Dynamic non-fiction delivers unexpected drama.
NAVIGATING MY EERIE LANDSCAPE ALONE
Now, as I stroll down the street, my right forefinger extends five feet in front of me, feeling the ground where my feet will walk.
Before my right hand would have been on a steering wheel as I went down the street. I drove to work, found shortcuts in strange cities, picked up my two daughters after school. Those were the days when I ran my finger down a phone-book page and never dialed Information. When I read novels and couldn’t sleep until I had finished the last page. Those were the nights when I could point out a shooting star before it finished scraping across the dark sky. And when I could go to the movies and it didn’t matter if it was a foreign film or not.
But all this changed about seven years ago. I was driving home for lunch on what seemed to be an increasingly foggy day, although the perky radio deejay said it was clear and sunny. After I finished my lunch, I realized that I couldn’t see across the room to my front door. I had battled glaucoma for 20 years. Suddenly, without warning, my eyes had hemorrhaged.
I will never regain any of my lost sight. I see things through a porthole covered in wax paper. I now have no vision in my left eye and only slight vision in my right. A minefield of blind spots make people and cars suddenly appear and vanish. I have no depth perception. Objects are not closer and farther; they’re larger and smaller. Steps, curbs and floors all flow on the same flat plane. My world has shapes but no features. Friends are mannequins in the fog until I recognize their voices. Printed words look like ants writhing on the pages. Doorways are unlit mine shafts. This is not a place for the
– by Jim Bobryk (Newsweek, March 8, 1999)
Here’s something worth remembering. Inexperienced writers are afraid they’re going to loose their audiences if they don’t hook them with the title and a gimmicky first line. Give your audience credit for more intelligence than this. Remember they’re not coming to this work critically, but with the hope that this is the story that will…go deeper in, take them farther out… make them more of what they are. It’s why we go to plays expectantly, despite the fact that most performances are disappointing. Why we read the next novel, though left unsatisfied by so many before. We aren’t disappointed by tricks, but because a writer has squandered the opportunity to do so much more.
As you write, picture a person lovingly reading over your shoulder who wants more. Who says, “I want to feel it just as you did, don’t rush through the details. What was the temperature? How did the light shine in through the window? When she made that remark, did her expression change ever so subtly? What is the reason these characters are here? What are their relationships?” The scene, the characters are a means to express your and the reader’s fullest feelings, deeply and importantly. Explore the richness of each possibility.”
Michael Shurtleff (Audition) notes that in everyday living we try to avoid or resolve conflict, but conflict is what creates drama. Under the control of the written page we explore ramifications beyond everyday life. It’s not enough to capture reality on the page. We want heightened reality. The writer needs to find out what the characters in every scene are fighting for, to fully play out the opposites that exist within each character. You have many creative choices in the selection of what you include and what you exclude. Make choices that intensify real life drama. In the example above, we get the contrasts between the sighted and the unsighted world. Remember whenever you have two conflicting things, intensify both.
Michael Shurtleff says, ” One of the great results of using opposites is behavior that is unpredictable, therefore always more intriguing to an audience. In out example we, the reader, are imagining how we would react. And in general, it’s why people are forever astonishing us in life: we don’t know what they’re going to do next, they’re not consistent, and their doing something we didn’t expect is always surprising us. Interesting acting always has this risk element of the unpredictable in it. That’s why actors like Lawrence Oliver and Marlon Brando and DeNiro and Pachino interest us so; we never quite know what they’re going to do next. They make us want to know. They make us keep watching them. They surprise us with their unpredictability.”
As a writer you need to supply these opposites, even if you don’t see them in your subject in real life. What’s there is obvious. It’s what is underneath the obvious that makes for interesting writing.