Opening Chapters, and an Altered Aesthetic

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The “Casting Call” series of posts will make its return soon, but for today I thought I’d ruminate on a more serious topic, for those just getting started, reading Clotho’s Loom.  First, Thank You, sincerely, for trying it.

In some ways, the first Act of a narrative is hardest to write, because it contains much exposition: introduction to characters and their conflicts, necessary information about the past before the story opens, yet still establishing a style and voice that will draw readers on to the high action, later.  I’ve often heard my students remark, of the classic works of literature, that they “get better” later on.  Yet any second reading will reveal how so many vital themes, motifs, symbols, and ironies, growing to fruition in the latter pages, were implanted early.

As I review my own first and second chapters, and try to pull off the often impossible maneuver of reading them as if someone else wrote them, I glimpse a lot of features of Clotho’s Loom that 21st-century readers might find odd: they can be pretty well summed up by the phrase “slow pacing.”   The sentences are often long and elliptical, the details are dense, and–one of the modern novelists’ best tricks, I’ve ignored–there just isn’t much dialogue.

All of this on purpose, of course, but not everyone will cotton to it right away.  I tried to write the way foreign filmmakers, like Kurosawa, cut their movies.  American films (and TV shows) tend–while being extremely formulaic–to disguise that truth, with very brisk pacing.  You’ll often notice a scene cut even before it’s really over, because we know what’s coming: say, the answer to a question a character asks is not anwered.  Cut.  Many scene changes.  If you’ve seen True Blood, for example, that’s exactly what I mean: a soap opera, essentially, with a lot more physical movement.   By contrast, the French, Italian, and Japanese films I’ve studied, in particular, and if analyzed this way, rely on much longer scenes, with lavishing of the camera on visual details, and far less talk.  U.S. students of international film often feel uncomfortable at the extended length of the scenes, and the silence–as in both my screen captures, emotions like horror and disappointment, or even anger,  are not conveyed by yelling, screaming, and hitting.  Rather, viewers often find characters staring off into space for seven, ten, even fifteen seconds.  Yeah–like in real life.  Life sure doesn’t happen in ninety minutes.

I always found it silly, as a teacher, that nearly every scene in film or TV set in a classroom takes place during the last three minutes of a class: much speechifying, but very little teaching ever gets shown.  And yet, real classes last from anywhere from one to three hours: sure, we can’t see it all, but somewhere in there must be five worthwhile minutes.  Again, the editing is really just a storyteller’s trick to approximate a feeling of drama, and we are conditioned to accept it.

I wanted readers to know how isolated Will and Nexus are, as people.  Especially–and unfortunately–from each other.  They often don’t even share memories of the same events, or at least not in the same way.  It’s about divergence.  So form followed content: I wasn’t going to have much talk.  And I wasn’t going to clip my chapters, scenes, or even my sentences, short, to relieve that tension of loneliness, of having to live inside one’s own head.  So you might find yourself gasping for breath.  Good.

If that sounds disheartening, be patient.  The pace quickens: the action rises, chapters get briefer, and by the end, and even the midpoint (minor climaxes), I hope, it’s a thrill ride. But that hardly matters.  As I get older, I’ve learned to enjoy the slow burn: decades, years, months, weeks, hours, minutes, and seconds.

Quick test: did you find yourself skimming that last sentence? Paragraph?

What’s the rush?

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