Do You Sparkle?

No, I’m not asking if you’re a member of the TWILIGHT flock of vampires. I don’t want to know if you wear bling when you head out to the post office, either.

Do you sparkle when you write? Is your copy lively, quick, fun to read, and entertaining?

Or are you so engrossed with the angst inside your protagonist as she contemplates her navel lint that you’ve forgotten you’re supposed to be keeping readers engrossed?

You’re a performer, you see. You may think you can hide behind your words, masked and safe, but in fact you’re the literary equivalent of a street-corner juggler–hopping on one foot, twirling, and catching orange golf balls in your teeth while playing the concertina, hoping that passersby will drop a few coins in your hat.

Consider this scenario. It’s the 1930s. The Great Depression has thrown countless Americans out of work. People are losing their homes. They’re starving on diets of stale biscuits and lard. Teenage boys are leaving home so their families won’t have the burden of feeding them. In Hollywood–where studios are determined to make fun, uplifting movies to distract audiences from their troubles for the price of one thin dime–a casting call has gone out for a child that can sing and dance to play a major role in a new film.

The mothers row up along the street, each dressed in her best hat and coat, gloved hands clutching the chubby fingers of cherubic contenders.

Behind the audition stage, a woman named Mrs. Temple is crouched before her little girl, deftly adjusting a riot of golden curls. “Remember, Shirley,” she says, “go out there and sparkle.”

And Shirley did. She sang. She danced. She flashed those dimples and shook her curls. She was as cute as a bug, and she sparkled her way into box-office gold.

A few years ago, I was watching the Academy Awards. By halfway through the show, I’d seen actors of merit and giddy starlets and scruffy young men with all the star potential of dandelion weeds. Then Olivia de Havilland came out to give an award. She was elderly. She needed assistance to make her way to the microphone. It was evident that she couldn’t see by the way she reached out her hand to grope for the edge of the podium. But by jingo, she wasn’t going to wear her glasses–not that night–not with the cameras on her. Despite her age and infirmity, she wore a beautiful gown. Her hair was styled attractively. Her face–expertly made up–had remained lovely. When the camera moved in for a medium close-up, she began to speak. She couldn’t read the teleprompter, but–star that she was–she’d memorized her part and delivered it flawlessly.

What struck me most, however, was that while she spoke she turned on the sparkle. Her face grew animated, and her eyes shone. She was mesmerizing for those few seconds, and she showed the world how a real movie star can–at whatever age–still conjure up the indefinable quality that holds audiences spellbound.

So how do you put the sparkle into your writing? You’re not attracting readers through the timbre of your voice or the brilliancy of your eyes. You’ve got words–just sentences and vocabulary to animate the story, establish the setting, and introduce your characters. If your words don’t sparkle, those fickle readers will defect to a story that does.

We put bling in our material through the following:

-crisp, active sentences
-exaggerated characters introduced in memorable action
-a zippy plot with strong hooks, conflict, and plot twists
-characters that readers can cheer for
-characters that readers can boo
-a willingness to take risks
-dramatic flair
-a rousing finish that delivers what every character deserves

In my next few posts, I’ll deal with these elements one at a time.

1 Comment

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One response to “Do You Sparkle?

  1. Meghan

    Sadly, the word “sparkle” conjured for me images of moms telling their 3-year-olds to sparkle in their respective beauty pageants. We have got to get rid of cable. I look forward to reading yours posts on these topics!

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