Wednesday, August 3, 2011

2011.08.03 Writing for Pac Man

Once at a writers conference an agent on a panel commented about the first page of an author’s manuscript:“Don’t make me wait too long to get under the table.”

The first page reading was mine and I was thrilled that agents liked it. “Under the Table” is the title of my second chapter. I reference the experience on my first page where I am in the scene of my ordination recalling what happened under the table 47 years ago. The hint lets a reader anticipate the under the table scene but wait till the next chapter.

Under the table in Chapter 2 I detail the childhood spiritual experience that drew me to follow a path to the priesthood happened.

I wondered if I should put my under the table scene first. Was it too long to wait? Should I follow the comment of the agent? I have actually found a snapshot way to do that. I got the idea from Patti Smith’s, Just Kids.

Still, the dismal thought occurred to me that in this consumerist culture perhaps publishing is in danger of co-opting to a pac man market. Pac man dates me. It was an early video game, probably now judged as too slow, in which a bunch of racing little faces with open gobbling mouths pursued an escapee—you!

Do we presume a bunch of readers so driven by instant gratification that they can’t tolerate waiting? Ravenous like pac people?

It sounds so infantile. Is this a disservice to serious readers? A handicap to serious writers?

Take Tinkers the novel by Paul Harding. I loved the book. I had to wait a lot, to read through a lot of context-building detail near the beginning and throughout before I got to an action scene.

And you could expire waiting for Pulitzer prize novelist Marilynne Robinson to tell you what happens—unless you let the mastery of the prose itself fascinate you. And it will.

I did feel some impatience at first, until I re-learned the first lesson of spirituality: stay steadfast, trust, be alert and notice whatever the Spirit is unfolding on every page. There’s a lot of Religion there as well—and Feminism.

Writers today are encouraged to write to the chase; that is, to get a reader to some dramatic scene as quickly as possible in order to keep her or him turning the pages. Gobble, gobble.

Do you need Pepto-Bismol yet?