Sunday, April 16, 2017

Things I'm Learning

As you know, I'm a life-long learner. Trying to write a book has been one big learning experience.

I've always wanted to write a book, and I think I thought deep down that because I've always had the desire and because I read quite a few books, I'd just know how to write one.

For better or worse, that hasn't been the case. I did not just intrinsically know how to write a book. I've had to study and research and take classes. I've made spreadsheets and storyboards and written lots and lots of drafts. This is making it seem like I'm done. I'm not done, but I've made progress.

I've also had feedback.

Sometimes feedback is tricky to digest, but I've gotten to the point where I look forward to it. Something I've learned recently via feedback is that I tend to be good at writing dialogue and less effective at writing setting.

I agree that this is true, and so right now I'm going to practice writing setting details about the inside of a school. It's an exercise that I just made up. Here's what a high school might look or smell or sound like:
  • White-washed cinder block with bits of gray showing through in the places where the backs of metal chairs have rubbed the walls at the conclusion of each class period, the back row kids standing up so fast that their chairs slide out behind them.
  • The fourth-period class that enters the room with a chill attached to their thick cotton sweatshirts, fresh from a non-sanctioned off-campus lunch.
  • The earthy, sticky smell of a kid who thought he could go one more morning without a shower, his greasy, cheekbone-length hair pushed back from his hairline and then falling down in thick ribbons toward scattered stubble on his jaw.
  • One hundred tattered copies of The Things They Carried stacked precariously on a side shelf, some spines facing out, others in,  the corners of covers and pages of the ones on top turned up like bumpers.
  • A blue plastic trash emblazoned with the recycling icon, white papers variously crumpled, poking out from the top. A giant wad of wet pink gum spat in the middle of a recently graded test. The test was a B.
  • A teacher unlocks her classroom door in the dark morning, the room stale smell - a mix of Cheetoh's and Old Spice - wafts up from the carpet. She flicks on the fluorescent lights and checks to make sure the plastic, industrial clock above her desk matches her watch.
  • In the middle of reading Chapter 12 aloud to the class, the strobe light begins to pulse, followed quickly by a jarring blare, a high-pitched tone that made her molars ache. The students heads popped up, and she said calmly, "Fire drill. We're going out door 17. To your left." She watched each of the students file out, grabbed her laminated attendance list from the hook by the door, flipped off the lights, and entered the hallway. She stood, her back flattened against the door, as the students filed past, their faces reflecting a emotions ranging from glee to anxiety. "Is this real?" one asked her. She shook her head. In truth, she didn't know, but it probably wasn't. Finally, she joined the teachers who comprised the end of the throng. "Damn it," said one, "I was giving a test."

1 comment:

MQW said...

These scene setting descriptions do bring a picture of the place and the smell. My favorite is the last one. I am so amazed by your book writing process and and impressed by your ability! You are a life long learner! Love, mom