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Posts Tagged ‘absolute write’

Yeah, I’ve gone all zen on you.

Recently I read a post on Absolute Write in which a writer asked for advice about doing more showing and how to avoid “rushing” through the story. What intrigued me was that the person asking the question, whether she realized it or not, had already figured out the answer. To slow down a story’s pace, show more than you tell. To show more than you tell, slow down the story’s pace.

It made me think of a recent NPR segment on why time seems to go so quickly as we get older. They float several scientific reasons for why things move slowly when we’re young and quickly when we’re old, but the one that stuck in my brain was this: we’re recording less detail as we get older. Like recording a TV show on an old VHS player, our brains are capable of high resolution memory recording, which takes up a lot of tape, and low resolution memory recording, which takes up less tape.

When we’re little, we tend to record in high resolution, because we’re experiencing things for the first time. As a three-year-old, we may be accurately recording our birthday party for the first time. The feel of the rubber band holding the party hat on our head. The smell of candles smoldering on a cake, maybe even the strange waxy ghost of those candles in a bite of chocolate frosting. It’s the first time! We record everything, so the theory goes, hence it seems to take a long time.

It's all a blur

Flash forward to your forty-third birthday party and you’ve been through this routine so many times that you’re barely recording the experience at all. Singing, cake, candles, all in a quick rush of the familiar. Time flies. This is true with a vengeance for the daily tasks of our adult lives. Weeks pass in a blur as we spend eight hours a day sitting in the same office, staring at the same computer.

Fiction works the same way. To slow down the pace of the reading, record at a high resolution. To get more detail, slow down. If your writing feels rushed or the room your characters are in seems like a white box, it’s because you as the writer aren’t letting your characters be in the moment. Maybe you’re rushing to get to the next scene. Use the zen technique of presence. Pretend you’re experiencing the thing for the first time, even if you’ve imagined the scene a million times. Be in the moment. Look around as you write the scene.

And don’t just look, use all five senses. Is there a snag on the plastic fork to scratch at your character’s lip with every bit of birthday cake? Is the girlfriend of your character’s brother playing footsie with the wrong brother under the table? On purpose? On accident? Is there a cloud of cloying bathroom deodorizer wafting down the hallway to ruin the smell of beef bourguignon? Are Grandma’s dentures a little loose and prone to clack when she talks?

Writing affords an opportunity that life never does: a pause button and a rewind button. You can stop the action, go back, re-experience, re-live the scene at a slower pace.

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And I mean that in the best way possible.  I love geeks.  I am a geek.  Geeks aren’t afraid of feeling passionately about the most obscure things.  It is their glory, that passion.  Jim Butcher has it in spades.

I went to hear him read, as it was billed, at the public library in Kansas City.  I was very pleased that he didn’t read but took questions from the audience, which filled the auditorium with glorious nerd glow.  Being around so many people passionate about reading is always a pleasure.  (And here’s the pleasure of going to see a home-grown writer.  He fielded a question from one his elementary school teachers about whether he still dabbles in ventriloquism.  Oh, yes, didn’t I say he was a Nerd-of-all-Trades?  Ventriloquism.  The answer is no, but he still has the dummy for the purposes of pulling pranks on his family members.)

The added bonus was a chance to meet some online friends–fellow Purgatorians from Absolute Write: Kari Stewart (who shares an editor with Jim Butcher for her book coming out in 2010) and Kasey MacKenzie (whose book is also coming out in 2010.)

Of course I have pictures.

Kari gets her book signed

Kari gets her book signed

Kari & Kasey with Jim

Kari & Kasey with Jim

Kari, Kasey, and me

Kari, Kasey, and me

A good time had by all.  Yes, we are all wearing buttons which declare us to be JimStalkers, but not in a creepy way, because Kasey made the buttons with plenty of glitter.  And creepy stalkers would never wear glittery buttons.  Oh, and I’m reposting this pic, which Kari already had on her blog.  Because I love a photo that can readily be misinterpreted…

Kasey & Kari get acquainted

Kasey & Kari get acquainted

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The thing about the internet and internet communities: instant gratification.  If you’re awake at 3 am, unable to sleep and pondering some mystery of life, writing, politics, whatever, you can find someone online who is also interested in pondering these things.  The problem arises when your preferred route to instant gratification dries up.

I’m addicted to the Absolute Write forums.  Hooked like an ignorant college co-ed who thought she’d try crack just the once.  You never realize the depth of your addiction until you  can’t get your fix, and Absolute Write has been down for hours, my people. Since yesterday afternoon. I’m having that same twitchy desperate feeling I had after I left Tampa and couldn’t get any Cuban coffee.

You’d think that this would open up possibilities.  Former smokers report having dramatically more free time once they stop sucking down their life 8-minutes at a time through a cigarette filter.  Except I already had plenty of free time in which I was writing.  AW was my reward, my down time, my breathing space.  Now I’m just sitting here trying not be too productive, because frankly I am one of those people who works too quickly anyway.  I can do most of my job in under 10 hours a week.  I can clean the whole house in two hours. Left to my own devices, I will write ten thousand words a day.  I tear through things like a spider monkey on trucker speed.  The internet has helped me waste enough time to give the appearance that I am a normal person instead of a freak.  Without AW, the threat of writing another novel in a week looms over me.

I’ve already tried alternatives.  Spent a few restless minutes on Facebook, checking things out, chatting with people, updating my status.  It’s like being a coke addict and trying to tide yourself over with baking powder.  Facebook.

At least I have a list of chores and errands to do today, so I won’t spend too much time writing and clicking Reload to see if AW is back up.

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