Thursday, December 23, 2010

Finding That Perfect Moment

Every so often, I hope to post short anecdotes about the impetus behind some of the characters, backdrops or ideas expressed in my writing. Right now, a short note about the "happy accidents" that can occur when combining two ore more notions into something meaningful.

A lot of writing is about choosing the correct details to share about a scene, a character, or a moment in the story.  It's really the same for a lot of different creative mediums.  Just have a look at this set of "perfect moment" photographs to get a sense of what I mean.

Here's a moment from my novel, "On The Gathering Storm" that involves a car crash. It's based on a traffic accident that I was involved in but in re-telling it, I focused more on the feelings one would have in such a catastrophe and less on the choreography of the vehicles. In the end, I stumbled across the final bit of dialogue from an anecdote a friend once told me, and the two bits came together quite well, I think.

Crack. Crunch. Spin. 
And then things come to rest. Like whirling tops on kitchen linoleum, finally exhausted, finally seeing the pointlessness in their childish play.
Hannah is a wakeful corpse, witness to the event, yet unable to see. Unable to move. When she finally does move and gets out of her car, it’s dreamy and far off—-like watching the events on television instead of living through them. Later she’ll remember the bloodied foreheads in the other car. They are both moving, moaning, incoherent when she asks them if they are okay. And then, dreamlike, wafting as smoke from a firearm on a breeze, she’s moving to the ditch where D.’s Prelude has been flung.
He’s under a thick blanket of glass and blood. His eyes are tightly closed. He only hears Hannah. Doesn’t see her. Then his eyes open. They try to focus. Just when she thinks he can’t move he reaches through the open space of his driver’s window and clutches her arm. It’s a painful pinch, like forceps. She grimaces, still in her trance. He says, over and over, again and again, “The light was green, Hannah. Remember. The light was green. Green Hannah. The light was green. Remember. The light was—”

In telling a story, finding those ideal spots or details is not much different than a similar moment in photography when patience, timing and the gut feeling you have when you find those great shots all converge. Sure, you need to have inspiration strike, be in the right place at the right time, but you also need to have some idea of what you're doing with your f-stops and your flash bulb.


  1. Great photos! You've made an excellent analogy between capturing the moment in photography and in writing. The angle at which you view a scene makes all the difference. You know, of course, that I loved On The Gathering Storm. The scene you mention here is so vivid. The emotions, your view of the scene, are what make it unique and captivating. Otherwise, it would have been nothing more than another generic car accident.

  2. One of the things I appreciate about your work is your ability to pare down your descriptions of scenes and characters and still evoke very memorable and striking mental images of moments in your stories. What may have taken someone else a page or two of an album, you seem to be able to get across in a few well framed shots.

    This was a fun insight into your multi-media mentality as an artist. Thanks!

  3. I like how you phrase that, Darcia: "The angle at which you view a scene." It's a great notion. Everything is subjective and you can see something from the omniscience of a third-person narrator or through the eyes of a character. It's can provide a stunning juxtaposition to something as simple as making the morning coffee...and you can use it to add suspense, drama, terror or thoughtfulness.

    Ann, I have no idea where this desire to pare things down in my writing comes from. I can only suspect it's from the same place inside me that tries to simplify everything -- from the number of art pieces hung on a wall to the number of forks in a kitchen drawer. I have only my chronic foibles to blame.

    Thanks to you both for your insightful and interesting comments!


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