Friday, July 20, 2018

Friday Feedback with Erin Hahn: Using the Five Sense to Make Your Scenes Come Alive




You know how you can instantly love a person your best friend loves? 
Well, it's the same with your agent or editor: if they love a writer, you love them, which is much how I feel about Erin Hahn who is here today, and whose debut YOU'D BE MINE is coming April 2019 from the fabulous Vicki Lame (MY editor! ;)) and Wednesday Books.
"Seventeen-year-old Annie Mathers is the folksy heiress to a country music dynasty that ended in her parents' tragic deaths five years ago. Since then, she's been hiding on her grandparents' farm where she intends to stay. Indefinitely. That is, until superstar Clay Coolidge shows up on her porch and convinces her to join his summer tour. . . " 
You can read the rest HERE. It sounds OH, SO Good! 
Erin is here today with a totally stellar post on using the five senses. To tell the truth, the most I've learned about writing, I've learned here on my own blog from guest authors who have taken the time over the past five summers to share gems like this one. I plan to steal this post verbatim -- with credit!!! -- when I teach!

If you, too, appreciate the work Erin has done here today, please preorder YOU'D BE MINE and help spread the word! And if you can't preorder, ask your local library to preorder it in! Oh, and if you want to follow Erin on twitter, you can do so 
@erinhahn_author .


One of the earliest compliments I received from an industry professional about my writing was that my style was “evocative.” I’ll be honest. I had to double check the definition and definitely did one of those “Who ME?” after reading it, but it’s stuck with me because it’s certainly something I’ve always strived for. I want to transport a reader. I want them to see something in my book exactly as I see it in my mind. Obviously, that’s a fraught expectation. I mean, everyone gets something different when they read a passage. But every now and again I’ll hit home with a reader and it’s so satisfying.
Believe it or not I have a process for this. Not intentionally, mind you, but one day I happened to be guest teaching fifth grade and the teacher left me with a very shallow creative writing lesson. Little did he know, creative writing was my full time job! So I ran with it, figuring I could always apologize later if he hated the outcome (spoiler: he did not, in fact, hate the outcome).
Here’s what it comes down to: Whenever you are taking a reader some place new, take an inventory of what it feels like, smells like, looks like, tastes like and sounds like. It’s the fastest way to get them to that place and while you’re at it, it has the added benefit of bringing you there as well. And the deeper you are in your own scene, the better.
In my current YA, I’m writing about teens who work in radio and they go all over the place, as teens tend to do. At the moment, I’m crafting a scene where my main character, Vada, is on a “date” with an older coworker at a small music venue. Think dive bar. My audience is YA, so I can assume most of them haven’t spent a whole lot of time in dive bars, so my work is cut out for me.
Here is the initial introduction to the scene:
“The venue is a dark and dismal kind of place. Lots of people milling around, but there’s only one I’m concerned about- the one I shouldn’t have said yes to.”
Okay, so this is a typical first draft intro for me. I’m more concerned with plot and character development at this point, so I often will put in a “place holder.” Get it? PLACE holder? Sorry. Essentially, remind myself where I’m at, set the tone just enough to give me some realistic character motivation, and move on.
So let’s pretend, though, that my draft is done (oh how I wish). Now it’s time for me to read back through and start fluffing out the settings. I’ll go scene by scene, making sure each one is giving the reader a clear picture of where the characters are. Almost like if they just walked into the scene with you. What do they see? Only two people talking in a blank white space? Or in my case, one person musing in “a dark and dismal” kind of place? No good. Let’s go back.
First, what do they feel? Not emotionally, although that could come too, depending on how you draft. Right now, though, I’m concerned with purely physical feeling. Here’s what I’m feeling in my mind: Overly air-conditioned because of the show, so goosebumps. My shoes are sticking to the disgusting floor. I might be feeling sort of clammy at all the nasty germs around, since I’m like that. Maybe my character sort of is, too. Maybe I feel the rush of air as strangers push past me. Maybe I feel them shove and press against me. Maybe my face prickles hot with discomfort since I feel out of my element with this date I didn’t want.
Feeling. Got it. Let’s go back to my original line and layer some feels in.
“The venue is a dark and dismal kind of place. Lots of people milling around, closing in and crushing against me as they wrestle for a better view, but there’s only one I’m concerned about- the one I shouldn’t have said yes to. I rub my arms, cursing my thin hoodie. It’s doing nothing against the overly air-conditioned chill. I shift and my cheeks prickle as a man in front of me gives me a look of annoyance. “Sorry,” I mutter, sidestepping and encountering something sticky under my shoe.”
Okay. Feels. Got them. Is this done? No way. Let’s hit up taste next. What does Vada taste? Again, my Vada is barely 18. YA all the way. So if I’m 18 and I just came from a dinner to a bar for a concert, there’s a good chance I’m chewing gum. Or drinking Sprite. Or an ice water. I might taste the garlic from my dinner. Maybe I’m so anxious, I taste bile in the back of my throat. Unless your character is actively eating, taste might be tricky to define but it doesn’t hurt to ask. So how does taste fit in my excerpt? Let’s look:
“The venue is a dark and dismal kind of place. Lots of people milling around, closing in and crushing against me as they wrestle for a better view, but there’s only one I’m concerned about- the one I shouldn’t have said yes to. The garlic pesto I had for dinner churns and swallowing hard, I can taste it in the back of my throat. I rub my arms, cursing my thin hoodie. It’s doing nothing against the overly air-conditioned chill. I shift and my cheeks prickle as a man in front of me gives me a look of annoyance. “Sorry,” I mutter, side-stepping and encountering something sticky under my shoe.”
Okay, Erin, you might be thinking, panicking slightly at the sheer number of words I’m adding. Chill. We will still edit, friends. Trust the process. Breathe. Moving on to sound.
Sound is easy on this one. We’re at a concert. It’s loud, blaring, in fact. People are singing and shouting over the singing. Whistling, screaming, clapping. But here is where I think we can step back. It’s not necessary to list all of those. My reader knows they are at a rock concert. I don’t need to list every individual sound. In fact, it’s way better that you don’t because I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard each individual sound. I hear ALL the sounds at once. It’s a ruckus. Its more a feeling than a sound, isn’t it? Thrumming in your ears, pounding in your chest. So how do we incorporate that?

Alright, sound. Done. I should add that sound can sometimes be hard to pin down. Like I mentioned before, we don’t always separate individual sounds when we’re someplace, taking it in. It’s more natural to drown out sounds to hear what we need. I’ve been known to check out Sound Clouds on YouTube in the past. Or even Atmospheric stations on Pandora Radio. They work great with things like “Forrest at night” or “Busy city street” or whatnot. Give them a try!
 The last two are probably the easiest. Smell and sight. Let’s start with smell. At a concert, I’m smelling body odor and the sour scent of spilled alcohol and the skunky smell of pot… maybe too much cologne or perfume. Now that I think of it, concerts are pretty gross. But I digress.
Usually, I crave the pounding of the bass in my chest and the thrumming of the screaming music in my eardrums, but not tonight. Tonight, it’s too much to compute, my ears aching with the effort to hear the vocals over the racket of the crowd all around me. I stumble forward and my cheeks prickle as a man in front of me gives me a look of annoyance. “Sorry,” I mutter, side-stepping and encountering something sticky under my shoe.”

So our one line has turned into two paragraphs so far. Which is amazing. A reader entering into this scene is going to really feel like they are ENTERING into our scene and experiencing what Vada is experiencing. One last sense… sight. What do we see? I’m seeing couples kissing, frats guys pumping their fists and stage lights blaring and blinding. Of course, I want to see what VADA is seeing and she’s overwhelmed and feeling regret at showing up, so what she is seeing is tainted with that. She might not care about the couples kissing or the frat guys. She’s more likely getting a headache from the lights. Let’s try that.
Usually, I crave the pounding of the bass in my chest and the thrumming of the screaming music in my eardrums, but not tonight. Tonight, it’s too much to compute, my ears aching with the effort to hear the vocals over the racket of the crowd all around me. The neon stage lights flash and blind in an uncomfortable rhythm, confusing me. I stumble forward and my cheeks prickle as a man in front of me gives me a look of annoyance. “Sorry,” I mutter, side-stepping and encountering something sticky under my shoe.”

And that’s it. All our five senses. If you read carefully, you might have noticed that I changed her “I shift,” to “I stumble forward” somewhere in all of that. When I noticed that Vada was becoming distracted and disoriented, it made sense. I’m the author. I get to change it. 😊
So I’m going to edit real quick, reading my paragraphs aloud and seeing if I can cut anything or smooth it out.
“The venue is a dark and dismal kind of place. Lots of people milling around the small, raised stage, closing in and crushing against me as they wrestle for a better view. There’s only one I’m concerned about, however—the one I should’ve turned down—and he’s somewhere behind me at the bar, getting another drink. The garlic pesto I had for dinner churns and swallowing hard, I taste it in the back of my throat. My thin green hoodie is doing squat against the stale bar-air and I wrinkle my nose at the unsavory combination of sweat and skunk, despite knowing full well on a typical night, I would be loving this.
Usually, I crave the bass pounding in my chest and the thrum of screaming vocals, but not tonight. Tonight, it’s disorienting, my ears aching with the effort to decipher the lyrics over the racket of the crowd. The neon stage lights flash and blind in an uncomfortable rhythm and I stumble forward, my cheeks prickling hot, as a man in front of me glares. “Sorry,” I mutter, side-stepping and encountering something sticky under my shoe. Worst maybe-date ever.
There. I’m in a bar. Listening to a band. With Vada. Who isn’t having a good time, unfortunately. In my own writing, I would do something just like this with every NEW location I spend quantifiable time in. Obviously, if she came back to this venue later, I wouldn’t go through the entire list, but I might throw in a hint like, “only this time, the beer-and-skunk smell is gone” or whatever. You get the idea.
I should also note that I don’t always list details in two paragraphs right at the start (though, I might). Sometimes they get peppered through if I’m in a single location for a bit. As the author, you need to decide what is natural observation for your character. If it’s YA, they might not organically speak to the architecture of a place. If it’s adult, they might not snark about the smell. If it’s a picture book, they would be far more basic, sticking to familiar colors and textures.


Alright, so here we go! For my Friday Feedback submission, I offer you the above, now more polished, paragraph to give feedback on. Then, it’s your turn. Maybe take a section of a work in progress and run it through the five senses overhaul. Or write something new and explore how the scenes feel, sound, and smell!

And remember, Gae says if you are new to Friday Feedback, please read THE RULES (at the end of that post). And don't forget the only thing we ask for the time we put in here is that you order -- or preorder -- our books!!

Look forward to seeing you all in the comments!!

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            The venue is a dark and dismal kind of place. Lots of people milling around the small, raised stage, closing in and crushing against me as they wrestle for a better view. There’s only one I’m concerned about, however—the one I should’ve turned down—and he’s somewhere behind me at the bar, getting another drink. 
            The garlic pesto I had for dinner churns and swallowing hard, I taste it in the back of my throat. My thin green hoodie is doing squat against the stale bar-air and I wrinkle my nose at the unsavory combination of sweat and skunk, despite knowing full well on a typical night, I would be loving this.

            Usually, I crave the bass pounding in my chest and the thrum of screaming vocals, but not tonight. Tonight, it’s disorienting, my ears aching with the effort to decipher the lyrics over the racket of the crowd. The neon stage lights flash and blind in an uncomfortable rhythm and I stumble forward, my cheeks prickling hot, as a man in front of me glares. “Sorry,” I mutter, side-stepping and encountering something sticky under my shoe. Worst maybe-date ever.

xox Erin and gae

49 comments:

  1. Wow, look what you got out that 1 sentence, Erin. I usually write PB, so WC and setting have to be streamlined; I also know the illustrator will do the visuals for me. Here's a small revision of your super bar scene:

    The venue is a dark and dismal. Lots of people mill around the small, raised stage, close in and crush against me as they wrestle for a better view. There’s only one I’m concerned about, however—the one I should’ve turned down—and he’s somewhere behind me, getting another drink.
    The garlic pesto I had for dinner churns. Iswallow hard as I taste it in the back of my throat. My thin green hoodie is doing squat against the stale bar-air; I wrinkle my nose at the combination of sweat and skunk, despite knowing full well on a typical night, I'd love this.

    Usually, I crave the pounding bass in my chest, the thrum of screaming vocals, but not tonight. Tonight, it’s disorienting. My ears ache with the effort to decipher the lyrics over the crowd. Neon stage lights flash and blind in an uncomfortable rhythm and I stumble forward, my cheeks prickling hot, as a man in front of me glares. “Sorry,” I mutter, side-stepping and encountering something sticky under my shoe. Worst maybe-date ever.

    Now mine for your consideration. Writing a PB bio of a singer/song writer, John Hartford. Setting will be key as young readers will not have experienced the 40s-80s and the Mississippi River was a huge pull for this MC. My first attempt at intro for ages 9-12 is this:
    John Hartford Charts His Own Course

    By Kathy Halsey


    John Hartford was a boy with Mississippi mud in his veins and music in his heart. He didn’t set out to chart a new course for folks to follow, but he did. John’s one-of-a-kind ways left others in his wake. John opened up uncharted waters as a riverboat pilot, pop star, banjo picker, fiddler, TV star, and as a three-time Grammy winner. He made waves as a true original.
    Back in the 1940s and 50s while other boys played with toy guns and plastic army men, John soaked up the freewheeling feel of waterways that stretched for days from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Did he dream of what lurked in the murky water below? Did he imagine himself the pilot of a paddle wheeler? John was ready to roll.

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    1. Firstly, I love the voice and think this PB sounds amazing! I would definitely pass something like this along to my students. Very cool.

      One thing I would suggest is to take care with the idioms, particilularly ones that are older. While they fit perfectly with your voice and tone, 3rd-7th graders might misunderstand.

      Maybe it’s because of the population of students I work with (mainly struggling readers) but phrases like “chart a new course” and “left others in his wake”, while perfectly fitted to your story, might miss the mark with your intended audience. I would skip those lines all together. Your intro is beautiful and then go right into “John opened up uncharted waters as a...” because in that line, those idioms are given context!

      The imagery of the plastic army men made me smile and “lurked in the murky water” is fabulous! I’m not sure my students would follow “freewheeling” so maybe nix that particular phrase, but the sentence works great without it!

      Thank you for coming today and sharing your work with me!

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    2. Kathy,
      I love this! I don't know if you intended it, but it reads in a really engaging southern accent! I particularly enjoy (and hear) "with Mississippi mud in his veins and music in his heart" and "John soaked up the freewheeling ways of the waterways" in a delightful twang. :) Sounds like a great PB!

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    3. Jen, thank you for being so supportive. I was trying for that "folksy" type of voice. Do you have something here I can see? I loved John's music and my hubs and I saw him frequently in small concert venues. It's a joy to write about hi, point to share his story w/newer generations so they might also find his music and emulate his tatted e- be yourself, follow your passions, be kind, too.

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    4. Erin, It makes my heart happy to see that you feel the voice and your students might enjoy it. Yes, I'll have to watch the idioms due to grade level and reading abilities. Ty for that advice. I'm tiring to weave river words and steamboat, musical for in now. Can take them out later and might try on a beta audience. Bless you for your response.

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    5. Excellent idea and I think you’ve been very successful in creating a musical voice for this!!

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  2. Hopefully I will drop back later once I've tried out this technique, but I just wanted to say thank you! This is just what I need as I'm revising my MG novel. I really like how you used the different colors to demonstrate how you layered in the different sensory details. I've learned a lot this morning!! The kids I teach can't really write yet (kindergarten) but it strikes me that this would be a fantastic tool older kids could use to include details in their writing and see the changes.

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    1. Thank you for stopping in! I work with a lot of kinders as well and they are such a joy! I wanted to mention that while kindergarten is too young to use senses in their writing, it can be super fun to engage them in taking stock of their senses at any given point just to get used to the practice! It could equip them for writing later and also help in science and socialization!

      Can you tell how fired up I get about Senses? 😏

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  4. Erin,

    Thanks for stopping by and giving us such a cool technique to try. You really found a way to put the reader in the bar with Vada. Nice work. And congrats on your upcoming book.

    Here is a snippet from my current WIP.

    “Thanksgiving is in two days,” Mom says between her bites of fries. “I think we should have a traditional dinner. I saw Rachel Ray make one on TV today. We could have turkey, dressing, potatoes. Cranberry sauce. I could make a pie. Apple maybe.”

    Turkey, my favorite. I pictured the slab of white meat on my place and beside it, dressing, from scratch not box, with golden raisins in it. And potatoes, mounded up on my plate, creeks of butter running down the sides. And apple pie. The scent of cooked apples warm and spicing filling the room.

    I swallow the saliva in my mouth.
    I look at the stove. It’s covered with a year’s worth of newspapers. The oven is packed tight with empty margarine containers.

    Traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
    Yeah.
    Right.

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    1. WOW. Once you got going with the “creeks of butter” and “warm and spicy” apples, my mouth was watering! Fantastic. You really appealed to visual side of things perfectly. I could see it all! I would love a little more sound and touch, maybe the soft gurgle of simmering gravy on the stovetop or the crisp flaky crust of apple pie? I see it all, now immerse me in that scene.

      The contrast between her fantasy Thanksgiving and the reality is startling and well done. I’m incredibly intrigued!

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    2. This is just brilliant after the lovely sensual descriptions Erin pointed out: "I look at the stove. It’s covered with a year’s worth of newspapers. The oven is packed tight with empty margarine containers."

      Ow, my heart. <3 Keep going!

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  5. Erin,
    Thanks so much for that great lesson. I can't wait to share this with my students.

    I could picture your scene really well, and was especially taken with the line "There’s only one I’m concerned about, however—the one I should’ve turned down—and he’s somewhere behind me at the bar, getting another drink." That made me concerned for your character and invested in knowing what is going to happen. I loved how your setting details really show her anxiety.

    Here's a snippet of a piece I wrote. I'd love any feedback.

    Blinking back tears, I turned to my mom, sitting next to me in our van. “Mom, are you kidding me? We can't live here.”
    Our new home was little more than a cabin with a rusty tin roof, a screened-in front porch holding an ancient sagging picnic table, and in place of a lawn, a few blades of grass poked out of the sand, resembling the thinning hair of my math teacher, Mr. Anderson. A boat raced past on the wide river behind the house, causing the waves to bang against the pilings that supported the back of the house.
    Mom squeezed my hand before opening her door. A wave of heat and the briny smell of fish assaulted me. "It will be an adventure. Come on, we need to unload.” I wasn't sure this was my idea of an adventure, but I followed her, my flip flops sliding in the sand, sweat beads forming on the back of my neck. The seagulls' laughter mocked me as I heaved a box of dishes out of van.

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    1. Oh my word, I WAS THERE. Fabulous job with the senses. As grim as the character felt, I giggled at the line about her teacher’s hair.

      Perfect.

      I keep coming back to the “flip flops” line. I can see it and feel it and hear it even though you technically only appealed to our sense of touch there. You’re relying on the reader’s prior experience for that and you did marvelous! That’s the kind of nuance you want to achieve.

      I love it.

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    2. I thought this "A boat raced past on the wide river behind the house, causing the waves to bang against the pilings that supported the back of the house." was everything until I got to the flipflops line. Wwo to that, I, too, am there. Keep going!

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    3. Wow, not Wwo. Or maybe both of those! ;)

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  6. Thank you for this, Erin. Your explicit instruction and color-coding was so helpful to see as you added new elements with each passing. I’ve often thought that people can overdo the five senses thing, but I’ll rethink that now that I saw how well yours worked! I could definitely see (and hear and feel) where Vada was and feel her discomfort and regret, as well. I’m so curious to see what happens on this night and how she feels about it the next day. I look forward to checking out your book.
    In my WIP, my MC has just walked out of the middle of a HS class because she can’t focus. She’s just returned to school after time off after her little sister went missing/was abducted.
    -----------
    I realized I had stopped walking when an upperclassman on a bicycle passed me with a bell trill and an “on your left”. The wind of her passing stirred the dark oak leaves which swirled just above the path in her aftermath.
    Lola loved to ride her bicycle. She was still on training wheels, but was a daredevil nonetheless. Today she would have been out on the big driveway chasing the falling leaves, pedaling furiously to catch them mid-fall, tipping dangerously in the turns, and laughing at each miss.
    I moved off the path and sat, the wet leaves and damp earth soaking my jeans instantly. What had I been thinking going to French class? Who the hell cared about French? I leaned back until my back, too, was wet and put an arm under my neck. The scent of wet earth and decaying leaves wafted over me. That, and just behind it, the crisp, clean autumn air. I took a deep, shaky breath, swallowing the lump in my throat. Could Lola smell the air? Could she see this same robin’s egg blue sky? The tops of the trees were technicolor reds and oranges in my peripheral vision, forming a halo in the edges of my sight.
    I closed my eyes to block it out. My heart beat throughout my body, not just in my chest, and it felt like the ground was moving under me, keeping time. Was it my heart pulsing or the earth? I physically moved with each pump of my heart and it was dizzying, but oddly soothing. Predictable. Maybe this was what meditation was like. I let the pulsing lull me. Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.
    “Grace Ann?”
    I opened my eyes and the world was suddenly too bright. I shielded my eyes with a hand. A silhouetted figure loomed over me, looking down. The fact that I opened my eyes must have been enough for her, because she stepped back, blinding me more.
    “Are you okay?”

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    1. My goodness, this is gut wrenching and very beautiful! The scene stabbed me in the heart, so... well done!

      Your descriptions were lovely and really transported me. I would offer only that when you are appealing to the senses, you don’t need to list the sense. Like in the lines where she asks if Lola can SEE the robin’s egg blue... oranges in my PERIPHERAL VISION...halo in the edges of my SIGHT. You could easily cut out those words, because they are implied and redundant. We put them in while we draft, making sure we cover our bases, but as you revise and edit, those key words can be removed and your writing will comes across sharper and have a little more bang to it. It’s like you’re tricking the reader into doing the dirty work. They are seeing what you want without you spelling it out. Make sense?

      Beautiful sample. Thank you for sharing it!

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    2. Ah, Jen, I had forgotten Lola and Grace Ann -- and their ongoing worrisome saga, and like old friends, I'm happy -- if still worried -- to see them back. One day, I will get to learn everything that happens from here! :)

      I particularly love this tiny description -- though I love the whole thing: "tipping dangerously in the turns," I can so see that and everything that goes with it.

      As for all five senses, not only does Erin give great advice above, but I'm sure she'd agree, that ultimately, we might not want all five senses hit in every -- or even any -- particular scene. In fact, for me, often, all five would be overkill. And this would be where our own voices come into the writing. Having said that, I would have expected to feel as you went through them, that there would be too much and I actually LOVED how you brought us there moving through each sense. How was this NOT overkill for me? I don't know. But it wasn't!! So what I think is that writing and trying to hit as many senses as we can, can really help bring that first draft alive. On revision, when we go back and bring out our own voice even more -- that might be the point when we can say, "ah, this and this are working for me here and paint the full scene, and maybe I don't also need X." If that makes sense... at any rate, the work you've done here is wonderful, EVOCATIVE, and I am there. :) And what Erin said!! :)

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    3. Jen, the senses add a true poignancy to the piece and the bits about wet and decaying highlight the sadness of the missing sister. I'm there with Grace Ann. I agree that using all senses here makes the scene really memorable and maybe other scenes might have less sensory detail. I kind of got drawn out of the story in the second graph when you begin w/Lola, I was wondering why we were talking about someone much younger. i'm sure context is before and below this scene. Bravo, good work.

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    4. Thank you for the feedback, Erin, Gae, and Kathy!

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  7. Wow, thanks so much for sharing your process, Erin. I love the idea that you don't have to flesh out each setting as you write and I enjoyed seeing your place came to life as you added senses to it. I think this would be really helpful for my students too.

    I enjoyed getting to know Vada and would definitely want to read more to find out who she is, who the guy is, and why she agreed to meet him, even though she didn't want to.

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    1. DELETE.

      I swallowed and the ice water whooshed immediately to my stomach. I shivered. It was JUNK mail. Why did I open it, anyway? The house grew darker, as the screen grew brighter. Lucky pounced on a shadow and skidded across the hardwood floor. It was DELETE-d--didn't exist any more.

      It can't be true. What is Bitcoin? Police? What would I tell them? Makes no sense at all, but the password?

      Slamming the laptop shut, I hurry to bed. SLAM. Steps running up the porch next door. I wasn't going to sleep tonight anyway. I read it, and now I can't unsee it.

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    2. Ohhh! Intriguing! :) I must know more which is exactly how you want it!

      I could feel the icy water and the line about the house growing darker as the screen grew lighter was excellent. Very relatable!

      Take care with your sentence structure. Mix it up a bit so you’re not always starting with “I...” Combine where you can to avoid sounding repetitive when you are in the shoes of your character.

      On the opposite end, when you are descibing actions outside of your character, a little more information is good! It took me a couple of reads to understand the second SLAM was next door? So while the fragmented structure builds suspense, we don’t want to confuse the reader because that could take them out of the scene. What happens when she hurries to bed? Does she throw covers over her head? Is there a light on? Does the slamming next door startle her? Is her heart pounding? Does Lucky spook her?

      This is one of those cases where I want more in every way! :)

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    3. I especially love -- and smiled at the vision of -- "Lucky pounced on a shadow and skidded across the hardwood floor.

      Agree with Erin's other comments. I'm a less-is-more person and often have to remind myself that my readers know less of what's going on than I already know in my own head!

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  8. Erin,
    This process was so interesting to read. I look forward to your book. I don't feel much like a writer today as I am on my way out of town and I wrote this very quickly. I loved your descriptions; the only thing that I might change if it were me was the sweatshirt. It would be cold at first, but as soon as all the crowd arrived, it might be stifling? But you know your character better than I. I loved that line of "unsavory combination of sweat and skunk". Thanks again for your time! Here is what I had time for, and any suggestions I would be grateful.

    My office is situated in the far southwest corner. Walking past Sherry's and Tom's cubicles, I look straight forward. Talking to any of these people makes my palms sweat. The copy machine is whirring, and I overhear, "take these documents over to accounting to see if Bridget can make sense of them." Shoot,my desk is already overflowing with projects I blow into my hand to see if I can smell the onions from my lunch chicken salad, and wincing, I swallow hard. I shouldn't have ignored Sherry and Tom's invitations for lunch. Their icy, cold stares as I walk by forces me to look down.

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    1. Good point about the sweatshirt! I’ll take a look at it when I revise! :)

      I really enjoyed a lot of the details we got in here... the whirring, the wincing, the onions and the sweating palms! Fabulous. All of them spot on and so relatable.

      I noticed that a lot of the senses were spelled out to the reader rather than being experienced by the character. It’s a matter of tweaking. So for example: “Talking to any of these people make my palms sweat” and “the copy machine is whirring”. In order to put us in your character’s shoes, try “already, my palms are clammy, just thinking of talking to these people.” Or “over the whirr of the copy machine I can hear someone say...”

      See the difference? Just a slight tweak changes it from the character telling us how to feel and the reader feeling it for themselves.

      Have a safe trip!!

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    2. Yes, yes! Thanks again!!

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  9. Erin, great lesson idea. My head is already spinning with 5th graders, colored pencils, peer reviewing, and creativity in my Writers Workshops. Thank you!

    My submission for today is an early entry into a series of essays about the overall idea that school should love you back. Kids generally come to school with excitement about the adventure ahead, but over time that enthusiasm gets crushed by the system that is education. I hope you will take a look on my WordPress. Thank you for your feedback.

    https://mackaylogue.wordpress.com/2018/07/16/the-enrollment-interview/

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    1. I’m sorry, I can’t open the link? Could you copy paste, maybe?

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    2. https://mackaylogue.wordpress.com/2018/07/16/the-enrollment-interview/

      Hopefully, this will work. Something screwed up with my google link.

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    3. Susan, I really ask that, when possible, we don't ask the guest authors -- or me -- to have to go outside the comments here. And if one person does it, than of course 12 can and likely will. ;) So if possible, cut and paste the excerpt you want read HERE!! <3

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    4. Mama Mia! Here we go again... Here is part of it.
      We moved to Cincinnati from Rome in the fall of 1967. I would turn five toward the end of November. I don’t recall the details of most of the transition from Rome to the U.S., but I do have a few vivid memories. This meeting is one. It’s interesting that this memory reflects only a few of the physical details, but focuses more on the feeling or the tone of the moment. My mother had meet with the Principal of Concord Elementary School to set up an enrollment interview because my birthday was close to the age cut off. At that time, she was told that I would need to meet with the Kindergarten teacher to see if I was mature enough to attend that school year. During the meeting, Mom told the principal that we had been living abroad, and if the interview involved any questions about American television or pop culture, I wouldn’t be able to answer them. Those words still haunt her, as she feels that they influenced the school’s decision.

      The day of the interview, we had walked through a hole in our backyard fence and across the baseball fields and playground to our meeting. The fields were manicured and the sun shone brightly, but there was tension in my mother’s hand as it clutched mine. I had no idea what was about to happen, but I was getting more and more nervous as we approached the school.
      Normally I would have relished a walk with my mom, as they were few and far between. Walks were done with my nanny, Lia. Lia was hired by my mother when I was three months old. Although she did many things for us, I believed that she was there just for me. She spoke only Italian, and she would proudly tell people that I spoke like a native. I spoke English too, of course, but with Lia it was all Italian. She was my world. But Lia was an ocean away. This was just my mom and I traipsing across the field toward something important. Something scary.
      I don’t recall what I wore, although I assume I was in a dress, and I don’t recall the interview questions, but I do remember feeling unsure and anxious. As a bilingual child, raised in a household that required fluency in English and Italian, I transitioned seamlessly from one to the other. I would speak to my neighbors and friends in Italian, and to my family in English. Sometimes one of them would speak to me in English, and I would answer in Italian. Sadly, that is what happened during our meeting. The teacher went through her list of questions, which I answered thoughtfully and correctly, according to my mother, but in Italian. I felt a tinge of pride for having answered the questions, but my pride was misplaced. I could feel my mother’s frustration rising, as the questions continued in rapid succession. With each question, I confidently responded. With each question, my mother became more agitated. Finally, she clenched her teeth and demanded in Italian, “Rispondi alle domande in Inglese, non Italiano!”
      I don’t remember exactly how the teacher let us know that I had failed the interview, so the quote below is a compilation of conversations that I have had with Mom, but I recall my mother’s protestations had been unsuccessful, and what the teacher recommended next would have lasting implications on my nearly five year old life. “It is my professional opinion that in order for your child to participate in American school, she needs to speak English. To accomplish that goal for the following year, I suggest that you no longer speak Italian at home. Allowing her to speak Italian at home is confusing for her, and it will hold her back academically. If she returns next year and speaks only English, she will be admitted to kindergarten,” she said, as she ushered us toward the door.
      My mother gripped my hand tightly and we marched deliberately out the door and across the field toward my new home. Shame filled me like water, starting with my toes and rising, like the tide, to the top of my head. Mom was clearly mad, and it was my fault. I had let everyone down. I had failed at school, prior to even starting.

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    5. Gae, I was finally able to copy and paste. It was a struggle today to get anything to work. Thanks for the reminder.

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    6. Susan, that was lovely. And very impactful, particularly as told in your five year old memories. I’m hooked.

      I don’t have much to critique on because this is a memory of a time long ago. It’s difficult to place your senses in that time, but I think where you did (the clenching of your mother’s teeth, traipsing through the field, and the feeling of shame like water, covering you), you did a marvelous job. I think in a memoir format, this kind of sensory detail is very impactful. It reveals to the reader what you, as a child, found most memorable and in that, it reveals a bit about you! The stress of the interview, though you were only five, is evident. You can tell you were a thoughtful child from your concern.

      You aren’t so much transporting a reader to a scene as much as into a memory through your own eyes. You can only put into that what your mind gives you.

      Thank you for sharing!

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    7. Yay, thanks for the effort, Susan! I, too, particularly love this little gem: "Shame filled me like water, starting with my toes and rising, like the tide, to the top of my head."

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  10. Erin, thank you for sticking with this. I struggled with adding details that may not have actually been in evidence, but I had some help with that from family who had heard my mother's version of the tale prior to her memory starting to slip. Thank you for the lesson and the feedback. I appreciate it.

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  11. Thank you for sharing it with me!

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  12. I ADORE today’s lesson! So visual and motivating. Can’t wait to use this with my students. Everyone’s pieces today are so beautiful. I don’t have a current WIP so I’m going to post a quick write I did based on this picture:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/11/learning/whats-going-on-in-this-picture-dec-11-2017.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Flearning-whats-going-on-in-this-picture&action=click&contentCollection=learning&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=5&pgtype=collection

    It’s actually devoid of senses for the most part, so I’m now a bit motivated to dive into those as the story opens up.

    ***
    Nothing could make Francine feel out of sorts. Not even the end of the world. She’d lived through enough deaths, and lives, to realize that the world stops for no one. Time marches on to the *click click* of her crochet needles.

    The others scrambled and bumbled about like eggs being held captive over the coals for too long. Said they needed her. Said she might be able to help them climb back out of oblivion.

    *click click*

    What they couldn’t understand was that once the eggs cracked, there’s no putting them back together again. Those childrens’ stories are just lies.

    *click click*

    Cracked pieces of shell.

    *click click*

    What they really needed to be doing was to either clean up the mess, or eat it. Something useful. She’d mothered enough. Put in her time. She was not in the mood to continue cleaning up the broken pieces of everyone else’s mistakes. Poor choices. Ignorance and pride. Their greed.

    *click click*

    And now they’re yearning for the old world.

    *click click*

    They’d put all of their eggs in her basket.

    *click click*

    Her -

    *click click*

    And this flippin’ deer.

    *click click*

    They probably don’t even know what chickens are.

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    1. So I couldn’t click on the picture... and so reading the passage outside the picture was very confusing! I loved the passage for what it’s worth and found it quirky and refreshing... I just had no idea what you were talking about. 😂

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  13. LOL, Jenn, I'm not sure exactly what is going on here -- and would be less so without the help of the photo -- but I like it and I sure am intrigued. You do a good job of hooking me with the bits and pieces and mystery of it all. What's interesting if you're going to expand on it is that the setting in the photo is fascinating. I want to know where she is, but to feel it (cold? do those clouds move like moisture into the cable car? etc.) Lots to keep going with her. I'm intrigued!

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    1. Haha, here’s a better version. I haven’t put it through Erin’s sense revision yet, but it makes more sense without a picture prompt.

      **
      The transport neared the outskirts of the city, slowing its pace to a crawl - delaying the inevitable. The woman inside sat facing the way she’d come, unconcerned with where she was going. She wasn’t the type of woman to waste these precious quiet moments filling her head with frivolity. Instead, she took charge of the situation, maneuvering the two crochet needles between her fingers in a steady rhythm. Each click a second closer to her destination; each stitch a comfort against the cold.

      With her hands keeping time, she spared a glance out into the world waiting for her. Just peeking through the dense fog, remnants of towering buildings pierced through the shroud. Her hands moved a bit faster, compelled to stitch up the cloud and force these pointed edges neatly back into their bubble.

      You see, nothing could make Francine feel out of sorts. Or so she’d want you to believe. Not even the end of the world. She’d lived through enough deaths, and lives, to realize that time stops for no one.

      The final screeching the the brakes pulled her eyes back inside the train car. The stale air pressed in on her with every passing second. Most would feel uncomfortable by now, needing to shake a leg, rustle inside a bag, gland at travelers in surrounding seats making quiet judgments. Most would be itching to depart first, shouldering through crowds of people to ensure their feet hit the station platform ahead of the rest. However, Francine stayed put.

      Alone in a train meant for hundreds of people, she knew things couldn’t get any worse if she dallied.

      There weren’t that many people left.

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  14. Okay, Erin, so thank you for taking me back to college (and even a few years after college). I know that bar. I know that band. I know the strange people surrounding her. I know her. I always felt bad for the young people that ended up in dive bars (from experience). At least, I knew what I was getting into when I went to venues like this.:)

    Your writing is beautiful, and I love your humor. Thank you for the lesson on using five senses. I do something similar with my students, but I'm going to tweak the lesson with some of the ideas that you shared. I can't wait to read your new book. I also can't wait to read more about Vada.:)

    Here's my snippet:

    Emmet boots a long ball that drops exactly at midfield. I charge it from the right side and get control of the ball. I cut back to the right side of the field and have open field in front of me. I feel someone coming from behind, so I turn inside and …Umph. I’m knocked to the ground. I look up and see Jared’s hand.

    “Sorry, Sports, I was out of control and couldn’t slow down. You okay?”
    “I’m fine. Nice run. I though that I had open field.”

    He helps me to my feet. Free kick. I look from the left side of the field to the right. I raise four fingers in the air. Christy knows it’s coming to her. I turn my raised hand to the right. She smiles.

    I get off a smooth kick and it sails to the right of the goal. Christy is waiting. She traps the ball, dribbles towards the right corner, turns, and delivers a sweet pass to my foot. I tap it to my left foot and get a few yards closer to the goal before I blast a shot with my right foot. The ball finds the right corner of the goal.

    3-2. Yes!

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    1. Andrew, thank you for your kind words and for sharing your piece with me! I loved it. It feels like I’ve been dropped right into the center of a game in progress!

      The voice is strong in this preview... it’s almost like listening to a radio broadcaster call the game and that’s very cool! But I would ask you to walk back and give me more. I have a grasp on the actions and feels, but what about the sound? The squish of grass tearing up under the feet or the thud when the kick the ball or the swish as it sails into the net of the goal?

      I think you could easily incorporate some of that without removing the reader from the action!

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  15. “Oh, my God, this place is packed!” I blinked my obscured eyes twice and tried to focus. “Where’s the Grapevine table?”
    “What?” Sally yelled, and then caught herself as people looked towards her with disdain.
    “I repeated, looking right at her, ‘Where’s the Grapevine table?’”
    “Ha! I thought you said, ‘Grape wine table!”
    “Let’s find that, too.” We both laughed until more eye-rolls stopped us in our tracks.

    Sally and I made a bee-line for the Librarian/Media Specialist tables at the crowded job fair. Since Texas Stadium was a public venue, a thousand or more people came to find their dream jobs — opportunities of a lifetime. We had no idea what to expect, but what we found was an enormous arena with squeaky wood floors and utterly deafening noise of applicants milling through a hundred tables set up by different school corporations’ HR departments, trying to find just the right fit, just the right job that might fulfill otherwise boring lives.

    I wanted to stay on the northwest side of Dallas (where I already had friends), so I wanted to talk to Grapevine-Colleyville ISD and Lewisville ISD. I could just imagine stocking a new library: new shelves, new circulation desk, new books. My resume and last evaluation were starting to wrinkle in my sweaty hands. I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t want to sound too eager. I wanted to be professional. As I lined up behind 20 other prospective searchers, I thought, “Is this wait worth it?” But it WAS. So. Worth. It.

    I’m not sure Sally thought job hunting here in this madhouse was worth it. She only came along for moral support (she was my one friend who already had her job lined up) and the week away in Texas. We only had a few scattered days left together before the real world started. Soon both of us would have new jobs and friends and new apartments — new lives where we would become respectable adults who made a difference in the world. That was the dream, anyway.

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    1. This is excellent. Particularly the “squeaky gym floors” and the resume “sweating in her hand”. I felt both clearly and could absolutely relate.

      In this excerpt, your voice really grabs me but you lost me a tiny bit in the exposition. I’m not sure what this is for, and I know I’m focusing on senses this week, but I wanted to say that you don’t need the exposition. It takes away from your sharp wit and clear senses. You have something great going here... don’t pull us from your words with meandering thoughts. Let’s the reader stay in the moment with your character. :)

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  16. So many computer problems has made me late to this posting. I love this.Reminds me of the lesson I use with my elementary kids on rewriting a single sentence over and over and then drawing what we see when we each share. so fun.
    Your piece had me there in the crowd in the venue feeling cramped, ah I miss college! I felt the crushed and wrestling for a better view didn't fit with the rest of the paragraph. I was wondering if they moved you or pushed you into anyone, did you change direction? Also the date left behind has me intrigued and almost worried. I am wondering if you are escaping him or if he will be following you.

    My piece is from earlier this week, love teacher's write! I have a hard time editing since I feel I do so much as I go. Here it is anyway. Hope I'm not too late!
    Ever after
    Christmas Eve is hot with the oven on all day and steam from the boiling potatoes both white and sweet on the stove.Two potatoes is a lot! There is a big ham with pineapples, salad and fresh rolls. The butter I set is melting slowly out of its silver tray.I am wrapping red napkins around the spoons and forks, no knives mama said. The air is heavy in the kitchen and cool near the tree with presents for everybody wrapped and waiting.

    The tree smell floats like bubbles up the steep staircase to the bedrooms that stink like smoke and hairspray where music booms and feet stomp. Someone is bouncing a ball on the wall making me and Mama flinch.
    "The hell?" she asks wrinkling her nose.
    "Jack." I answer, shaking my head, staring at the ceiling.
    Mama gives me the don't-rile-him-up-it-is-a-holiday-and-we-don't- want-no-fights-or-police-today. Inside I throw a swear to her and my ears burn with the bad thoughts.
    They don't care about Christmas and don't want me to care no more either. My sisters and brother just yell to me to grow up already. You. Are. Ten. They just wanna open their new clothes and go back to their rooms or the cars of their boyfriends.
    The table looks so beautiful, like one from food network until I notice the butter has spread all over the red tablecloth.
    A boom from above and screeching has mama running up the stairs

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