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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Breathing Life

I recently came across a blog written by Joe Hill, author of Horns. In the comment section of one of the posts, a question was posed. How do you breathe life into your work?

The question seems simple enough. It's even phrased in such a manner so that a person who doesn't write can understand it. The answer though is much more difficult. Breathing life creates a reality the reader can sink his teeth into. It's the difference between the phrases, "Dam I couldn't put this down," and "Oh man that sucked. What a waste of money."

The following is an example of what I like to consider breathing life into a story. Though both will have the same basics, they will be completely different. One will be a generic sense of what a character is and the other will, if I do this right, make you picture the actual character. He will live and breathe to you; the reader.

John drove his truck to the stop sign and parked it. After a few moments, he climbed out and walked to the back to take a piss. Good thing the road was in the middle of nowhere.

Ok, as you can see in the above couple of sentences, we have a character who has to take a piss. Not very gracious I know, but it will prove a point.  We also know he's driving a truck in the middle of nowhere. Sounds simple. The picture is painted in the fewest words possible, but it doesn't really bring life to the character.

Now, here is the same scenario with a little life breathed into it.

Unbearable summer heat beat down on the roof of the old beat up dodge pickup truck John used for work. Streaks of sweat raced down his face created small streams of clean skin. It wasn't the heat that caused him to shift from side to side. It was his full bladder from all the Dr. Peppers he drank earlier in the day.

The middle of nowhere wasn't always a bad thing. The stop signs put there can even be an annoyance and for the most part, John generally ran them. Not this time though. He had to take a piss so bad, his bladder felt like a million pop rocks exploded at once. John stepped out of the truck and looked around at the endless fields. There wasn't a soul in sight for miles. He walked to the back of the truck, unzipped his pants and thought, 'Dam am I ever glad I'm not a woman right now."

Sweet relief filtered through his body when the flowing golden stream of liquid hit the ground. It made a distinct sound, the way a hose does when you turn it on to a trickle. When he finished, John let out a medium sigh of relief and said, "When ya gotta go, ya gotta go."

With his body relieved of the exploding pop rocks, he climbed back in his truck and took another swig of Dr. Pepper.

As you can see in this one, the picture is really painted. You know the man has to go so bad it doesn't matter where he is. Though the subject matter isn't one of great grace, however,  it is a picture we can all relate to. We have all had to go to the bathroom and been in the middle of no where. That is the point. If I have done my job right, you-the reader, will say to yourself 'I know how that feels.' There in rests the breath of life. When you as a writer paint a picture and a scene the reader can relate to, then you have brought life. Breathing life is as simple as taking a piss and explaining all the details.

I know that sounds bad and is more often then not easier said than done. Try this on for size. When you're creating a scene you don't feel has any life to it, back away from the computer. Turn on a stop watch and write as fast as you can for five minutes. Don't worry about periods, commas or any other punctuations.  This is a tip I learned from Jack Remick. I can't remember where he said he learned it, but I can tell you it works. Once you let all the pretenses go, your mind is free to let the soul speak.

In the end, that is what writing a story is all about. Don't be afraid to push the boundaries or even worry what others will think. Write from the soul, paint a believable picture with a character that is real in your own mind. The monsters are real because you say so. True love exists because you believe it and you carry the fates of destiny in your fingers. Breathing life is simply knowing all of that.

I hope this helps and maybe inspires. Remember above all else entertain and make it work.


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