Posted On June 24, 2013 by Print This Post

All in the Details with Adrienne Giordano

Today, we welcome back RU co-founder and multi-published author, Adrienne Giordano.

Good morning, RU Crew. It’s wonderful to be back with my RU peeps!

Not long ago, while working on a scene for my upcoming Harlequin Intrigue, I ran into what I call a research roadblock. It wasn’t a huge issue, but it pertained to legal jargon and I wasn’t quite sure I had the verbiage right. I did what I always do and emailed my pal (and RU favorite) Theresa Stevens. The RU regulars know Theresa is a crack editor, but you may not know she’s also a former litigator.

I shot her an email with my legal question. Turns out, my question was fairly simple to address. Unfortunately, (this typically happens!) Theresa found another issue with the scene and it became one of those writer “aha” moments for me.

AdrienneHere’s how part of the scene read when I initially sent it to Theresa: 

Dragging her mother along, Emma dashed off the elevator and down the hall to courtroom 400. The judge, a man appearing to be late forties sat behind the bench, two fingers pressed against his cheek, listening as Zac spoke from his place at the prosecutor’s table. Penny and her father stood behind the defendant’s table. Judge Alred glanced at Emma and her mother, the only two spectators in the room, and Emma slid into the nearest bench. So what if it was way in the back. She needed to sit before her legs gave way.

After reading the scene and correcting my legal jargon, Theresa put on her editor cap and came back to me with this comment:

“The emotion is really flat. Notice that you’re summarizing the discussion between the judge and prosecutor without giving us the dialogue. We get the details of where the characters are located, but nothing about their expressions, postures, or other emotional cues. Emma herself doesn’t give us an emotional cue until the end of the paragraph — she doesn’t notice what the others are doing/saying/feeling, and she doesn’t react directly to any of it, either.”

I read Theresa’s comment several times and thought about how I could boost the tension and emotion of the scene. I wound up breaking down each element of Emma’s route to the courtroom. In its entirety, this is a huge scene for this character and I didn’t want to rush it. I wanted her to feel every nuance.

I took another shot at it and came up with this:

Dragging her mother along, Emma dashed off the elevator, her low heels clickety-clacking against the tile floor. Here and there people wandered the hallways and Emma angled around them, willing her mother to keep pace. On her right, courtroom doors whizzed by. She checked numbers as she went. Almost there. Courtroom 400.

There.

She stopped and her mother plowed into the back of her. Emma grabbed Mom’s arm to keep her from going over. 

“Sorry. This is it.” 

She stared at the double doors, rocked onto the balls of her feet. “You ready?” 

Mom breathed in. “I have to be.” 

“We’ve got this, Mom.” 

Emma swung one of the doors open, ushered her mother inside and eased the door shut. The soft click echoed and she winced. Don’t piss off the judge.

She spun around, her gaze landing smack on the judge, a man appearing to be late forties. He sat behind the bench, two fingers pressed against his meaty cheek. His face gave nothing. Not a scowl, not a smile, not a frown. He simply listened, and Emma imagined she’d go mad wondering what the heck the man was thinking. 

Zac spoke from his place at the prosecutor’s table, his voice, as usual, assertive. Confident. Penny and her father stood behind the defendant’s table, their postures tall but not stiff. Almost relaxed, but that couldn’t be. Could it? 

Someone needed to offer a clue as to how this was going. 

Judge Alred glanced at Emma, then her mother, the only two spectators in the room. Not wanting to cause further disturbance, Emma slid into the nearest bench. So what if it was way in the back. She needed to sit before her legs gave way. 

After reviewing the scene several times, I felt satisfied I’d addressed the details about body language and emotional clues. Overall, I was happy with it and sent the scene off to Theresa again.

Guess what?

Not quite there! Here is her response: 

This is better. I want you to change this detail:

“Here and there people wandered the hallways and Emma angled around them willing her mother to keep pace.”

This is compressed narrative. It describes a circumstance rather than an event. Let someone jump out at Emma and block the way — an actual person or group of people — and let the angling be in response to this specific action rather than to an aggregate circumstance.

Also, “here and there people wandered” is a phrasing that slows down the pace. Wandering is not a high tension activity. What does this look like from Emma’s point of view? It looks like people are blocking the path. Cluttering, maybe, instead of wandering.

Another fabulous point by Theresa. It made me think hard about how the tiny details, ones that sometimes feel minor, can have a big impact on a scene. 

Determined to get it right, I took one last crack at it. Here is the revised part of the scene showing more tension: 

Dragging her mother along, Emma dashed off the elevator, her low heels clickety-clacking against the tile floor. People cluttered the hallway, blocking her, forcing her to cut around them. Just get there. A door banged open and two men in suits stepped into her path. Move.  Emma threw her arm out and angled around them. Her mother had better be keeping up. On her right, courtroom doors whizzed by. She checked numbers as she went. Almost there.

Courtroom 400. 

She stopped and her mother plowed into the back of her. Emma grabbed Mom’s arm to keep her from going over. 

“Sorry. This is it.” 

She stared at the double doors, rocked onto the balls of her feet. “You ready?” 

Mom breathed in. “I have to be.” 

“We’ve got this, Mom.” 

Emma swung one of the doors open, ushered her mother inside and eased the door shut. The soft click echoed and she winced. Don’t piss off the judge. 

She spun around, her gaze landing smack on the judge, a man appearing to be late forties. He sat behind the bench, two fingers pressed against his meaty cheek. His face gave nothing. Not a scowl, not a smile, not a frown. He simply listened, and Emma imagined she’d go mad wondering what the heck the man thought. 

Zac spoke from his place at the prosecutor’s table, his voice, as usual, assertive. Confident. Penny and her father sat behind the defendant’s table, their postures tall but not stiff. Almost relaxed, but that couldn’t be. Could it? 

Judge Alred focused on Emma, then her mother, the only two spectators in the room. Not wanting to cause further disturbance, Emma slid into the nearest bench. So what if it was way in the back. She needed to sit before her legs gave way. 

Weeks after working on this, I’m able to look at it with fresh perspective and I’m amazed at how such small changes amped up the tension. One summarizing paragraph with virtually no emotional cues turned into a passage that revealed what my heroine was thinking and feeling on a much deeper level.

Now I’m on a quest to see where else I can do that. :)

***

RU Crew, what do you think? Are there areas in your manuscripts you can apply Theresa’s suggestions?

*** 

Author Candis Terry joins us on Wednesday, June 26th. 

***

Opposing_Forces_final_reduced (1)

Jackson Lynx always has a plan. He wouldn’t be Vice President at Taylor Security if he wasn’t steady, smart and reliable. But as capable as he is, he’s not perfect. Approaching the one-year anniversary of kicking his prescription-drug habit, the last thing Lynx needs is temptation. Celibacy is part of his recovery plan. But then Jillian Murdoch asks for his help…

Jillian loves her job—managing pharmaceutical distribution—and she’s suspicious when an unscheduled delivery shows up late on a Friday night. Then someone breaks into her home and, terrified, she asks Lynx to install a security system. Grateful for his help, she’s wary of her attraction to him… She recognizes the Serenity Prayer on his mirror and can’t get involved with an addict.

But when they uncover dangerous secrets they’ll have to trust one another. Their lives, and their hearts, depend on it.

Here’s a peek into Adrienne’s latest book, Opposing Forces.

 ***

Bio: Adrienne Giordano writes romantic suspense and mystery.  She is a Jersey girl at heart, but now lives in the Midwest with her workaholic husband, sports obsessed son and Buddy the Wheaten Terrorist (Terrier). She is a co-founder of Romance University blog and Lady Jane’s Salon-Naperville, a reading series dedicated to romantic fiction. For more information on Adrienne’s books please visit her website or download the Adrienne Giordano app. Adrienne can also be found on FacebookTwitter, or via her street team, Dangerous Darlings

 

 

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Discussion

25 Responses to “All in the Details with Adrienne Giordano”

  1. Hi Adrienne,

    Thanks for a great post! I always find the before and after examples very effective.

    I treat layering emotions almost as an additional revision pass. It doesn’t come naturally with the first draft (yet):-)

    I use an image of big E in a yellow box which I paste along the margins of my ms to highlight areas that need attention as I write.

    The techniques here are useful, particularly as a means of balancing the use of visceral emotions to ramp up tension.

    Cia

    Posted by Cia | June 24, 2013, 8:09 am
  2. Morning Adrienne!

    Wow, what a difference that made! Small changes that made the scene much more visceral. =) Theresa is awesome isn’t she? =)

    Looking forward to reading Opposing Forces – great blurb!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | June 24, 2013, 8:09 am
  3. Hi, Carrie. Theresa is an amazing editor. I always love these mini-lessons she gives me. I always learn something and it’s usually a big “aha” moment. I’m lucky to have her in my corner. :)

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | June 24, 2013, 8:50 am
  4. *blushes*
    I came over here to talk about how smart Adrienne is and how she always does such a great job with revisions, and find this. You guys are sweet!

    Posted by Theresa Stevens | June 24, 2013, 9:18 am
  5. Great tips on boosting tension and emotion by including specific details. I know there are places in my WIP where I need to do this.

    Posted by Chris Cannon | June 24, 2013, 9:28 am
  6. Great post AND great revisions, Adrienne! Thanks for the teaser – I’m excited to read this! Do you have a release date?

    I’m working on revisions myself, and I’m never happy with them. I wish I had Theresa reading over my shoulder.

    Why is it so hard to remember these things at the time I’m writing? *bangs head on desk*

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | June 24, 2013, 9:33 am
    • I hear you Becke! I keep a binder with helpful hints in it. After each draft, I cruise through the binder to see if there’s anything I missed. I have to say though, the binder is getting mighty big!

      The Intrigue will be out in March of 2014. It’s the first of two books. In the first book, Zac is the hero and in the second book his sister Penny is the heroine. It’s been fun writing these stories.

      Posted by Adrienne Giordano | June 24, 2013, 12:34 pm
  7. Hi Adrienne,

    Anyone can read over a manuscript and give suggestions. The challenge is to find the skilled hand who guides the writer to the best choice. Like Theresa!

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | June 24, 2013, 9:57 am
    • You are so right! This can get me on a whole other tangent though. LOL. I’m very lucky that all of my critique partners are skilled writers and I have a level of trust with them where I know their suggestions are about making the work better.

      What’s awesome about Theresa is we’re friends so she sometimes understands what I’m trying to get to even when I don’t.

      Posted by Adrienne Giordano | June 24, 2013, 12:38 pm
  8. So true, Mary Jo. I have wonderful critique partners but I think I need additional guidance.

    Is Theresa taking clients?

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | June 24, 2013, 10:09 am
  9. Adrienne, great scene!! And Theresa, you really rock! I miss having you at Windy City RWA meetings here. We must have you back again. I always learn so much from you.
    Such good information in your comments, I can SEE these when you point them out, hope to be able to recognize them by myself some day!

    Posted by Sherry Weddle | June 24, 2013, 1:09 pm
  10. Hola, Adrienne!

    Okay, now I know what a compressed narrative is. (Hello, Theresa!)

    I thought your original passage was just fine, but the fine tuning gives the scene more urgency.

    I agree with Becke. It’s tough to include all the little details in a scene, especially on the first pass. Thanks for sharing your “before” and “after”. Great examples!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | June 24, 2013, 2:35 pm
  11. Hi, Jen. Yep, that’s compressed narrative. :)

    I’m always amazed at how small changes can amp up the tension in a scene.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | June 24, 2013, 3:14 pm
  12. Theresa’s the absolute bomb. I value her editing wisdom so much. Lucky to have her as a friend and cohort in all-things-brainstorming. :)

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | June 24, 2013, 7:45 pm
  13. Love the changes. This is such a great example of how a story goes from one’s head on to the paper, but then the revision that is necessary to make it come alive.

    I was hoping Theresa would suggest something about those whizzing doors. For some reason, that bothers me. It’s Emma that’s whizzing past the doors, not the doors past her. But that’s a small thing.

    Intriguing. :)

    Posted by PatriciaW | June 25, 2013, 10:59 am

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