Singing to the Birds

I saw a woman singing to the birds this weekend. She was standing under a gigantic willow tree in my favorite Juanita Bay Park, and chirping and trilling at two birds perched high up in the branches. She eagerly identified the two birds for me–a dusky flycatcher, and a common yellow-throat. “You just missed a Wilson’s Warbler,” she told me.

“I bet the birds love it, when you sing back to them,” I said.

Her face lit up. “I know they do. If I were Cinderella, the birds would make a dress for me.”

What a delightfully startling statement!

I will always remember this woman and her love for birds because of this. It made me ponder my own writing: Do I say things in fresh and startling ways, so that my reader will be pulled in and want to read on?

At a recent writing conference our facilitator at a round table discussion urged us to do just this. “Shock the Broca,” Jim Rubart told us, explaining about that very small part of the brain (the broca) that filters out the ordinary, the usual, those expected words we all seem to spout in our first drafts.

In writing, as well as in life, we want to be heard and remembered. I think that’s why I put iguanas and llamas in so many of my kid stories. Who could ignore a llama named Rama? That’s what I hope at least.

And so, as I write today’s chapter for Finding Nonna, I’m looking for ways to shock my readers’ brocas. It has to be true to the story, of course. I can’t just put in dramatic language for the sake of it, without moving the story forward. But I’m having fun today with the once ordinary Mom next door, who now mutters in french when she gets upset. And of course, she has some startling things to say to Ellie about the injured snow goose Bela.

Am I tantalizing you? I hope so. I want to shock your broca, just a little bit, and encourage you to use fresh and unusual language, both in life and in writing.

Who knows what you may sing up?

1 Comment

  • Peggy, what a wonderful moment. You always know how to tie everything you experience to writing.

    Will you play tag? Head on over to my new blog to see the rules. Please, pretty please, with sugar on top?

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