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Space and Time (Bonus Friday post)

You can also catch this post over at Romance Magicians

What do Einstein and writing guru Dwight V. Swain have in common? The theory of relativity. Einstein once famously said, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity.”

Dwight V. Swain, in his epic tome on writing, TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER, said, “In writing, you translate tension into space: The more tense the situation as your focal character experiences it, the more words you give it.”

I don’t know why, but that one short passage in Swain’s book stopped me short with its brilliance.

Have you ever heard Captain Sullenberger talk about his experience landing flight on the Hudson River? When he listens to the flight recorder playback, the whole event takes place in mere minutes. And yet while he was going through it, time seemed to slow down. The volume of information and emotions he processed in that short period of time made it seem many times longer than the reality.

So if we follow Swain’s advice, we can give our readers an easy clue about how momentous an event is by how much space (i.e. relative time) we allot to it in our story.

To some degree, I’m sure we all do this instinctively. But I’m wondering if maybe some of my scenes that fell a little flat did so because I didn’t give them their due. Maybe I let too much of the experience happen “off screen”, thus shortchanging the reader and my story.

Next time I can’t figure out why an important scene isn’t working, I’ll check to see if I gave it enough space and time.

The Sunday Squirrel: the night was dark

For my pacing class, we had to write opening lines based on some version of the sentence “The night was dark”. Each was supposed to include a minimum of the hooks listed in brackets. Below are my attempts. Which ones (if any) hooked you?

  • “I’m not your mother,” she said, rocking gently on the porch swing, her expression hidden in the dark shadows of the night.
  • I ran from the house, just a shadow in the dark night, and vowed that no matter what happened, I’d die before I ever returned.
  • The night plunged into darkness and the tilt-a-whirl ground to a halt, screeching like the souls of the dead.
  • The hunchbacked elder shuffled out of the dark night into the tavern, silver medallions around his leathery neck clinking with each step, his voice strong as he wailed, “The Devil himself rides this way.”