Sunday, September 20, 2009

Grape Study and The Power of Detail

Large view

(This entry is somewhat germane to Sunday Scribblings prompt #181: "Hungry.")

Yesterday I spoke to the Florida Writers Association's Tampa chapter on "Harnessing the Power of Detail." The groceries I picked up on my way home included grapes. They were so pretty that they inspired me to play with my food.

Large view

Here I've trimmed, rotated, and duplicated/mirrored the original image.

The interplay of solid and shadow intrigued me after the grapes were eaten.

What Remains
Large view

So I thought I'd create a "rug."

Large view

This image takes the preceding photo and matches its stem edge with that of a mirrored and reversed copy. I then applied MS Photo Editor's "Edge" and "Negative" functions and altered color balance and contrast. The background and frame come from copies of small patches taken from the altered image.

On Saturday morning I spoke to almost 25 people at the Carrollwood Barnes & Noble in Tampa. First, I presented and deconstructed examples of how detail is used in passages from published works in several different genres. The use of detail sets the scene, tone, and pacing of a piece and relates to what the author is trying to say. Which information advances the scene and enriches the story? How and where does the author focus the reader's attention?

My participatory talk included several exercises based on what I've done in my classes. One exercise reversed the dynamics of creating detail to add believability to a story. Instead of writing a narrative in which one invents details, I presented the group with a photograph showing four people preparing to launch a sailboat. I'd been part of that outing, now around 25 years ago, so I knew the people in the photo.

My handout page had two columns: "What is happening?" on the left and "Why?" on the right. I asked participants to describe, point by point, what was happening in the photo, to infer the relationships among the different characters, and then to write those assumptions in the left-hand column. Then, referring to body language, facial expression, line of sight, and environmental details -- those things that they could find in the photo itself -- they would justify their assumptions in the right-hand column.

No matter what the actual situation in the photograph, all guesses are legitimate if one has the details to back those guesses up. Interpretations of the photograph differed among participants, but each person used a different set of details to illustrate his or her assumptions. One participant likened the exercise to different stories provided by witnesses at a crime scene.

I also referenced Jeff Gerke's take on the "show versus tell" dictum, including his section, "When Exposition Works." And I drew from Naomi Epel's book The Observation Deck, one of my favorite writing guides.

After the meeting, several members took me to a terrific lunch at the Red Lobster across the highway.

FWA Tampa Lunch

Here I entertain the group by floating a lamp above my head. :-)

I misread my own directions duct-taped to the dashboard of my car and saw more of Tampa than I'd intended, but if I hadn't I wouldn't have seen a well-muscled, barechested man practicing his golf swing in the middle of a sandy highway construction zone -- one of those shots I wish I could have taken without getting into an accident. And I congratulated myself for finding an alternate route home without having to consult a map, so am getting to know the Tampa area a bit better.

Thanks to Kaye Coppersmith and the rest of the FWA Tampa chapter for a wonderful day!

I made two announcements at the meeting. One concerns the National Day on Writing, a project initiated by the National Council of Teachers of English.

National Day on Writing, 20 October 2009
Click here to read the flyer.

Also, the Writer's Digest Conference occurred in New York City on the same day as my presentation, but people could follow along remotely, through both the conference blog and Twitter posts.

Cover for Deviations: Covenant, Second Edition Cover for Deviations: Appetite

Vol. 1, Deviations: Covenant (2nd Ed.)
Vol. 2, Deviations: Appetite
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[end of entry]


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