Thursday, April 19, 2007

Compelling

Posted by Lynne

Saint James Church lies on a hill as if God himself placed it there. Fluted spires reach toward heaven, the cathedral begs to go back home. Stained glass stories march around the whole of it, promising you there is something inside you, too, can have.

**
Saint James Church is parked on the hill as if god himself dropped it there. The steeple gestures toward heaven as if to say thanks a lot for kicking me out of paradise. Oval glass saints, stained bloody, wander around the outside of it. These martyrs have no power to tempt me inside.

Compelling. As writers, the word compelling is bandied about in workshops, online and in print. The dictionary definition is wonderful. The word compelling means to force or drive a course of action, to unite by force or to have a powerful and irresistible effect or influence. Understanding the word, compelling, as it relates to story building is complicated.

Until last Saturday, when I thought of the word compelling I thought about characterization and plot. Of course, the trouble that comes into a life must move the action forward, there must be powerful irresistible complications-- plot. The characters must be three dimensional, have depth and motivation.

Now, after a weekend course on story construction, taught by the smart and talented Stace Budzko, I think about setting in a whole new way. Compelling and setting were two words I wouldn't have put together before.

The opening paragraphs about Saint James Church are my efforts to complete an in-class writing assignment. Stace asked us to think of a place and write about it from two perspectives. The first perspective was to think of the place as pleasing. The second, forbidding.

This exercise freed me from what I would have to call an area of weakness in my writing. In the past, my descriptions of setting were merely a backdrop for my characters. I fear my descriptions were stale and predictable. Dare I say, boring to read?

Realizing setting is one more way in which to make my stories compelling, equates to a light bulb moment. I want my descriptions of setting to be at times a pleasing vantage point from which my story is told. At times it can and should be forbidding or somewhere in between the two extremes. At the least, setting should unite all the aspects of my story with force. I want places, locations, time, and seasons to ground my characters. Like in the House of Sand and Fog or Rebecca, I want my setting to have an profound influence on my readers, too.

Do you have any craft secrets that you've discovered along the way that have informed your writing? Any light bulb moments that could help other writers better understand the word compelling?

7 comments:

Biby Cletus said...

Nice post, its a really cool blog that you have here, keep up the good work, will be back.

Warm Regards

Biby Cletus - Blog

Therese said...

Lynn, I love it when I stop in here and discover reminders I can put into use today!

You raise such an excellent and under-observed aspect of craft.

"Stained glass stories march around the whole of it..." is marvelous.

The Writers' Group said...

Thank you for your kind words, Bibi Cletus. Glad you stopped by. Welcome.

Therese,
I'm happy you see the connection Stace brought to my attention as interesting. Don't you love those ah hah moments related to craft?

And thank you for your feedback on my writing. It made my day!

Lynne

Larramie said...

Oh, Lynne, it's terrific when a light bulb goes on in a writer's head because ultimately the reader will experience the same glow. And that's compelling! ;o)

M.W. said...

I really enjoyed the line, "The steeple gestures toward heaven as if to say thanks a lot for kicking me out of paradise." Fantastic.

The Writers' Group said...

Larramie-- I love your bright insights! The desire to be a lifelong learner is a blessing.

MW--Thank you for the kind words about my words. Who doesn't love a little positive feedback?

Lynne

Dorian said...

Lynne --- Saint James Church is parked on the hill god himself dropped it there. The steeple gestures toward heaven as if to say thanks a lot for kicking me out of paradise. Oval glass saints, stained bloody, wander around the outside of it. These martyrs have no power to tempt me inside.

Some bloke --- Saint James Church is where God left it. Its steeple gestures toward heaven, as if it yearns to return to paradise. Blood stained saints wander the oval glass, and though I seek their counsel, these martyrs have no power to tempt me inside.


Compelling to me means empowering the reader to sharpen his/her focus. Sharper writing helps with this. Lynne’s paragraph was pretty darn sharp, I imagined what it would look like if I had seen it myself and had to do in there. Great Exercise!