(More notes from the Rosemary Beach Conference for Writers...)
JD says fiction is "creating a dream in the reader's mind." Dreams are not about ideas, they're about images. He suggests not dwelling on or describing in too much detail a character's physical attributes except as such a description is necessary to advancing the action of the short story; "You make a reader see a character by making a character move."
Close your eyes. Hear the word. What is the first image you see when you hear this word:
Write about that.
Live in a non-habitual way. Logic doesn't get you there.
TIP: Stuck for inspiration? Go to OED online and use "lost for words" or the Word of the Day. Take that word and use it in the next sentence you write.
(Today's word is pleniloquence, n., meaning loquacity; excessive speaking. "Though I hate American pleniloquence, I cannot easily say No to young men who bid me speak also." — RW Emerson)
I've never been accused of pleniloquence, though I tend to ramble when nervous.
JD gives us a line to start a story and less than five minutes to do something with it. Here's the line: "Most things will never happen. This one will."
I imagine a quiet man speaking to a bound victim. Dexter standing over a table, maybe. I write:
"Most things will never happen. This one will," he says.
"Don't freak out. It won't make this any easier. Take a breath and let it wash over you, the fear. Let it drain.
"Your dreams are not going to come true. You will never finish that novel, or hold your grand child or pay off your mortgage.
"You can scream if it helps. Just once, though, because we have to finish this.
Then I realize the killer was talking to me. How weird is that? Then I wonder if this killer is related to my Lady in the Lake piece. Who was he? Was he watching the lake from his trailer?
JD quotes Coleridge: There can be no great art without a certain strangeness.
Something unfamiliar, odd or perplexing. Our lives are deadened by routine. You break routine when you make things up. Make the normal strange.
(We read a three-paragraph story and analyze it. The use of sounds in the text. The recurring images. The importance of names, vivid details that set the tone. The plot is not on the page, it is suggested by the actions we see. First graf is set-up. Second is build-up. Third is pay-off.)
John gives us a scene prompt: You have a man and a woman in a room in Salinas, Kansas. He wears cufflinks on a white shirt, and a silk tie. She seems preoccupied and holds a glass in her hand. You must use the words "salvation" and "light." One of them is the central character. What do they want? What is stopping them from getting it?
Too many flowers, she thought. They hang on the walls and stand against the baseboards, scatter out of the chapel into the hallway. The perfume of orchids and lilies and roses and chrysanthemums overpower her. She feels dizzy again and leans against the gunmetal box, her salvation, jostling the cup of water in her right hand.
The Dixie cup spits on her fingers and droplets spatter Jeff's crisp white shirt. She daubs at the drops but they soak in, showing pale skin tone through the shirt. He never wore T-shirts, and she wouldn't bury him in one. Not that he would care; he wasn't in Kansas any more.
The diffuse light from the stained glass windows casts a warm color across the fabric. She strokes his silk tie, straightens cuffs that need no straightening. Her fingers rest on his crossed hands, and they aren't even cool to the touch.
Is it warm in here. she wonders, trembling. Is it growing lighter?
She leans away from the box and looks for someplace to sit, but the room is infested with colors, heavy with pollen, bright with western light. She wonders about that, about the sunset. About the dead in Christ rising first.The minister had said so.
She poured the water into a bouquet of black-eyed Susans and went to look for a stronger drink.
Next: The inspiration of paintings.