Friday, July 23, 2010

On Santa frogs, creepy dolls, and questionable turkey recipes

I've come across some interesting things while packing up my house to get ready to move. In looking through conference notes, I saw this quote from Isaac Asimov:

"The reader will remember not the phrase, but the effect it has. If the phrase does not have an effect on the reader, change it or cut it."

I don't know what conference presenter relayed the quote to us, and I couldn't confirm that was the exact quote or find where Asimov said that, but that's what I scribbled down at the workshop, so let's just assume he did say something like that at some time.

'Cause I think it works really well with sorting through ten years' worth of stuff. Plus, deciding what to keep and what to throw out reminded me of editing.

By some miracle of physics, the entire contents of one closet filled up the living room. Not all of those things can be worth keeping.

This, for example:

What is this thing and why do I own it? It's-- a frog, I guess? Wearing a Santa hat for some reason. Maybe it's cute, but it doesn't elicit any warm feelings from me. There's nothing wrong with him, really. I love frogs. I love Santa. But the amphibious hat-wearer needs to go.

Maybe when you're revising a manuscript you'll find some phrases or scenes that are like the Santa frog: nice, but they don't serve any purpose. It might even be a favorite scene you've written. But does it advance the plot? Will it have an effect on the reader? If not, there's no reason for it to take up space. So, toss it out like 1997's tax receipts.

Some things worth saving have an effect on us, but not a pleasant one. Like these gals:

Yeah, I know. Lovely, right? Just the kind of thing a little girl would love to cuddle with before falling asleep at night. They live in a box in my closet. Yes, I do worry they will leap out and murder me in my sleep. But they're antique, and they were my grandmother's. So they will stay.

Some scenes are hard to write. I don't mean the writing part, although that's hard too, but I mean because they're unpleasant. Something bad happens to the characters we love. Maybe someone's broken his heart, or punched her in the face. Or your character has lost her home, or her family, his innocence, or everything he's ever loved. You've read books like that, too; anyone who's read Laurie Halse Anderson or Ellen Hopkins knows about scenes that are hard to get through. We identify with the characters and hate to see bad things happen to them, but that's part of their story. And we remember them. They have an effect on us.

On to my favorite kinds of things to find:

That first paper is one I post on the refrigerator every November. It was a "How To Cook a Turkey" assignment my daughter had in 2nd grade. Is it well-written? Sure, for an 8-year-old, I think it is. Is the recipe accurate? I wouldn't recommend using it unless you want to spend Thanksgiving in the emergency room with all your family members. And the turkey's missing a foot. But after ten years, I still laugh when I read the instruction, "Bake for 30 minutes at 104 degrees." We're keeping the turkey.

The yellow paper looks like something the daughter drew at age 2. I think it's a family portrait. Sure, our legs are attached to our heads, but she could write "Dad." No one has arms, but we have ears and knee caps.

When we look over a drafts of our manuscripts, we always find things that need to be rewritten. Maybe the words aren't exactly right, or the sentences are too wordy. There isn't enough detail, or there's too much. Or you're revising something you wrote last year, and you've grown as a writer since then, so you'd write it differently today. But the feeling is there. The scene has an effect on the reader. It isn't perfect, but it's worth keeping.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm getting a padlock for that box of dolls.


  1. Perfect metaphor for writing, Lynne! Good luck with the move. And speaking of editing, I hope that blob of paint comes off the floor -- wish it was as easy as hitting the delete key.

  2. Hmm, I do not know about this paint on the floor you speak of.

    *cough cough* still working on that. I too wish there were a paint-deleter.

  3. 1. Give me back my Santa Frog.
    2. Those Doll pics are Stephen King creepy. Not only may they murder you in your sleep, they might burn your house down when they're finished.

    Love the comparison and the site.
    theBrad (verla user)

  4. Thanks, Brad! That frog will be on its way shortly. I'm sure it's still here somewhere...certainly I didn't throw it away just, I know! I'll have one of the dolls bring it to your house.

  5. Lynne, love this post! Thanks for the smiles. I have a similar turkey paper my daughter wrote in 2nd grade. The turkeys in hers went on strike and therefore, could not be shot, so the pilgrims had to go to the store and pay fifty bottlecaps for a turkey instead. Still makes me laugh every time I read it.

  6. Shelli, what a great story! That's one to keep for sure. Wonder where the Pilgrims got all those bottle caps?

  7. Great post.


    Love your blog!


  8. Thanks Shelley! Glad you're enjoying the posts, creepy dolls and all.

  9. Your blog is awesome. I love the Isaac Asimov quote: how cool!

  10. Thanks, Carey, glad you're enjoying the blog!

    I was thinking I need to keep that Asimov quote near my desk so I can keep it in mind as I'm writing.