Take your kids to Disneyland and they will ride things that scare you or keep you singing It’s A Small World After All for the rest of the week. Take your kids to Legoland and you can learn what writing is all about.
Now I admit that is an odd thing to say. But I recently spent the day with my granddaughter at Legoland. It is not such a hectic place as Disneyland so I had time to wonder who thought to build it. And that led me to wonder why we writers build stories. I’m a firm believer that you can, indeed, compare apples and oranges. So I stand by the following four comparisons between Legos and writing.
1. Both Lego builders and writers deal in illusions. Both try to shape something that viewers think is real. Is that elephant real? Is Hamlet real? It’s all in the details. If you are precise, detailing what things look, feel, taste, sound, or smell like, readers will believe you just as kids believe the elephant at Legoland is real. In Artists & Thieves I created a “sensory overload” scene in a jazz club in Cannery Row with a lot of vivid colors, sounds, tastes, and emotions for the characters. I had real singers perform, but all else was fiction. Readers tell me they looked for the club but couldn’t find it.
2. Both build elaborate structures with little interlocking pieces. Legos come in two basic shapes, rectangles and squares. But some are bigger than others. And some are cylinders. From these limited shapes, very patient people construct tiny cars and two inch people. They build a life-size Darth Vader and a Volvo. They also build replicas of cities like New York and Las Vegas, huge long units that form skylines about as tall as adult visitors. It helps that their fingers are flexible.
Writers build with words, some are tiny, some long, some are loaded with hidden meanings, some crystal clear. There are at least three quarters of a million of them in English. That’s a lot of construction blocks. It is the writer’s job to interlock them into sentences, fit them together to build small haiku poems or long novels. It helps if the writer’s brain is flexible. It helps if the words are chosen carefully: a character who simply walks down stairs is not as vivid as one whose too large shoes slap loudly on the steps; a character who “ponders” which way to go when fleeing a killer doesn’t seem credible.
3. Legos come in bright and neutral colors. The variety helps distinguish parts. So does variety in sentence structure. Write only with single syllable words? Not so interesting. Write only noun-plus-verb sentences? Boring. Dialogue adds color. When my character Hunter searched the heroine’s room for a stolen bowl, I didn’t tell the reader he knew she was a liar but the dialogue conveyed it:
Give up,” she said. “That bowl is on its way to China.”
“And you are Snow White,” Hunter said.
4. One last comparison. Breaks. Benches. Shade. Iced drinks. We need to rest in the midst of activity. We also need to catch our breath in the midst of a tense story. Give the reader some ice tea like an easy description or incidental dialogue between secondary characters. One reason some people read the end of a story first is so they won’t have to worry all the way through about what is going to happen to the hero. So be kind to the reader and provide some rest stops along the way.Artists & Thieves, she has published a college text. Her early interest in English expanded to include language disorders and she began a second career as an audiologist and aural rehabilitation therapist working with deaf and hard-of-hearing children and adults. Currently, she studies and practices Chinese brush painting, celebrating the vitality and energy of nature. She follows art and art theft blogs and writes her own blog about art and sometimes includes reviews of novels. She is working on two more novels, a second Mai Ling novel about the Diamond Sutra, and a Sammy Chan art mystery about the forgery of a Goya painting. You can visit her website at www.artistsandthieves.com.
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