07 Dec Squeezing the lemon
When scriptwriters are trying to squeeze the most juice out of a dramatic situation, they call it squeezing the lemon.
The aim is to get the most emotion possible out of a scene. It could be the most fear, comedy or suspense. Whatever you are trying to do, you take it one step further.
In fiction this amounts to pushing a character out of their comfort-zone; making them do something memorable and often shocking.
In non-fiction I see it differently. It is where you dig deeper into yourself and into your own writing.
You push yourself to name that elusive emotion as you finally stepped inside the walls of the Forbidden City. You take yourself to that exact moment of fear as the car was about to swerve. You drill down to the most raw and honest parts of yourself and then put them on the page. Uncensored.
Why is this important?
As writers we are trying to get our readers to care. If they care about you, they will connect with you. They will want to keep turning the pages and follow your journey.
Writing can be very exposing. Especially when the main character—the protagonist—of your book is you. So you don’t want to spill lemonade on every page.
Instead, aim to get the most out of any given situation at key plot points in the narrative and at any turning points in the character arc. If these are heightened, they have greater impact.
Bill Bryson does it with humour. Colin Thubron does it by removing himself from the narrative. Through his absence we are able to connect directly with the country and people he describes. He calls this being ‘a clear mirror’. In Shadow of the Silk Road, he then ramps up the drama in an unforgettable scene in Azerbaijan, when he is having root canal treatment without an anaesthetic.
Elizabeth Gilbert does it when she is down on her knees praying for answers as her marriage falls apart. In A Journey to Ladakh, Andrew Harvey gives a heightened sense of spiritual awareness on his first day in Leh, the capital of Ladakh.
All of them—in their own unique way—have squeezed the lemon.
So, how do you do it? And where do you avoid doing it?