Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Times Change; I Don't"

More often than not, when I rewrite these posts, they get longer.  My intention is succinctity, but I have rarely succeeded.  More often, I shoot for seven hundred and fifty words, and it ends up a thousand.

Back up a second!  You rewrite these posts?

Yes, Smart Guy.  Two or three times.  Sometimes, more.

Imagine that.  And they seem so natural and spontaneous.

That’s how they’re meant to appear.  In reality, I agonize over every word.

So you’re saying, what we get to read, there were worse versions of that?

May we move on, please?

Sure.  Unless you want to go back and change “May we move on?” to “May we proceed forward?”

Knock it off!  I don’t always rewrite “sideways” (replacing a word or a turn of phrase with something different but not necessarily better.)  I revise mostly for the sake of clarity.  When I read over what I have written, I frequently detect conspicuous gaps in the storytelling narrative.  

A substantial amount of my rewriting involves filling in those gaps, so the writing flows more smoothly and the overall piece makes coherent sense.  No holes in the logic.  No lapses in continuity.  (This process inevitably makes the posts longer.)

And herein, I arrive at my point.

And not a moment too soon.

Okay, I’m ditching you, Italics Man.  From here on, I work alone.

Can’t take it, huh?

I am generally better off without hearing from the less helpful elements of my brain.  Take the rest of the post off.

I’ll be back.

Not today.  Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this filling in of the logical and storytelling gaps.  And I wonder if engaging in that meticulous process is not part at least of what exposes me as an “over the hill” practitioner.

I shall not revisit the much remarked-upon other elements that consign me to the “once ready for ‘Prime Time’ but not anymore” repository – my lack of fluency in current cultural referentiality, and my near-Victorian reticence concerning matters below the anatomical Mason-Dixon Line, to name two biggies.

Back in the seventies, before being elevated to iconic status, Lorne Michaels would regale me with extended dissertations on the subject of how self-limitingly conventional I was.  (And it wasn’t just him.  A magazine journalist covering the Lily Tomlin Special – my first job ever in Hollywood – labeled me a “young hack.”  My first job!  And he didn’t even know me.  What, is there “hack” written on my face?  “Oh, yeah.  Nothing original’s coming from this guy.”)

Exemplifying his point that the times had changed and not every hole needed to be filled in because the more media-savvy contemporary audience accepted the omissions as “givens”, Lorne explained the difference between how a movie scene might once have been shot, and how the same scene would be shot today.  (Today, being 1974.  But ostensibly holding true to an even greater degree in 2013.)  I shall quote him, though these are unlikely his exact words:

“In old movies, a car pulls up to a house, the driver gets out, he walks up to the front door, he rings the bell, he waits, and somebody answers the door.  Today, the car pulls up – CUT TO: – someone’s answering the door.  Everything’s compressed.  You don’t need the intervening steps, because they are naturally understood.” 

As with filming, so with writing.  Today’s writers conventionally leave things out.  And if I don’t, I run the risk of telling my readers what they already know, boring the heck out of them with the unnecessary inclusions, and revealing myself as transparently behind the communicational curve.

Read:  “Old.”

Remember when I wrote about that song lyric from “It’s A Wonderful World”, where they say about babies, “They’ll learn much more than you’ll ever know”?  Well, this is, “They’ll think much faster than you’ll ever hope to.”

My style is to determine what’s left out, and make sure it’s included.  The question is, “Left out for who?”, the answer, since I’m making the decisions inevitably being, “Left out for me.”  The thing is, with everything speeded up, what I’m doing can very easily feel slow.

Can I alter my approach?  I’m pretty sure I can’t, being unable to think like anyone but myself.  My only option is to produce the best version of “slow” writing and filling in the spaces that I know how to do, and hope somebody appreciates it.

And now, I’m going to read this over and see what I left out.

Ledger:  First Draft – 702 words.  Second Draft – 729 words.  Third Draft – 765 words.

Not bad. 

Unless it should really have been 350 words.

1 comment:

Rory W. said...

I wonder if "You don’t need the intervening steps, because they are naturally understood" is a convenient excuse for having to compress things due to more/longer commercial breaks?

A half hour show used to run about 25 minutes and now they're down to around 20. So, with 5 less minutes, you have to leave something out.