Tag Archives: in media res

The Levity of Brevity

[Time to kick it old school…yeeeah boyee!] Just found out my first attempt at writing a Nanoism is scheduled to publish in July.  A Nanoism is microfiction based on Twitter-length stories—that’s right, up to 140 characters.  Microfiction is a trend relatively new to me, but one that writer Milo James Fowler (In Media Res blog), utilizes as a means of keeping his creativity flowing during and between writing stories—one of his submissions (75-words only) was recently published at Paragraph Planet.  And now I’m appreciating it as a tool for practicing how to pare down.

I can dash off a 10-20 page essay with relative ease, but it was back in grad school when I was asked to write only 2-3 pages comparing/contrasting 3 works of fiction that I suffered my first true writer’s block.  The notes I’d taken in preparation weren’t even that succinct, so just when I felt my extensive planning would make the writing a cinch, trying to pull it all together within that parameter had me seriously contemplating just dropping out of a $1,500 class (non-refundable by that time, of course. Ouch.).

“Brevity is a great charm of eloquence.”  – Cicero

Conciseness is an art.  Truly.  Go figure that it was probably my first career in business that ultimately saw me through that essay—though it sucked the creative soul out of writing, it taught me a thing or two about keeping it brief and direct, and…well…any of you who read my stuff here will see that that particular skill has by now gone to the wayside…gah, I recently sent off a guest post weighing in at just under 2,000 words (scheduled for Real Bloggers United on July 17th), which has me contemplating the value of getting to the point faster.

“Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in few words.”
–  Bible, Ecclesiasticus

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
– Thomas Jefferson

Admittedly, one of the factors that initially delayed me in writing my manuscript’s ending was word count.  At 90,000, I’d estimated I was about three-quarters through when a concerned author told me that’s the length my entire work should be as a newbie.  So thinking about both the tremendous hacking I was going to have to do in addition to still writing said ending sent me into panic, which I’ve only just recently released.  Basically, I’ve adopted the mindset that I need to just let myself carry the story out freely and deal with the editing afterwards, which has helped, though the inevitable still hovers over my head like the guillotine blade I’ll need to use on my text, the executioner of my own words 😦

This all being said, what I have trimmed out so far has clearly strengthened the story, just as my sage advisers always said it would, so I do trust in that.  And as I look at bits I’ve scribbled along the way and always assumed would have a place in my book, I understand now that if they didn’t meld in naturally by this point, to attempt to include them now would be about as thrilling to me as gouging a funnel down a duck’s neck to make myself foie gras.  I think instead I’ll measure out those grains for a less fatty entree or side dish in future meals…

So.  I’ve lapsed on updating this blog until today because I have indeed been cranking on my ending as well as going back to the beginning to ensure there’s balance—and, in doing so, I can see how my writing has evolved over the course of this long project…how my sentences were much longer and more complex, my descriptions more frequent…it seems I’ve since learned a wee bit more about the art of condensing, so may need to retroactively apply that to those opening chapters so the overall work can shed that fat and really flex its muscles.

“It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.”  – Robert Southey

Huh.  I thought I’d be brief with this post.  Oh, the irony.


Mad Me?

* * SPOILER ALERT * * – Ye be warned if you haven’t yet seen Hitchcock’s Psycho.

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I was watching Mad Men last night and marveling over how much I continue to sympathize with the character of Don Draper.  Am I mad?  The guy has cheated on his wife for the first three seasons, even after she bears his third child, and still those dramatic shots of Don sitting in isolation as the camera gradually zooms out still pluck out a melancholy little banjo tune on a heartstring or two.

This brings to mind a post I recently read on Milo James Fowler’s In Media Res blog that discusses how the villains in books, TV, or film tend to fascinate us, to the point where we might find ourselves cheering for them.  When I read this, I immediately thought of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and how the director’s genius for creating suspense through cinematography and Anthony Perkins’s stutteringly shy Norman Bates always leaves me biting my fingernails each time Norman is close to getting caught.  The part directly following the infamous shower scene, for example, shows Norman pushing a car (with Marion’s  dead body inside) into a swamp.  As slowly as if the water was molasses, the car glub-glubs down until, suddenly, it just stops.  Norman swallows in anxiety, and after several looong seconds, the car continues to gurgle down into the swamp’s depths, now fully concealed.  There is something about the shot-reaction-shot sequence here that makes the viewer (I know it can’t just be me) tense on Norman’s behalf and want the car to keep sinking just as much as he does.  Why is that?!

Not that Don Draper exudes the villainy of a murderer with a curling black mustache and a damsel in distress bound in rope underfoot…but that’s precisely my point.  For me, if a villain is in the least bit complicated with a sense of vulnerability, I will sympathize.  The Don Draper character mesmerizes me because I can’t quite slide him into a specific slot; he is complicated by a darker past and an inner struggle between being a good person that does right by others and a psychopath that acts in complete disregard of them.  Norman Bates is a mentally unstable young man whose psychosis is likewise triggered by a difficult childhood; in his conversations with Marion before her death, we see the friendly, likable side of him that is tormented by the wicked personality of his mother that he’s invented in his mind.

It’s the classic struggle of the good versus evil within each of us, after all, and a great many fascinating stories have been written around this internal conflict, the most engaging of which (for me) tending to be when the protagonists and antagonists of the plot at times blur into each other.  (As you can see in the photos above, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is one of many films utilizing the imagery of duality—here, both Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando’s faces are half in light and half in shadow—as who is the “hero” and who is the “villain” is called into question.) As it stands, Don is a flawed protagonist just as much as Norman is a well-intentioned antagonist.

So, in the end, what I think makes me want to pat someone like Don on the back and console him with a glass of Scotch along with a Lucky Strike cigarette is the fact that, while I cannot directly empathize with his choices/actions, I can sympathize (to small degree) with where he’s coming from.  Just something to ponder as we craft our own “Good Guys” and “Bad Guys” in our stories, those complex characters that we willingly invite  to ride the carousel of our minds…


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