Last week, in parts one and two of this series, we talked about the difference between telling ourselves the story and telling the reader our story. Once we’ve finished our outlines or first drafts, we usually discover that we’ve only succeeded to tell ourselves a series of answers to the question: “What happens next?” Showing what we have in our heads, what picture our imaginations is showing us, is where the challenge and fun of writing begins. I took a bare-bones paragraph to use as an example–something similar to what I’d have in my own first draft–
Branson parked down the street from the crack house. Mary was in there somewhere, and he was going to get her out no matter what it took. He put the keys in his pocket and got out of the car. The house looked quiet, but he couldn’t be sure. He went to the side where the car was parked, put a hand on the engine. It was still warm, and hope rose in his heart. He pressed against a wall and listened at the window. He heard her pleading voice. The hair rose on his arm. He had to do something.
–and carried it through using the elements I discussed in the previous two posts. Here’s what I came up with:
On the littered and pot-holed street, Branson parked a few dilapidated buildings away from the crackhouse. The once proud single-family residence now listed to the left under its burden of neglect and decay. Puke-green paint peeled from the wood-slat walls. The second porch step had already rotted away. The pillar nearest him no longer stretched from porch to ceiling, but hung precariously under a crumbling roof. A crumbling roof over a crumbling house sheltering crumbling lives.
He ground his teeth. Mary was in there somewhere surrounded by filth and filthy people. Just the thought of it made his skin crawl and his stomach curdle. He had to get her out of there.
He sucked in a deep breath and released it between his lips to a slow count to ten. No movement near the boarded-up building visible in his side mirror. In front of him and all to his left, the shadowed places seemed as dead as those illuminated by the weak glow of the street lamp ahead. To his right, a paper cup caught a ride on the wind, but faltered against a rotten tree stump. All else seemed still and quiet, except for the dim glow flickering in the target house. Candles, maybe. Kerosine lamps. In a structure that old, that decayed, either could be dangerous.
One more breath. One more slow release. His heart rate dropped, his nerves steeled. He stepped from his car and closed the door with a quiet click. He stayed low, studied the shadows again, then darted across the street. Another quick surveillance at the side of the house, then he slipped down the driveway. Low, quiet, deadly. His hands flexed, ready to be fists, ready to connect. Ready to draw blood.
The hood on the rusted sedan still felt hot. They hadn’t been there long. Maybe he wasn’t too late.
He crouched and crab-walked to the nearest window and glued himself to the wall.
Inside, voices, angry and threatening. She whined, pleading.
His heart crumbled. His hands fisted.