So. You want to learn how to ground the reader? Me too. I’ve been doing some research because I want to continue finding these techniques other successful writers have figured out. Here’s what I’ve found. I hope I can help you. So, quick! Before Jackson wakes up, let’s learn how to ground.
Grounding technique #1—The Well:
Check inside of Stephen King’s THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON. Page 29.
“For a moment every thought in her mind disappeared into a silent white explosion of revulsion and horror. Her skin turned to ice and her throat closed.”
Most of Stephen King’s writing moves the story along. Now, please note, THE GREEN MILE is probably one of my most favorite books ever, so by no means am I suggesting Stephen King doesn’t know how to write—clearly he’s got that down. But, he is a tertiary writer—speeding the reader through the story. It’s not so much about flowery language or deeply seeded philosophies. So, this WELL method works out for him. You as the reader will be running on land (reading the book) and then you fall! Not very deep, but enough to make you stop and feel. To be grounded. I would suggest this method for any book that requires pace.
Grounding technique #2—The Portrait:
Look inside of Katherine Arden’s WINTER OF THE WITCH: THE WINTERNIGHT TRILOGY. Pg 175.
“Summer came with unnatural suddenness, fell on Moscow like a conquering army. Fires broke out in the forest, so that the city was palled with smoke and no one could see the sun. Folk went mad from the heat; drowned themselves in the river seeking coolness, or simply dropped where they stood, scarlet-faced, bodies dewed with clammy sweat.”
Can’t you see it? Aren’t you just THERE. Next thing Arden does after painting this beautiful picture is continue with the story. Hm. That sounds redundant. Allow me to rephrase. Okay. In my mind, this kind of grounding by painting is akin to setting a stage and then allowing the actors to go out and say their lines. The scenery, the setting, is there and we as the readers are way, super grounded allowing Arden the freedom to blast through the story until she needs to give us a different picture. This works really well in any genre where world building is necessary. But use it sparingly, otherwise, you’ll end up like J.R.R. Tolkien. Yeah, people love his books, but even his most avid fans will admit that they could have done without the pages and pages of countryside descriptions. Paint it once. Do it well.
Grounding technique #3—The Reverse Hitchcock:
Pick up Stephen Graham Jones’ FLUSHBOY for this one. Turn to page 172.
“It was a rich golden color, like the urine of a person with a kidney infection, and the vapor rising from it made my eyes water.”
Feel how this is different? Any time I read Stephen’s material, I always feel like the gross stuff, the truly BLECH and wicked stuff gets slid up underneath my nose. It’s not rude, it’s more of a persistent ask to LOOK. This technique is the proverbial finger pointing to something truly disturbing. Us humans do that. Have you noticed? We point to the awful. Jones does this with moments peppered throughout all of his books. The loving care he takes to place them there resonates and almost gives you an ICK feel.
Because you don’t want to love urine vapors. Right? Right.
Yet, that disturbing moment really—dare I say it?—grounds you. Like wadded up chewing gum underneath a desk, you’re stuck. That’s why I’ve deemed this The Reverse Hitchcock. You zoom in closer, closer, and closer until looking away isn’t an option. I’ve got to admit, this seems like a perfect move for a horror writer, but would work for any genre. Just be careful what you zoom in on. Know thy genre. Thine? Thy. Right?
Grounding technique #4—The Whirlpool:
Go into Julie Berry’s ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME. Page 159 will do the trick.
This is the whirlpool, so we have to take a big chunk.
“I sit sewing by the fire and remember last night, before the snow. It might have been another world, another century, when I ran across dry leaves to you at midnight, in only a nightgown and coat. I remember the changing mood in your eyes, and ponder what it meant. I stab a needle through the dry, tough skin on my knuckle by mistake, and inspect the empty tunnel of white flesh that’s left behind when I yank the needle out.”
Did you feel it? Did you feel yourself being spun around and around to land at the bottom of an emotional ocean? I do. I think this may be my favorite. In the acknowledgements, Berry mentions she had to write this novel while caring for her infant son, so her time was extremely limited. (Hm, remind you of anyone?) So, she developed a method where she could write little bits here and there and accomplish a great deal. Not a word is wasted and the whirlpool never leaves you seasick. If anything, it grabs you and doesn’t let go. Use this method for any books with letters or stories. Any book that has short chapters or a deep thinker who needs to be separated from the other characters. (Please note: GRRM uses a similar method with Tyrion Lannister’s chapters).
I hope this helps you, fellow writers. Now go forth and put words upon the page! Don’t forget to leave us a review if this has helped and remember to stay dark and stormy.