 1


Click to read Introduction


I was going to compose a big old introductory paragraph to go here, but instead of talking about it, let’s just do it. First up: let’s play with a first-draft paragraph—the hero seeing the heroine for the first time, from his POV.

As the woman crossed the room, Gabe watched her over the top of his glass. She looked a little out of place, wearing a pink t-shirt and jeans, but he appreciated the way they hugged her slim figure. Her hair was a mass of blonde curls and it bounced a little as she walked. Then she paused at his table, her blue eyes looking straight at him. Oh, hell no. This couldn’t be Jen Smith.

So okay, it’s fairly functional. The paragraph manages to give the reader the basic character description so we can move on with the story, right? But here’s a question:

Is the hero…

A) A small-town boy-next-door expecting to meet the shark of a lawyer he’s hired to fight his ex-wife for custody of their 1970 Hemi ‘cuda?

B) The hero of a Silhouette Desire, meeting the woman he believes to be his father’s mistress in order to pay her to go away?

C) A SWAT guy ordered by his commander to meet the new female member of the unit and show her the ropes?

Hmmm…can’t tell, can you? Not to worry, because that info was all in the back cover copy, right? But, just by tinkering with a few words, you can elevate this paragraph from blah and functional to integral by throwing in some voice-strengthening, characterization and deepening of the POV.

As the woman crossed the room, Gabe watched her over the top of his glass. She looked a little out of place in the country club crowd, wearing a pink t-shirt and jeans, but he appreciated the way they hugged her slim figure. She was probably looking for a job application and took a wrong turn. Her hair was a mass of blonde curls and it bounced a little as she walked. Then she paused at his table, her Picasso-blue eyes meeting his. Oh, hell no. This couldn’t be Jen Smith.

Or…

As the woman crossed the room, Gabe watched her over the top of his coffee mug. She looked a little out of place, wearing a pink t-shirt in a cop bar, but he noted the way they hugged her slim figure. Too slim. Probably didn’t have shit for upper body strength. Her hair was a mass of blonde curls that wouldn’t fit under a ball cap, never mind a Nomex hood. Then she paused at his table, her blue eyes meeting his. Oh, hell no. This couldn’t be Jen Smith.

Or…

As the woman crossed the bar, Gabe watched her over the top of his beer. She looked a little out of place, wearing a pink t-shirt that said “Save the Humphead Wrasse” with a picture of a butt-ugly fish, but he really liked the way it hugged her slim figure. Her hair was a tangle of blonde curls and it bounced a little as she walked. Then she paused at his table, her eyes—blue as the ’69 Mustang he’d wrapped around a tree in high school—looking straight at him. Oh, hell no. This couldn’t be Jen Smith.

Subtle changes—I didn’t even break a sweat—but, even out of order, you know which paragraph belongs to which hero. Now you can’t just lift that generic passage and copy it into any other manuscript because it’s Gabe’s.

And that’s what you’re after—a story that is unique to your characters and a total package that’s uniquely yours.

Tomorrow: dialogue.

Go to Part 2

4 comments to “LB&LI Workshop: When Only the Right Word Will Do—Part 1”

  1. Amie Stuart
    Comment
    1
      · July 30th, 2008 at 3:29 pm · Link

    Great workshop Shannon! Is it sad that I never actually thought too much about this?



  2. Kaige
    Comment
    2
      · July 30th, 2008 at 6:21 pm · Link

    Great topic, Shannon! Definitely something I need to look at. My CP is always telling me how I’m close, but the word I picked isn’t quite the impression I want after talking a particular scene over. And pixar’s storytelling rules.



  3. Margay
    Comment
    3
      · July 31st, 2008 at 11:09 am · Link

    Words are the elixir of life, aren’t they? Fun workshop!



  4. Rhonda
    Comment
    4
      · July 31st, 2008 at 8:43 pm · Link

    Such fun, such fun… going back and filling in all the ??s and and bland stuff :clap:
    Great topic!



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