Monday, July 11, 2011

Oh, Snag!

Post by Jenny

In the grand scheme of things, my boys would probably rank clothes shopping somewhere between standardized testing and low-budget clowns. But they must occasionally accompany me to choose some new duds or risk dressing like castaways. The last time we were out, we discovered some lightweight athletic shirts we could all agree on. The boys loved the comfort and the colors, and I loved the price. The only problem—which we discovered when my younger son had a close encounter with Velcro and came away looking like a scratching post—is that they snag. On everything. I’m pretty sure I even saw a snag spontaneously burst forth, as if releasing some kind of freaky alien spores.

From gum in the dryer to interminable rush-hour detours, life is full of snags. So is writing. A writing snag is something that pulls a reader’s mind in a distracting direction. A snag can come in any size—large (an entire scene that doesn’t work), medium (an exchange of stilted dialogue), or small (a single wrongly-placed letter). At a recent funeral, for example, I read in the program that the “internment” would immediately follow the service.

My brain: “Oh, snag.”
Me: “What?”
Brain: “There’s an extra ‘n’ in there. The proper word is ‘interment.’”
Me: “You’re really going to bring this up now? At a funeral?”
Brain: “Well, yes.”
Me: “Ugh. We’ll discuss it later.”

As it turned out, that very afternoon I read a short story which mentioned the interment of a body.

My brain: “I told you so!”
Me: “Okay, okay. You don’t need to gloat.”

Internment means detention or imprisonment. Interment means burial or entombment. I suppose one could argue that a body is detained and/or imprisoned upon burial, but the words aren’t truly synonymous. Hence the snag.

Keep a sharp eye out for snags, because a snag is how a WIP says, “Whoa, Bessie. There’s trouble in these parts.” (I’m not sure why I think a WIP would sound like an old-timey sheriff, but there you go.) So the next time you run across a snag, in your own writing or someone else’s, stop and consider how to smooth it away. Because snags draw attention to our writing for all the wrong reasons…and they never fix themselves.

Have you ever encountered a writing snag?


Laila Knight said...

Snags? Yup, this usually happens when I try to describe the reason for dialogue to give the reader more information. I've grown really good at deleting them. People think writing is easy, but it's a craft that has to be performed just right. :)

April Moore said...

The discussion between you and your brain was hysterical! And yes, I have snags in writing all the time (usually in the form of distractions: laundry, dishes, errands, etc.), but tend to create snags in my writing when it comes to transitions. For me, when writing nonfiction, I tend to jump from though to thought, fact to fact without any regard to bridging them together.

Marlena Cassidy said...

This post is so cute!

I hit a snag last night that took the form of writing an entirely new novel instead of what I've been working on for the past four months. Love when that happens.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Good post, Jenny. I have a few snags in my current wip -- plot points that just aren't believable. I'm still working them out but am thinking I need a major rewrite instead of a little revision. Or this may be one of those novels that sits on the shelf forever while I write something completely new. :)

John Paul McKinney said...

Yes. I was told I needed to rewrite the first 30 pages of a novel. Now that's one heck of a snag - more like a ball of yarn the dog's pulled off the couch, and that's not fun, especially when the other end of the yarn is the stuff of a half-knitted sweater. Where do you start to unravel without unraveling the good stuff?

Jenny said...

Thanks for the comments! I have hit all these snags, and more. Marlena, I like the idea of a snag being a positive thing.

Pat, I have a few of those "shelf novels" hanging around.

John Paul, you pose an excellent question we can all relate to....where exactly does the sweater end? Good luck with your rewrite!

Lynn said...

You crack me up! Loved the description of your boys and shopping.

Snag, eh? Hadn't heard that before and it fits perfectly, so I've filed it away in my writer's lexicon. Thanks!

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