Monday, June 13, 2011

Lingering: Making Moments Matter

Lingering. Lovely word isn’t it? It rolls off the tongue, overflowing with a certain strange…nostalgia. And that’s partly what lingering does.
Imagine your hero or heroine standing before a mirror, dressed in a well-cut suit or a beautiful dress or even in armour. Now if you wanted to give this moment impact you would use lingering—it lets you pause, almost freeze-frame the moment in the book. To capture it.
Lingering employs two concepts. One I like to call “tiny details” and the other is character arc. Character arc is the way the character is in the story—their viewpoint—and, as the story progresses, how that viewpoint changes.
Tiny details in a novel are like moments in life you remember in retrospect. Like, for example, how hot one summer was, how that coffee stain on the carpet never really went away. Basically, tiny details are the little, specific things that make moments memorable.
How do you apply these two concepts to our hero-at-a-mirror example? Easy.
First, however, before we do anything, let’s see what your character’s former viewpoint is. Maybe, to use a modern example, that heroine in a gown or that hero in that well-cut suit, is marrying his/her best friend, who later became a college sweetheart. Do they still hold a resentment for something that happened in that past, perhaps one of them heard their partner cheated on them secretly—and your hero is wary of cheaters?
Ok. Now, at this mirror—years later—has that conflict been forgiven? For this example, I’m going to say yes, this past conflict has been forgiven and forgotten. Up to you to decide though. So the character’s viewpoint has changed—the character arc figured out.
Now, what about those tiny details? More specifically, what does you character notice when s/he looks in that mirror? Do they notice the way the cloth whispers as they walk, the way the color compliments them, the way the flowers brighten the room in the background? Do they notice the slight fly-aways that gel or hairspray couldn’t keep down, the sparkle in their eyes?
Say you’re writing a fantasy though, and your character—a simple farmer’s child—has to, eventually, lead armies to battle. His or her character arc will be vastly different from that previous example. Their former viewpoint might be that they cannot lead people to battle, that they are not heroes—that, despite the training, they want everything to be as it was before.
Now, at this mirror, months or years later, what do they think? Does this hero have more confidence? Are they prepared; hardened enough, to lead these people with the pride and the courage they need to succeed? More specifically, in this character arc, is this hero accepting their role as champion of the world, of their people? If yes, this hero’s viewpoint has changed significantly—thus completing the character arc.
Now, tiny details. What does this character notice when s/he looks in that mirror? Do they notice the gleam of the armor, the fine silk clothing underneath, the crest on the breastplate that seems to come alive in the light? Do they notice the change in their eyes, the defiant lift of their chin?
Want to see an example of lingering in action? Below are two, using the scenarios given above:
Example 1: Wedding Day
Jane looked in the full-length mirror, admiring the way her wedding dress hugged her curves, brought attention to her lithe figure. Today’s the day. Her dark hair had been tied in a bun, flowers stuck amid all the pins and hairspray. She smoothed down the hopeless flyaways, her mouth pressed into a line. With a sigh, she picked up her bouquet from a side table. The cream color of the gown was offset by the bundle of flushed roses, brought some color into a sallow face. Roses surrounded her in huge vases around the room, seemed to frame her reflection in an explosion of pink. Beautiful. Everything was perfect. Steve would be waiting at the end of the aisle, all smiles for his resplendent bride. And she would smile back, ready to take his hand and vow to treasure him, to keep him in sickness and in health, until death parted them. She grinned, eyes lighting up. “Today will be a wonderful day.” She told herself. A distant thought crossed her mind. Will he remain faithful this time? No cheating? No secrets? Jane nodded. “Nothing will mess it up.” Gripping the flowers tighter, she spun, the gown murmuring as she walked across the room and out the door, to her waiting fiancée.
Example 2: Hero
Staring into the mirror, George ran his hands down the fine silken clothing, surprised at how the black tunic and breeches seemed to make his face look pale, haggard. War-torn. He picked up the breastplate; the white eagle in flight engraved into the metal, and sucked in a calming breath as he felt it slip into place, its weight comfortable. His palms sweat as he picked up gauntlets from the table. Thoughts spun in his head. I am a farmer, not a warrior. What am I doing? Pushing those thoughts aside, he slipped the gauntlets on, feeling the rush of calm return like a wave at high tide. He clipped a midnight blue, hooded cloak to his throat and stared his reflection in the eye. Proud. Defiant. No longer the sniveling boy who was cowed by every shadow. A scowl twisted his mouth as he thought of the army waiting just outside the city walls. At sunset, an hour from now, the siege would end. At sunrise, nothing would be left. Picking up his blade, George nodded and strode out of the tent, toward his men.

Hope this advice helps let your readers see the change your character has gone through, gives your moments a little more…impact.
Thanks for reading!
-          Maddie     


  1. You explained this very well. Excellent job. Making moments stand out is an important aspect of writing, and I think this must be the first blog post I've seen on it anywhere. Thanks so much for this. Can't wait to read your next post!

  2. I really liked that you gave examples. It helped put what you were saying into perspective...gave me an idea as how to use your tips in my own writing. I love it when I read a story and those little details linger in my mind long after I'm done reading it. Thanks for this; much needed!

  3. I've had a compulsive fear of including mirrors in my writing. Most people use them as an excuse to identify what their character looks like-- here, though, you did a lot to take the edge off that fear. You've made a very strong use of the mirror for effect, and that effect was neither chintzy nor tacky.



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