Tuesday, December 21, 2010

10 It's All in the Details: Writing with RENNS

“To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.
- Anne Rice

As Anne Rice points out, writing is putting ourselves out there, taking chances, stretching ourselves. To help us all remember that and capitalize on it, we’re going to start a new feature on the blog. Every Tuesday, our new Craft & Teasers Contest post is going to focus on a particular element of the writing craft, provide you with some links for more information on that element, and give you a photograph for writing inspiration. Anyone who wants to write a brief (250 to 1000) word story based on the photo and share it with us will get triple points toward a book giveaway. Comments on the stories or craft tips will receive a single point. We’ll draw winners at random and post the winner the following week along with the new writing prompt.

My fabulous critique buddy, Cambria Dillon, will be joining us for this regular feature. She and I will work on the craft aspects together, and she will coordinate the prompt photo and the giveaway—including the excellent prizes. Please welcome Cam to the blog! You can read her bio in our About Us section, which includes her blog and twitter links.

And now, on to this week’s craft tip and prompt. Last week, Shannon K. O’Donnell did a blog post on using the Lynn Quitman Troyka’s RENNS Model of Sensory Details to add specificity to your fiction writing. RENNS stands for Reasons, Examples, Names, Numbers, Senses, and the system is often taught in schools for helping to enhance student work in essays and papers. Applying it to fiction is a stroke of genius.

Reasons Why:  Goals, Motives, and Conflict
In any given scene, you have to know why every character is acting and reacting the way they are. Every sentence in your story has to move the story forward, add complications, and provide something new for characters to scramble to fix—or fail to fix. And if, in each scene, the motivations of the characters are opposed to each other, or if the main character has several goals that conflict, you have tension. Tension is what keeps a reader turning pages.

Examples:  Voice, Backstory, Symbolism, Metaphor, and Foreshadowing
Telling is when your character or narrator makes a statement about what is going on or how they feel. This can usually be replaced by showing to increase immediacy and make the story stronger. However, even choosing what to show contributes to the voice of your story. It adds perspective and depth. Be specific and deliberate about:

·         what your character sees or thinks.
·         the examples he chooses to illustrate a point.
·         how he feels about a situation.
·         the words he chooses to describe it.
·         how it relates to things in his background.
·         how it relates to things in the resolution of your story.

Names: Characters Who Live Beyond the Page
In a good story, there are no generic characters and no stereotypes. Develop something unique about every character, and make sure their names, appearances, and personalities all work together to illustrate who they are. Make the characters move the story.

Numbers: Of Adjectives, Examples, Plot Points, Subplots, and Characters
Be deliberate and specific when choosing what you include in your story. Lists of generic attributes are never as effective as one concrete detail. But an overload of details can be overwhelming. Too much of a good thing applies to scenes and characters, too. Make sure they all contribute to the story in a unique way. If not, cut them out.

Senses: Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, and Touch
Setting should not only ground us visually, it should tell us about the people in the scene. Using examples of what surrounds a character sets the scene and tells us about the character of whoever created that setting. Providing the details of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch bring setting to life and give you the opportunity to use word choice and figurative language to illustrate the character of the people entering the scene. Choosing words and syntax that convey the emotion and texture of a setting or scene can add a further dimension.

Christmas © 2006 Brian Scott

Using the photo above, write a scene or flash fiction story keeping the RENNS elements in mind. If you’d like to share it with us, enter it in the comments below (up to 250 words) or provide a link to where we can find it on the web. (And please don't forget to credit and link back to the photographer if you choose to post the picture on your blog or website.) We also welcome comments on the stories or the craft tip.

One lucky commenter will receive a signed copy of the double RITA Award-nominated YA novel, Nothing Like You by Lauren Strasnick, courtesy of Cam! All you have to do is fill out the form below and leave a comment. The contest is open for U.S. residents and will run until Monday December 27 at 8PM EST.

Good luck!

Martina & Cam


  1. What a great post. I'm gearing up for revisions now, so this is getting bookmarked. I especially love the tip to show based on what the character sees. Great reminder.

  2. This is an excellent craft tip. I'm going to try it with my next story.

  3. Sounds like a great Tuesday series. Thanks for the tips.

  4. Well I always love your craft posts! So this is great. Don't know if I'll be entering the contests, but what a fun and challenging way to practice. I hope people take advantage of it!

  5. A hearty welcome Camilla! She sounds like a great addition to the blog. It also sounds like a fun contest, but I'm not square on a coupla things. Like, people are supposed to put up to 250 words in a comment?? I guess that's not as long as 1000 would be, that you mentioned earlier in the post. But still quite long. Ok by me if ok by you!

    And did you mean the deadline is Monday, Dec. 27 instead of 21st?

  6. Hey Carol! Thanks for the welcome. To answer your question, if you want to share a short story inspired by the photo, you can post it in the comments (up to 250 words). If you write a story that's longer than that, you can leave the link to your website/blog in the comments.
    But basically this is just a creative exercise to get your muse going and to allow everyone a chance to share their short story if they want to. It's not required, but will get you extra points for the giveaway if you participate!
    I'm working on mine and so far, it looks like I'll be linking in the comments. ;)

  7. Sorry -- didn't see your other question there. Yes, the deadline for the giveaway is 12/27. See what the holidays are doing to me?!? :)

  8. Thanks for clarifying, Cambria! Cyberhuggies!

  9. Gah! And see what the holidays are doing to ME? I didn't even get your name right the first time. FAIL. Wow, I think my eyes merged your first name with your last name: Cambria Dillon = Camilla.

    (I'd like to think I'm just creative rather than senile or a sloppy-reader.) ;o)

  10. Leaving Chandra on Christmas Eve? Not what I had in mind, this night, nor any other. Abandoning The Essence, around whom my universe revolves, I always thought, would be a hard thing; no, an impossible thing. But finding Kenny's note—“Damn, I love you, Babe”—and Chandra's cutesy "Heart You's" scribbled in purple ink, an eternal-linking chain, encircling his treachery, cutting through his egotistical crap, and finally, ending up in a large-“Heart You”-frame around his soul destroying words, made leaving seem not only easy, but necessary.
    Could I leave her? Yes. Could I ever again live without her? I don’t see how. Because of that doubt, I know I have to leave on Christmas Eve. Chandra’s Essence now belongs to Kenny, and the void left behind cannot be filled. At least, not immediately, and not in my current State of Being. I am without purpose to live, without the Drive to live, and without My Essence, why should I live? For what purpose or reason should I now continue to live?
    I now know how someone, in deep anguish and despair over losing their soul mate, could take the life of Their Essence. These are not rational thoughts, I know, coming from rational people. And for this reason, I know I have to leave Chandra, even though it’s Christmas Eve. Better still, because it’s Christmas Eve.
    So, gutted, and broken hearted, unable to “Heart” anyone ever again, I turn my back on our Christmas Tree, and leave.


Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)