I could claim that I took a week off after NaNoWriMo to recharge my batteries, step back, and take stock of where I am and where I want to be. I could also just admit to being lazy.
I came across a factoid recently about a meteor strike in 2008. It was the first time that an asteroid had been detected in space and tracked all the way to its impact on Earth. People later found its debris in a desert because someone knew how to calculate its trajectory. It amazed me to learn that this kind of basic science still has new milestones to achieve. (I could write about the discoveries which I still hope to see in my lifetime, but that just makes me feel old.)
On the same day that I had come across that blast from the recent past, the subject of the old Asteroids video game came up in conversation. It seemed like a fun coincidence, so I jotted down a few thoughts with the intention of blogging about it. Here I am, several weeks later, and I just found my notes, which amount to less inspiration than I imagined they would be at the time. (I could write about arcade games, but I never spent very much time or money on them myself.)
Asteroids have shown up on my television a lot lately, as I watch a lot of programs about the coming apocalypse. As disasters go, an asteroid hitting Earth makes for some dramatic simulations. I’m catching old science fiction movies and shows like Star Trek, in which asteroids are gloriously animated. (I could make a list, but that would be tedious.)
If you haven’t read it, I recommend “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell. It is a science fiction novel which is mostly about first contact with another world, but it makes a plausible case for the use of an asteroid for transportation. (I could go on a tangent about how this was her first book, or how the screenplay adaptation is in limbo, or the progressive rock album devoted to its story, but I’ll be lazy and let you read the links instead.)
Will we travel to an asteroid within my lifetime? Will we mine it for resources? Will we nudge it out of its path or destroy it before it destroys us? Will I live to see another milestone in astronomical research? Or will I find something else to write about before then?
Catching up with the weekly “Pop Culture Happy Hour” podcast on NPR, I listened to the latest episode today. In the midst of a discussion about the recent “Liz & Dick” and other biographical movies, Glen Weldon made the comment that “Chronology is not Narrative” and how it is a feature of bad student writing. Ouch.
Painful but true, it does address an issue I faced — am still facing — with writing my own fiction. The backdrop to writing a story must include some sort of timeline, but the telling of the story might benefit from revealing details in something other than chronological order. Can a writer write the story or the plot before working out the timeline? I’ve encountered a few scenes which feel like they could have some enjoyable dramatic tension and end with a reveal, but the content of what is said or revealed will depend upon where in the timeline the scene will occur. It’s the “who knows what when” question, which applies to the characters as much as the audience.
The urge to let the details unfold chronologically comes from a literal adherence to that old “show, don’t tell” rule, plus a fear of exposition. When I reach a point in my narrative when a character might have some interesting bit of backstory to reveal, I hesitate to have them simply tell someone what happened. Can the retelling of a memory be as good as showing that scene from the past unfolding in real-time? Then, after fleshing out a memory with action, it is tempting to take that scene and move it to an earlier part of the book, into its chronological context. While this might give my character more substance up front, I lose my dramatic reveal.
I should already be familiar with the creative use of withholding a character’s backstory in service of building out a narrative. I was a rabid fan of the television show LOST. Famous for their use of flashbacks in its earliest episodes, through six seasons of flash-forwards and flash-sideways, LOST writers created stories which compelled me to go back and rewatch for their many layers of meaning. (It also turned me into a raging spoiler-phobe, because I wanted to enjoy the surface reading of an episode on my initial pass without being tainted by knowledge of the twist at the end first. I can enjoy endless repeat viewings with that insight later, but I can go in blind only once.)
Instead of working on my outline today, now I want to watch more television. For research purposes, of course. Thanks, NPR.