Thursday, January 17, 2019

Burn Story

Emma Bull, who is a writer of real ability, has offered this advice to writers: burn story. By this she means that, if you have some good idea, some clever plot device, whatever, use it and use it now. "Story" in this sense is not be be preserved, to be spread thinly over your 80,000 word novel, it should be applied in large chunks as fast as possible. The concern naturally arises "but I will run out of story, then" and this is, it turns out, not so. Burning story generates more story, and in the end you get 80,000 words of densely packed story rather than 80,000 words of bread with 5,000 words worth of butter scraped across it.

Note: I am informed that this term is used in Hollywood, and may have originated there!

I had an epiphany today along these same lines.

As mentioned previously, they are doing a sewer line replacement job a few houses up the alley from me, a process I wished to photograph, and to thereby tell the story of. It is not a complicated process. Cut the pavement over the old sewer line. Dig a hole. Replace some pipes. Fill the hole. Pour cement over the hole.

So, I shot a bunch of pictures. Edited it down to, I don't know, 6 or 7 that I thought "told the story" pretty well, and in which each picture had at least a touch of lyricism in it. And now I was thinking "ok, I could trim another one or two but how to fit this great little story into this book I am working on?"

And this is where the epiphany hit me: it's not about cramming as many pictures as you logically can in there, it's about telling the story you want to tell in as few pictures as possible. If one picture will suffice, it's probably a really good picture, and you should stick to that. If you need two, well, again. Simply trying to cram in more photos because you're got some more pretty good ones is the wrong direction.

Now, this is not new advice. I have probably received this advice half a dozen times in one form or another, maybe a lot more. But having discovered it for myself, I hold out hope that it will stick a little better this time.

Just as a for-instance, let's revisit Pixy Liao's widely lauded (?) book, Experimental Relationship, here leafed though by Jörg Colberg. Ignore the typo in the video title, I have tried several times to bring this to Jörg's attention.

Anyways, regardless of what you think of the work, regardless of what you like Pixy is trying to say here (if anything) there is no doubt that she is doing the photographic equivalent of droning on and on about it. We could argue about whether there is a single note in this book, or whether there are two, or three, or perhaps if you stretched you might get up to five. But there's no getting around it, the ratio of butter to bread is very very low indeed.

Imagine, if you will, that she had compressed Experimental Relationship down to, say, the three pictures that really nail it. At this point my advice has in one sense ruined her book, it is now a very short pamphlet, and that's not going to get shortlisted for any prizes. However, what there is of her book is a hell of a lot better and, if she's attentive to the muse, she will be rewarded with more story to burn. By being timid, and spreading her 3 pictures worth of story thinly over 160(!!!) pages of book, she wound up with a not-very-good book, and her muse did not grant her any more story.

Burn story. If you can tell the entire story in one, do it.

There will be more story, later. It's ok.

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