31 March 2012

Once again, I was reading in Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer, and I came across a bit about writing that I'm not sure I understood before.

I'm always trying to figure out when to pour on the words and when I can skimp. When is it appropriate to be verbose, and when should you let it go? I think this bit of insight might help me. And who knows, maybe it will help someone else too.

Have you ever noticed that a good day goes by in the blink of an eye, while on a bad day you could swear that the clocks are literally running backward? An evening out with an old friend is much too short, while the exact same amount of time spent at an awkward family gathering can feel like a week? Or longer.

Well, the reason for the above phenomenon is because of the tension involved. Talking to someone you like doesn't usually involve any tension. Having to be cordial with someone you want to punch can fill the room to overflowing with tension, which I'm pretty sure is what stops those clocks.

The same theory can be applied when you are writing. If your main character is walking home from work on a sunny day, thinking happy thoughts, then there isn't much tension, and the time (and therefore the space on the page it takes up) goes by quickly. On the other hand, if your main character is walking home from work on a sunny day, wondering how he is going to tell his wife that he just lost his job and may be arrested for questionable business practices the time might not go so fast. Each agonizing step draws his mind further and further into the problem, and as he walks the world seems to stop around him, all because of the amount of tension he's dealing with.

From the above mentioned book:

“In writing, you translate tension in to space: the more tense the situation as your focal character experiences it, the more words you give it.”

It totally makes sense, but a few weeks ago I wouldn't have been able to explain it. At all.

Back to writing!


Jordan said...

You talked a little about this at our last meeting, but it wasn't until reading it here that I had an idea for a killer magic system! I'll be sure to credit you with the inspiration...

-Jo- said...

Uh, you're welcome?

Anthony Dutson said...

Which explains why 'A Dance With Dragons' sucked so bad. When you spend two loooong chapters with a drunk character (my favorite one too) in a coach on a long trip... well... I'm still trying to figure out what the point was.

Antiquarian said...

I think that's why Wheel of time SUCKS ROTTEN EGGS.