Monday, August 20, 2012

The Eternal Now of Fiction

The currency of our age is immediacy. If you want to grab a reader's attention, you need to attack their senses, desires, anxieties, and hopes. You need to climb into bed with them and have skin to skin contact.

This is not a recipe for pornography. In fact, the reason why pornography (as opposed to erotica) is dull is because it objectifies other people (including the reader). Truly intimate writing reaches our whole selves, just as true love connects on multiple levels. It exists in the eternal now -- past, present, future without limits. How can you achieve this in writing?

The first step is to avoid distancing. Much of the advice given to writers is aimed at this:
  • Avoid passive voice. Who did it? Don't make me guess.
  • Clear out the junk words. Wading though extra verbiage -- just, very, some, a bit -- dilutes the impact.
  • Get to the point. No one likes to read the instructions. Readers want to jump right in. Occasionally, we need explanations so readers don't get lost. But preambles, prologues, and backstory delay real connections with the audience.
  • Don't distract. Bad grammar and misspellings turn readers into editors. So do words that send them to the dictionary (though I actually like it when this happens once in a whild, and it is exactly the right word).
This list could go on, and I would love to hear what pulls you, as a reader,  away from the experience.

What practices make the reading more immediate?
  • A protagonist I can connect with. (Even if I don't like him or her.)
  • A clear, stated purpose for the scene. This orients me and raises questions about whether the protagonist will succeed or fail.
  • A sense of urgency. Nothing can be put off. All decisions are irreversible.
  • Stakes. It matters to the protagonist, so it matters to me.
  • A fresh, compelling voice. I can hear an individual coming through the language on the page.
  • A sensual experience. I have the prompts I need to be completely within the scene.
  • Dialogue I would eavesdrop on. (And I wouldn't want to miss a word.)
  • Specificity. The details are there, and they ring true.
  • A sense of recognition. This is an experience I know on some level, so I believe what I'm reading.
Again, this is not exhaustive. I'll add one more -- dangerous truths. I want to have the sense that the writer is revealing something that is important and difficult to share. This isn't just because sharing secrets reveals the writer trusts me -- although that automatically puts it into the category of being more intimate. It's because such revelations are apart from the day-to-day, and they usually matter. And even if the thesis is conventional, a writer paying a price in risk is more likely to express it in a way that resonates with me.

Cold, distant analysis, complete with charts and numbers, has it's place. I wish more of our political discourse were fact-based. But readers today, especially those giving their time to fiction, want a more immediate experience.

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