Thursday, November 11, 2010

What's New?

As I notice the calendar says November 11 and it's my first blog of the month, I realize I have plenty of options for topics. After all, lots of "really interesting things" have been happening over the past few weeks. Really! They must have been, or why wouldn't I have been here, right? Like...

*a clock ticks away the seconds as I think about interesting past events. I know they happened. Tick...tick...tick...
Wow, ever notice how a clock can sound really loud in a quiet house? Tick...tick...tick...*

Oh, yes, interesting stuff.

*tick...tick...tick...turns on radio to drown out ticking*

Well, stuff did happen. I just can't remember the most interesting "stuff" off the top of my head! Or if I do, it's not as interesting in the remembering. It's kind of like writing a letter (or an email) to a friend you haven't talked with for a while. What do you choose to say to sum up past events that are old news? Maybe you give up on the letter because everything you start to talk about has a certain "you kind of had to be there" distance to it.

Okay, it's a little different for a blog. Here, if I wrote a blog based on "a funny thing happened today" (that actually happened two weeks ago), nobody is going to call me on embellishing the truth. I don't think so anyway! But to make it interesting, I'd have to be acting like it just happened. And if I succeeded in being exceptionally generous, I'd involve the recipient. I'd make it a story about something not just about me, but something the reader also could relate to as something that has or could happen to them.

This brings up an interesting thought. In just about all cases, we want our writing to be immediate and in the moment. But two fleeting things are at play here; both the interest level of the giver and the interest level of the receiver of information. As a giver, we quickly forget or lose interest -- and it shows. And in the recipient's shoes (the one hearing the information), we don't particularly want to hear about what happened weeks, months or years ago to someone else. True, "old news" can be very interesting -- especially if we were there or know the people involved. But generally it's simply not natural to want to hear about old news. People don't typically ask "what's old?" They ask, "what's new?" -- even if what they get is going to be old. But why do they ask what's new? Because they want to be part of the new story -- the current interaction.

This, of course, has a lot of implications for a writer to think about. However, most implications I realize I routinely ignore because this is a writing paradox of sorts; while it's natural to ask what's new, it's also natural to tell what's old. But it's a tendency I think we need to overcome. If it isn't new -- and really, everything is old the second after it happens -- we need to try and make it seem new and proactively give the recipients what they want. That's not so easy. If we accept the premise of natural tendencies, it goes against the grain.

In fiction writing this whole "making old news seem new" situation comes up often in the many decisions necessary for relaying what happened in the past. It also explains a little what the big deal is about using the word "was." I must love that word because I use it so much. Why is that word picked on so much? Possibly, it's because the little culprit tempts you tell a story as if responding to someone who has asked about "old news." I don't know why they'd do that, but I think it would make a difference in the response.

What's old, you ask? Well, I had a play writing exercise in my theatre class. It was about writing a missing scene for the play The Crucible. It was a lot of fun to do and I learned a lot about... *losing steam in my enthusiasm* Sorry, I realize I may have lost your interest there and I'll partly blame that little word "was."
Instead:
What's new, you ask? Oh! I have a fun new writing exercise! It gives you the freedom to write dialogue without worrying about "telling" character actions. You have permission to "tell" and I think it can work as a form of a rough draft blueprint for non-play writing.

I could be off and running with that blog topic, but it's been a while and I'm letting it go. LOL The point is, it's not easy to make the "old" seem new in our writing, but I think we always have to give it a shot.

Do you ever think we're writing at cross purposes with our natural communication tendencies?
(Btw, a not-so-perfect example of this play writing exercise is posted.)

2 comments:

  1. I love the "what's old?" line. I may start using that (unless people start answering "YOU are!" LOL)

    This is an interesting topic. When I haven't emailed a friend for a while, I have to decide which bits are the most interesting--even tho they aren't "new", I try to find a way to make them FEEL that way.

    So I guess it's the same with my writing. right now the characters are sitting around moaning about the other one not loving them. LOL Bo-ring. I have to make that seem new, so I have them involved in activities, but not the same ones as in previous stories--hopefully something that will reflect their enthusiasm and personalities.

    This is a good example of why writing feels like it SHOULD be easier the more you do it, and it's NOT, because you always are coming up with new ways of doing old tricks!

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  2. Donna, good idea to involve your characters in new activities that liven up what might be a realistic but not so dramatic time for your characters. I think that definitely makes for the old seeming new.

    Making the writing sound fresh and new, especially in relationship type stories, is one of those things that, you're right, can get harder to do. And when it's something we're close too and have maybe been revising a few (dozen) times it can seem real old to the writer too!

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