On Silence


I’m slowly re-entering the world of internet after a week of avoiding the news and the sneak attacks of social media. I rather appreciated this:

Erin’s post is full of concrete tips for managing social media, from how to mute specific key words to using plugins to make comments on news sites invisible so there’s no temptation to click.

I also liked this article by Mike Ananny (my old officemate!): “Breaking news pragmatically: Some reflections on silence and timing in networked journalism.” He begins with a quote from Gandhi:

Speak only if it improves upon the silence. —Mohandas Gandhi

And he adds:

I mean silence as the thoughtful absence of speech. To suggest that people sometimes not speak, share interpretations, or engage in open, visible, experimental communication is to question ideas that run deep in U.S. culture…

…It certainly takes courage to speak — but it takes a different kind of courage to be silent, to listen, to trust, and speak when the time is right.

While I was filtering (avoiding) the online world, I was also mapping out a revision, and Mike’s observations about speaking and not speaking connected with my stepping back to examine the novel in its entirety. I’m a plunger turned plotter, an avid outliner as only the converted can be, so the first big revision pass happens at the outline level. In such condensed form, revising is like writing a poem.

In poetry school, Robert Pinsky always used to quote Aristotle’s Poetics and described poems as an “arrangement of incidents.” When writing a poem, we try to arrange those incidents evocatively.

Sometimes even an outline has too many words, though, and I map my outline to a calendar of scenes. This simple visualization highlights silence vs. speech, or action vs. rest.

    What happens on the blank days?
    How do off-screen events affect what happens on-screen?
    Should any of these off-screen events happen on-screen?
    Are all of the on-screen events necessary, or should any of them become blank spaces?

In Story, Robert McKee says:

STRUCTURE is the selection of events from the characters’ life stories that is composed into a strategic sequence to arouse specific emotions and to express a specific view of life.

In other words, the structure of a story is the arrangement of incidents — speak only if it propels the story forward.

© 2016 Anindita Basu Sempere. 
All Rights Reserved