Impressions: A Game of Details by Wyatt Bessing
Welcome back to our monthly columnist, Wyatt G. Bessing. A writing coach, teacher and author, as he shares with us “Impressions: A Game of Details.” Enjoy! I really enjoy this month’s game. I hope you will too!
In her book Thinking About Memoir, Abigail Thomas reminds us: “Details. Specifics. Eliminate all abstract nouns.” Of course, this rule holds true for writing fiction as much as memoir. Whatever you write, use specific details to craft a full, believable world.
I love how writing slows me down and makes me acutely aware of the vibrant moments of life. Like a photographer, I capture the poignant images of life, whether joyful, painful, or confusing. Steal from your own life judiciously, noting sensations, colors, all the specifics. Whereas a tourist might take a hundred photos and flip through them in a flash, hardly seeing each one, the job of a writer is crucial. We process these moments deeply, turning them over and considering the multiple perspectives and realities within them.
The journal, therefore, is the most indispensable tool in any writer’s toolbox. Keep a journal and write in it daily, recording your striking observations. Yesterday I went to the Sonoma County Fair and tried to fully observe and experience these moments. Sometimes the full impact of a particular experience won’t settle in until later. The depth of a moment is difficult to understand at first, yet it haunts me, compelling further exploration. It’s that sense of wonder and exploration that I want to impart to my readers. Now I’m aching to use these moments in my writing, to slip these beautiful real world details into a fictional world.
Each month I offer a game in this column. Like writing itself, games came be a wonderful way to break through the solid structures we’re accustomed to in order to see the world in a new way.
For this game, write down six observations of real life details. These are mine from the fair:
- A pair of goats, mother and son, bullying a little pig in the petting zoo. Every time he’d come close to sharing their spot in the hay-strewn field, they’d turn, charge, and head butt him away.
- Miniature worlds created in flower arrangements; tiny upturned pots as elven huts.
- Distracted by my phone as the Ferris Wheel ascended, then looking up to find myself at the top, a hundred feet up, dizzily staring over the grounds and hills.
- Getting my foot stuck between a giant rooster and a stallion as I dismounted the merry-go-round.
- My mom’s photo of a calla lily winning 2nd place when it obviously should have been 1st.
- Aisles and aisles of poetry on partitions in the exhibit hall.
Next, choose a work-in-progress or begin a new piece of writing. Roll a die to randomly select one of your observations to include in your writing.
I roll a 3 – the Ferris wheel.
In relating the anecdote, consider the conflict in your story. My story is about a teenage girl who suddenly runs away even as she seems to have a good life and a loving relationship with her parents. When I include the Ferris wheel scene, I’ll focus on that element, the shock of the scenery suddenly changing, the new perspective that leaves a sense of vertigo:
We’d gone to the county fair the day she disappeared. I didn’t think she’d want to be seen with me, her embarrassing mom, but she stayed with me, and we even went on rides together. I was a little disappointed on the Ferris wheel when she disappeared into her phone to text her friends, then took a selfie before the gondola lifted off the ground. I don’t think she realized how fast we were rising, because when she looked up from her phone we were at the top a hundred feet up, and she suddenly went pale.
“Are you okay?” I asked, trying to take her hand. She pulled away.
“No, I think I’m going to hurl. We came up so quickly.”
Specific details resonate with readers. Like a lived experience, these moments capture something beyond the specific, becoming taproots to the universal. Guide your readers into deeper explorations by writing from the truth of experience.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wyatt Bessing is a writer, writing coach, and learning specialist. His stories and essays have appeared in Bedtime-Story.com, Outsider Ink, national educational assessment materials, and in the anthology Dance, Human Rights, and Social Justice. Through his workshops, website, and blog at wyattgbessing.com, he guides new and experienced writers in crafting more effective, expressive, and striking work. During the day, he works at Star Academy in San Rafael, teaching reading and comprehension skills to students with learning differences in elementary through high school. He lives in Santa Rosa, CA with his wonderful fiancee and co-creator, Sarah Laugtug.