Greetings and Happy New Year! Maureen Pratt here with my monthly CAN blog on the craft of writing. Today, I'm going to offer one technique to help you find the right angle and tone for your story. Sometimes, fine-tuning these so that your intent is clear and your storytelling is compelling isn't a matter of vocabulary or sentence structure, or even pacing or flow.
Sometimes, it's how you frame your story that gives it its best final form.
Recently, I took two lovely watercolors to a frame shop. I'd purchased them awhile ago, and never liked the plain frames they'd come in. Each picture was of a stylized bird, wings outstretched, positioned amid some leaves and branches. Some of the colors were vivid – electric blues and bright pinks – and others were more muted – faint corals and fern greens, along with a more muted blue.
As I tried one color of matting after another, and one frame after another along with the matting, I began to realize that, although the pictures remained the same, the overall effect and, even, the sense of beauty conveyed by the images, changed with each different color and combination. For example, if I were to use the same paler shade of blue as on the birds' undersides, the effect was not as eye-catching as when I tried to use a mat that was more vividly blue.
The texture of the mats made a difference, too, as did the different shapes and widths of the frame pieces I tried.
In the end, I settled on contrasting colors and a natural maple frame to set off the birds and draw the eye into the images.
As I left the shop, I realized that we do the same thing with writing. We begin with a story and characters that will populate it. Our stories have bveginnings, middles, and ends, subplots, and through-lines. Themes, too, and a writer's voice to tell the tale.
But even if we have unique characters and a never-before-heard plot, or, in non-fiction, even if we are writing about something no one has ever read about before, how we frame the work will make a difference as to whether we hold the reader's attention, draw him or her deeper into our story, and want to come back for more work by the same author.
The frame is made up of the world of the piece – what is around the characters (a town, a profession, a time period) and how vividly or faintly this world is portrayed.
The frame also has textures – within the time period, for example, how "gritty" will your scene-setting be? (distinct smells in the streets of London in the 17th century, for example, or a passing mention of the aroma of life there?) How much will you play with language to convey sounds, sights, and other "set pieces," such as weather? (for example: "Crack!" or "Thunder exploded above her.")
The frame has size – How much space will you devote to setting your scene, and will you fashion subplots within it or graze only the surface on your way to your main characters and plot?
While trying to decide how I wanted to frame my pictures, I played with various combinations and also thought about where I would hang them. In our writing work, we can think about whether the book fits in with our current contract, for example, or whether it is the start of a whole new series or direction.
So, play with your frames and matting. Try an approach you've never explored before, even something you don't think will work.
You might be surprised at what you discover as you experiment with different frames. Why, you might just find a completely new and exciting direction, a new creative canvass within which to paint your story.
Blessings in the New Year,
P.S. My publishing and production experience includes plays, a novella, several non-fiction books, devotionals, a regular blog and a syndicated monthly column. Playing with framing works in each of these categories and, I'm sure, many more.