1) A list of items can lend specific flavor to a scene:
On the table, a bowl of fruit – a mango, three ripe papayas, two tiny pineapples, and the kiwis
On the table, a bowl of fruit – two fading apples, one bruised pear, one shriveled tangerine
2) A list of possessions can distinguish between characters, providing insight into habits, faults, aspirations:
In Jen’s purse: one bottle “I’m Not Really a Waitress” crimson nail polish, an eyelash curler, two Trojan Extra Pleasure condoms, eighty-six cents, a baby’s teething ring.
In Wendy’s purse: a commuter-rail ticket, an empty, wadded sandwich bag, dental floss, a half-empty pack of Virginia Slims, a matchbook with Sam 555-227-3629 scribbled on it.*
3) A list of verbs can create action in a scene:
Chasing a lizard, the cat leapt from the kitchen counter, galloped over the sofa, banged against the window, ricocheted into the antique vase, and crashed with it to the floor.
4) A list can provide motivation for a character:
Jim’s hunger prods him. It aches his bones, creaks his stomach around its empty core. Jim’s hunger gurgles at Lori, munching a Beefy King, just a foot, a quick leap, a single grab away.
5) A list can create history for a character:
High school, John boxed pumps, loafers at the shoe factory. College, he delivered clogs to the outlet malls. Senior year, he measured feet. Grad school, he sketched for Jimmy Choo.
Try this: as with the examples above …
- flavor a scene by listing items in it,
- distinguish between two characters by listing their respective possessions,
- liven a scene with a list of verbs,
- illuminate a character’s history or motivations with a list.
What do you think? What other narrative heavy-lifting could a list perform? Create an example!
*Bonus tip! Always be as specific as possible when adding items to a list.
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