Snapshots Of Places

Snaps of places share the attributes discussed under snaps of people: You're giving us a glimpse or two of the environmental context. As with snapshots of characters, this is not a profile, but just the essence of the place. Photographic terms lend themselves well to this concept. There is the microshot, the macroshot, and the megashot, each offering widening degrees of coverage.

Frank McCourt uses the microshot in this excerpt from Angela's


The room had a fireplace where we could boil water for our tea or an egg in case we ever came into money. We had a table and three chairs and a bed, which Mam said was the biggest she'd ever seen. We were glad of the bed that night, worn out after nights on the floor in Dublin and in Grandma's. It didn't matter that there were six of us in the bed, we were together, away from grandmothers and guards, Malachy could say ye ye ye and we could laugh as much as we liked.

The perspective is wider in Jill Ker Conway's snapshot from The

Road from Coorain. Take a look at this macroshot.

We never saw such things in the west [of Australia] because the sun and the dust faded them too quickly. Now there was the intoxicating blue of the ocean, the rich designs of the rugs and curtains, and the unfailing wonder of the garden, where everything was always green. The sudden comfort was overwhelming when contrasted with years of fighting the drought. Every garden and house on the street was an object of wonder to be examined and reexamined.

And here, from the same book, a megashot.

The cars would sweep home over the dusty roads, their lights visible like pillars of fire across the plains. If one arrived home first, one could stand on one's veranda and watch the other departures, visible for twenty miles or so. On regular nights there were only the stars, the cry of a fox, and the sound of the wind. Then, if a car traveled very late at night it meant an emergency. Distant watchers would crane their heads to see where it went and wonder what had gone wrong.

Think ScenE

The same dramatic need that exists in fiction exists in nonfiction. We like to see scenes in front of us. After all, life does seem to occur as a series of scenes.

Before starting to write, ask yourself what could be transmitted to the reader best by a scene. Some of these potential scenes will be embedded in narrative summary, but it's important to first identify the scenes that make up a story.

What constitutes a scene? A scene in creative nonfiction includes who, what, where, when, what people said, and even what people said they thought at the time (using interior monologs). A scene occurs in a specific place (where); usually the narrator and one or more others are there (who); at a particular time (when); something happens (what); people converse (dialog or captured conversation); and sometimes someone thinks about something (interior monolog). When these elements change significantly, it may be a new scene. Scenes can begin in several ways.

Descriptive Narrative

A snapshot of a person or the people who will soon be in the scene—or a snapshot of the place where the scene will immediately occur—can be useful here. Although usually done sparingly, you might introduce your thoughts on the situation or the people. You are the narrator. You can tell your reader what you were thinking, feeling, and/or how you reacted. This is known as interior monolog (for more, see page 138).


Dialog may begin between those present. Several kinds of dialog may be used:

• Summary Dialog—a brief report that suggests a longer conversation. Not a quote.

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• Indirect Dialog—gives more details than summary dialog and gives the feeling of the conversation without quoting it.

• Direct Dialog—conversation between quotation marks. It's as if we're overhearing the actual conversation, hearing the actual words and phrasing. Its purpose is not as much to convey information as it is to "show" us the dynamics of the relationship^). This dialog may tell us things, for example, about power: shared power, power taken, power abdicated, power reversed, or even power unrecognized.

• Unsaid Dialog—hidden dialog (subtext) read between the lines.After all, sometimes the reader can learn more about a person by what he or she leaves unsaid. Some subtext can be revealed through gestures, and the gestures may connote the opposite of what the words are saying at the same time. Actions sometimes speak louder than words.

The special techniques described in this chapter (litany, clumping, avoidance of intransigent verbs, snapshots, and dramatic scene construction) will help you transform ordinary writing into more interesting, more dramatic writing, writing more enjoyable to read.

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