Thursday, September 23, 2010

SWAT Boot Camp : Object Obstacle Course

 By C.L. Phillips


Well novelist, I see you are back for another SWAT Boot Camp session with Sgt. Wordslayer.  Remember what SWAT means?  Stop Withering Away Tension.    Know what else SWAT means?  Stop Writing Average Things.

Grab your pencil and a notepad.  Step back from the keyboard.  What?  You don't have a notepad?  Where do you write down the snippets of conversation you overhear in the coffee shop?  Where do you scribble down all the little ideas you have?  You better have a notepad.  Something small.  Shove it in your pocket or purse, or inside your bra.  I don't care.  But do not ever leave home without it.  If I catch you without your notepad, I'll smoke you.  Ten verbs.  I promise.

Now drop and give me five ordinary objects that serve as clues in your current WIP.  Quick.  Five objects.  Murder and mayhem require physical clues.  Get cracking.  What?  You're not writing that kind of novel?   Tough.  Pretend.  You're a mystery novelist, remember?  Now give me one unusual object.  Hey, you there in the back, stop feigning writer's block.  You're not allowed to think during this exercise, so it's impossible to have writer's block.  Look around the room.  What do you see?  Write down those five objects.

Quick, now drop and give me five outstanding verbs.  New ones.  No cheating by using the verbs you've used before.  Chop, chop.  You're not writing the great American novel.  Verbs, people.  Now.  Got 'em?  Did you write them down?  Or are you simply reading and pretending to follow along?  Don't be a wanna-be.  Writers write.  So write.  NOW.  (This is where you scream at the top of your lungs, YES, Sergeant Wordslayer.)  Good.

Now, pair up the five objects with the five verbs.  And pull one more verb out of your...head ...for the unusual object.  Got it?

Now for the obstacle course....take your object and verb pair, and give it a symbolic meaning.

What?  You don't understand me?  Let me explain.  Make your object mean something more than what it is.  Every great mystery is filled with symbols and deeper meanings.  How in the world do you expect to write the next DaVinci Code or relegate J.K. Rowling to the dust bin with a one-dimensional story?

Oh, so now you're crying, "why didn't you tell me this first?  My object isn't special enough."  That is exactly the point.  Nothing is special until you make it so.  Until you give the reader a reason to care, every word is flat, meaningless.  Anything can be a symbol.  The more common the object, the easier it is to hide in plain sight.  The more common the object, the higher the probability your reader has this same object in their home.

Examples, you want stinking examples?  Okay, I'll give you my examples, but in return I expect you to post your list of objects and verbs in the comments for this post.

Objects:  oak tree, phone, tennis ball, newspaper, door, first edition of Tom Sawyer ( the unusual object)
Verbs :  whistle, row, share, bark, intimidate, sooth
Pairs :  oak tree whistles, phone barks, tennis ball rows, newspaper shares, door intimidates, first edition soothes
Meanings :  oak tree - silent strength, phone - love, tennis ball - adventure, newspaper - insight, door - opportunity, first edition - legacy

Are you ready for the final step?

Pull out your current work in progress.  Today, we're going to Whip that WIP in shape with a little Sniper Object Training.  Grab a chapter or ten pages.  Get out your pencil.  Quickly now, go through the pages and circle all the objects.  OBJECTS ONLY LADIES and GENTLEMEN.  And no, this doesn't mean every single noun on the page.  But it could.  You decide.  Yes, gosh-darn it.  Make a decision.  Circle the objects.


Ok, that was the easy part.  Now, go back and write a new verb with each object.  You know what's coming next, right?  Yep, you've got to give the object a meaning. 

Now, I want you to reach inside your brain.  Slap that huge ego of yours.  Repeat after me.  "The only person that cares about my WIP is ME."  Now stand up and scream at the top of your lungs.  "I WILL NOT SETTLE FOR MEDIOCRITY."  Wave your arms in the air.  Get that blood flowing.  Scream, "I AM THE SYMBOL QUEEN."  Or King, as your gender dictates.

And yes, a recipe card can be a symbol.  But it better be a darn good recipe.  Scratch that.  It better be molecular gastronomy.  Remember, you are the only one that cares.

Why are we TARGETING OBJECTS?  Because when objects become symbols, the object transports the reader to the emotions you want the reader to experience.  Symbols are the Humvees of the novelists desert.  Put some gas in your tank and put three symbols in your WIP.

And if you dare to reply to this post, give us your objects, verbs, meanings, and symbols.  Remember, writers write.  Post your answers to this drill.  Get on the SWAT Team.  And at the risk of giving you a fat head, pat yourself on the back.  You've completed the Object Obstacle Course.


C.L Phillips writes mystery novels while nestled under a hundred-year live oak tree in downtown Austin. Except in August. C.L writes about the the gap between what people want and what they actually do. Broccoli or chocolate chip cookies, anyone? Check out her web site: or find her onTwitter: @clphillips787

1 comment:

Donnell said...

Yes, sir!! Thank you, sir!