In class we talked about a writer being almost like a lightning rod for details that stand out. They could be ordinary details—like a man you notice sitting in traffic in the left lane behind the wheel of a waxed and shining BMW 7 Series. Bald, late 40’s, pale blue Timinis button-down shirt open at the collar, expensive watch.
But when you’re looking through the storyteller's lens, you’re looking a little closer, trying to understand what might be going on under the surface that would make a good story.
THE STORYTELLER'S LENS
Like maybe you notice he’s gripping the steering wheel a little too hard, gritting his teeth. The longer you stare, the more intensely you’re waiting for something to happen.
Nothing does. (Unless you're reading NOTHING HAPPENED AND THEN IT DID by Jake Silverstein, which I recommend.)
Except you notice in the backseat of this man’s very expensive vehicle are about twenty boxes of donuts. Empty? Full? You have no clue, but now you notice something else.
There’s a bat on the floor of his car. Thick, old-fashioned wood. You think you might have seen something on that bat, a stain of some kind, but you can’t tell. You’re too far away.
Traffic picks up and you move along with it, moving closer to the BMW and that bat. You’re looking now, craning your head into the backseat of that BMW, when something else unexpected happens.
You bump it with your side mirror.
And now the man looks over.
He rolls down his window and…
THE END OF THE SCENE IS THE BEGINNING OF THE STORY
The way you choose to end that line is the beginning of your story. As we saw in class, each of us will cap the scene off differently. The key, though, is to create a point of interest that draws readers in. A question unanswered, a peculiarity worth investigating, an irony or twist that suggests that what we see and what the truth is are two different animals.
Which brings me to one of my favorite writers, pulp and cult legend Jim Thompson. I won't be throwing out too many author quotes in the next 10 weeks, but here's one that bears a closer look: