Monday, January 16, 2017

Greet as an Old Friend (01/16/17)

It's hard as a writer not to just use abstract phrases to convey meaning. But really, can you have the expression of love? What would that look like? Surprise and happiness? Does your left eyebrow sink lower than your right, or do your cheeks flush red? How about something a little less easy to picture, such as the taste of gratitude? Is that... Pear? Cucumber? Chicken? Cereal? (Hopefully not a mix of all four!)

My goal here is to present the phrase: "greet as an old friend" in a new light. Perhaps it will be writing inspiration. Perhaps it will just brighten your mood and make you want to curl up in a blanket and write a letter to someone you haven't thought about for years. Maybe you'll just close the page in disgust and think, "This gal has absolutely no idea what she's saying. Why did I look at that anyway?" Well, believe what you want. I'll try not to bore you.

Examples of what may greet me as an old friend:
an actual friend, whether old or new and completely understanding
a book, to read or to write
a song, to listen or to play
fuzzy blankets on a couch, or warm, well worn, and soft clothing
my favorite food
an old blog, almost long forgotten.... (sorry!)

Yeah, as a list, it all seems kinda boring. It doesn't really grab the emotion I feel around these just by listing them. So first, what is it that I really want to capture?

An old friend, to me, is anything or anyone I haven't experienced for a long time and sincerely miss, but when I find it, there's been almost no time passed between us. There's that nostalgia and feeling of everything at peace because something finally makes sense. Maybe it's a reminder that it's okay to move forward, but sometimes I need to look back and say goodbye or come back where I belong. It's the feeling opposite of returning and finding everything is the same except yourself, and almost a visualization of a warm pink amidst the rich, deep brown; perhaps the trust fall in which I can close my eyes, take a deep breath, and fall, knowing there's fluff and feathers to catch me at the bottom. There's just that nearly indescribable feeling that I can't just call "greeting as an old friend" because not everyone feels it the same way.

So how do you write something like that?

What if you consider the situation around what you want to portray? Looking at my favorite food, let's say it's those cheesy potatoes I only get to eat on Thanksgiving, I can tell that there's backstory and emotion behind what I want the reader to feel, but all they see is a bunch of starch and dairy. I can tell them that everyday for lunch, I have to drown my cafeteria french fries in salt to be able to taste them, and the slimy fruit I grab is processed beyond belief, plus the main course is edible eight times out of ten. So when I finally get my cheesy potatoes, complete with several kinds of cheese crisped to the slight extra golden and baked fresh, not frozen, there's that bliss of returning to what I lost and what I want back and finding it exactly perfect. Maybe it's the way it melts in my mouth that turns the reader's attention, or how I relieve all that extra, built-up stress and exhale in ecstasy as I put a beautiful mound on my plate, but somewhere in that description there needs to be that contrast and that connection to what the reader can feel.

So when your characters return from a long day, maybe the frustrated leader turns on the hot water and leans back in the tub. Throw in a little bubble bath for childhood's sake, bring the scents of the shampoo to life, and voila! Your writing just became a little more complex. Or the introvert trying really hard to fit in gets home and can't wait to just fall asleep. If you want to show the romanticism of returning to long, lost sleep, don't flop your character down on the rock solid mattress and leave the light on all night. Maybe he or she has to trudge up the stairs with half open eyes, but everything is warm, soft and cozy enough to swaddle the battered soul and calm the nerves. Finally, introvert night-owl may come home and just want peace and quiet after putting up with the frustrated leader and the grumpy introvert for the way-too-many-hours-long car ride. This little one hops up the stairs past the trudging grump and pretends not to hear the horrible singing of the first in the bathroom, and heads rather into the study, where back behind a row of books is one favorite long abandoned. The thin, anxious hands may just barely make it to where the corner juts out from behind encyclopedias 6 and 7, but the dog eared pages may have the soft feel of worn yellow edges. And the scent? Book enthusiasts could probably spend days enthusing about the smell of old books and how it makes them feel. This whole scenario sounds so much better than just saying that Joe, Susie, and Cam went upstairs and felt really tired after a long day, and it doesn't waste as much time reading as one might think.

Why don't you try it? If you're scrambling for word counts (cough, cough me during Nanowrimo), find an emotion you want to expand or an abstract idea as a description and embrace it. Use everything you can to make it better: metaphors, flashbacks, obnoxiously long sentences (sorry!), character thoughts... If you think it works, use it! If your Dr. Seuss novel turns into Tolkien, you might have gone too far, but then on the bright side, there are plenty of people who prefer Tolkien to Dr. Seuss. You can always edit out what you don't think works, but you need something there in the first place. Or maybe all your novel needs is a break, complete with Thanksgiving cheesy potatoes and that old book you haven't read in years but used to know almost by heart. Just save me some!

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