Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Runaway Tree

You all know by now how much I enjoy writing lessons by Barry Lane. I've realized I'm not alone in this - you seem to enjoy them as much as I do. So, here's one of my favorite Barry Lane lessons, taken from After The End:


Clip art from (http://www.clipartheaven.com/)

"If I were to tell you that the maple tree outside there on the playground just said to itself, 'I'm sick of being a tree. I think I want to be a person now,' and if I told you that maple tree got up and is now sprinting down Interstate 89, what would you say?"

We would all say No Way! Not possible. Right? Barry Lane agrees that the initial response would be that trees don't run. So...

"OK, OK. But what if I said, 'The maple tree decided it didn't want to be a tree anymore and is running down Route 89 and there is a little boy named Seth chasing after it and a blue Chevy Cavalier wagon. And it just stepped on my 1979 Toyota Liftback, crushing the box of Twix candy bars I was saving to bring to class tomorrow.' What if I were to say, 'There is a cat up in the tree, and the fire department is chasing after it, and that cat is howling like a wolf on the highest branch, and the principal, Mrs. Stewart, has lassoed it with an orange extension cord and tied it to the bumper of bus number ten.' If I could tell you enough details, so that you begin to imagine something exact and real about this runaway tree, you might, you just might, go to the window and look. That's What writers do. They make you go to the window and look."

According to Barry Lane, we should think of the details of our writing as walls, not as wallpaper. Details are not decoration. They are part of a story's bones. They are the best tools a writer has to bring writing into focus and find deeper meaning. He says they should not be ends in themselves but should serve to bring to light the writer's larger vision.

How do you view the function of details?

34 comments:

Catherine Denton said...

Oh Shannon, this is awesome. You don't know HOW MUCH I struggle with descriptions. And this puts it in a way I understand. Thank you!!
Winged Writer

Carolyn V. said...

Oh I like this! Details are something I do struggle with. Part of my revision process is that I spend time just adding them in.

Valerie Geary said...

Great image to remember! Make the reader go to the window and look! Love it!

Heather said...

I love this! Make the reader go to the window and look...good advice.

Tamika: said...

I'm working on the details. The first draft is lacking, but I plan to go back through add flourish.

Scobberlotcher said...

Love this!

I think the amount and weight of details is a matter of a writer's style. I am a minimalist writer and I like what Raymond Carver said about it: "Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.” (interesting topic on both our minds. I have a guest blog about writers' styles tomorrow!)

Elana Johnson said...

I think there's a fine line we have to walk. I don't want to be buried in details that don't mean anything. I think each writer has to choose which details they're going to portray, and make sure they know WHY. Having a lot of details doesn't necessarily make it better. Having the RIGHT ONES does. You know?

Kelly said...

Love the example!
Though Elana has a point. I've been bored by a few books that had WAY too many details. You need just enough for the reader to be there with the character.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Catherine - I love the way he puts it too - it's so writer friendly.

Carolyn - Me, too. :)

Valerie AND Heather - The window image is my favorite. I love it!

Tamika - Good luck!

Scobberlotcher - Yes. That's similar to Barry Lane's suggestion that details are walls not wallpaper. Good stuff. :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Elana AND Kelly - I agree. That's why I like the walls vs. wallpaper comment. Wallpaper is extra, meant to be pretty, but the walls are necessary and vital to the overall stability.

Jennie Englund said...

I'm loving your naturalistic integration lately! It's super inspiring!

I wonder what's drawing you to it right now?

Oh, I think of detail in scientific terms. Like proof.

I would love to take a more artsy, figurative approach, though.

Michele Emrath said...

Great lesson. SO much to take from this. Thank you.

Michele
SouthernCityMysteries

Stephanie Thornton said...

Detail brings a story to life for me. I don't want a humdrum explanation or bare description. I want the scene to jump off the page at me. Description does that.

Robyn Campbell said...

OH MAN! I struggle with details every time I sit down to write. It is something that I assume the reader doesn't want. But I must try to reset my brain on this.

I really love it when you post about Barry Lane and these writing lessons. Thank you Shannon. I love your house! =)

Bethany Mattingly said...

I love the way he put that. It makes total sense to me.

Terresa said...

I love these words. (I Tweeted 'em & a link to this post as soon as I read 'em!)

Details can be like glue in a story, pulling things together and making them more cohesive.

Tiana Lei said...

I agree with the wallpaper statement. You don't want it to be too much, but you also want to make sure your wall isn't bare. And by the way, how come I never knew you live in Montana? I feel like this is something I should have figured out a long time ago ... :) (I'm from Bozeman).

Kristi said...

Hi Shannon! This is my first Barry Lane snippet and I'm loving it. Gread advice. Thanks for sharing!

On a side note - I always love your clip-art!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Jennie - Ha ha. I never noticed the naturalistic thing. :)

Michele - I'm so happy you got something from it.

Stephanie - Well said, Stephanie!

Robyn - You should try to get the book, Robyn. It's full of good stuff.

Bethany - YES! :-)

Terresa - Thanks, Terresa. that's such a compliment. I love the glue analogy.

Tiana - Bozeman! Yay for Montana writers. We may actually meet someday. I'm originally a Butte girl (don't judge me too harshly) but I live in Kalispell now. :-)

Kristi - I recommend reading the prior Barry posts - he is wonderful!

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Shannon, awesome image and thought for today. Our goal is the bring these kinds of visuals to LIFE!

I just saw the comment you left on Mary's blog today. I wrote a response, but will just paste it here to save you the trouble of backtracking. Are you on Facebook, by chance? Or, what is your email? Mine's rbsalonen@cableone.net. Would love to talk to you beyond the blog every once in a while. Anyway, here it is. Sorry for clogging up the comments box. :)

"Shannon, between the three of us, we've got Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota covered! And I truly expect we will all converge IRL someday. Looking forward to it! Thanks for your sweet words and encouragement -- it's been pure blessing to run into you!"

TerryLynnJohnson said...

Holy crap this is AWESOME! Thank you thank you for posting this today as I sweat over my revisions. You deserve a gold star.

Sharon Mayhew said...

Shannon--That was wonderful! I haven't heard of Barry before. I'll hve to google him tonight. :)

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Love this analogy! What a great lesson, and a beautiful way to consider the little details. Thanks for sharing this, Shannon.

Jemi Fraser said...

Love the story - and the message. Details are so very important.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

What an incredible story! This is great!

Kimberly Franklin said...

Great post, Shannon! I was just wondering: how are you liking The Dark Divine? I'm dying to read it...maybe??? ; )

Kasie West said...

Oh wow. I love that. What a great tid bit. Thanks.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Great advice. I struggle with too much/not enough detail and description. This is a fun way to look at it.

Hardygirl said...

OOooooo. This is such a great post. I like to think of creating a painting with my words--adding in enough visual detail so that you can SEE the action.

sf

Courtney Reese said...

Hey girl! I left you an award on my blog! I know you already have it but I just had to spread the love. xoxo!

http://courtneyreese86.blogspot.com/2010/02/awards-book-cover.html

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Roxane - You are the best. I'll email you soon.

Terry - I am soooo happy this helped you today! :)

Sharon - Yes. He's wonderfully fun.

Carolina - You're so welcome!

Jemi - Yes they are. :)

Kristen - Thanks!

Kimberly - I just started it, but I can tell you it only takes about 5 or 6 pages to draw you in. :)

Kasie - Thanks, Kasie.

Karen - I think many of us struggle with that.

sf - Great analogy. I love that.

Courtney - Thank you! You are so sweet. :-)

Lynnette Labelle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen said...

Shannon, yay! I'm glad that the pinkness arrived safe and sound. Hope you enjoy it!

Felicia said...

Thank you so much to you too for visiting my blog :) I love your blog anyway :) and this one very beautiful

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