I don’t know about you, but after years of writing, I notice that I get into a stylistic rut. As I have mentioned before on this blog, the solution is theft. Today I’m going to steal from author Janet Lee Carey, creator of Dragon’s Keep, The Beast of Noor, Dragonswood and many other books. This particular bit of larceny is from The Beast of Noor.
I’ve broken part of a scene down into its elements: dialogue, setting detail, internal monologue, etc. In this scene, Hanna, who is a dreamwalker, confronts her brother Miles, who used his secret shapeshifting ability to save her from the supernatural beast known as the Shriker.
Hanna lunged forward and pushed him on the chest. (character action) “Don’t!” she cried. “Don’t lie about it anymore! I saw you leap from the high branch, so I thought you’d die, but you didn’t. You…flew.” (dialogue)
Miles sucked in a startled breath and held it. (character action)
“You changed. Your body changed. I saw it happen. And you saved me from the Shriker.” (dialogue) Hanna looked up at him not so much with anger now as wonder. (character action.) He’d seen that look before when she’d knelt before the altar in the kirk. (internal monologue) It gave him a strange, tingling feeling to be so admired. (sensory detail) But he saw fear in her eyes as well (character detail), and he didn’t like that so much. (internal monologue)
High above a golden blade of sunlight pierced the clouds. (setting detail) Hanna was still looking at him, waiting for a word. (character action) “It’s true,” she insisted. “All of what I saw in the deeps. Isn’t it?” (dialogue)
A drop of sweat slid down Mile’s forehead. (sensory detail) He wiped it away with his sleeve. (character action) He couldn’t go on fooling her. What now? (internal monologue)
Now, taking these elements in the same order, I have created an entirely new (and rather silly) scene for an entirely different book.
Kweeg H-41 jumped from the mossy wall, landing on her side and rolling. “Bleezbat!” she huffed. “Lexar didn’t tell me this required vanquishing primitive ecosystems.” She examined her torn tunic.
“You were expecting a space pod with a driver?” Ilik-J16 smirked and offered his hand.
She would eat quantum rats before she’d accept any help from Ilik. Her bum smarted where it had hit a root. Ilik’s silver tunic was spotless, as usual. Kweeg suspected he’d spent his bonus on nano-cleaners for it, just to irritate her.
The ground was freezing as well as rooty. Kweeg hauled herself to her feet, glaring. She ignored Ilik’s proffered hand. “Lexar wants us there tomorrow,” she snarled. “The least he could do is provide transport.” Her left foot was beginning to throb and some kind of murderous plant was poking her. She jerked her arm away from the foliage and gave it a rub. When she got home—if she ever got home—she would fill Lexar’s sleeping compartment with Plutonian Slugs.
Not only is this a lot of fun to do, it’s not a way you would normally write. You can break the scene down into even more detailed elements if you like. While it would drive me crazy to do long passages using this method, I find that short bits help me to analyze my usual style and see whether there is something in the rhythm and pacing of another author’s prose that I could use to change up my own.
If you know a teen writer interested in gathering with other teens who write, check out our TEENWrite summer classes at Uppercase Books in Snohomish.