When I was a boy my brother and I played a game where we compared what color each day of the week ought to be painted. Sunday was easy; that had been decided for us by its name. As I recall Monday was gray (sorry, Monday), Tuesday was forest green, Wednesday was orange, Thursday was silver, Friday was white, and Saturday was red. I did not know at the time what a useful writing exercise this game was. After all, even Sunday doesn’t actually have a color. The truth of human experience is that everything feels like something. So if I tell you Sunday feels like yellow, you probably know what I mean. Such is the job of the writer: to find the quickest means by which to convey to his readers what a given moment, sound, or thought feels like, usually by comparison to something wholly different than what is being described.
When I was a waiter, guests would occasionally sit in my section and trigger in me the ghost of a memory. I could not recall the guest’s name, where the guest might have sat, what the guest had ordered, nor what had been said; all I could remember is what it felt like to wait on him or her. I would remember gentle, or tight, or careful. Soon enough, once I’d greeted the guest and heard their voice and so on, the memory of our last exchange would emerge. But that first memory, that felt memory, was always exactly correct. The rest were just details.
Sometimes I’ll read a novel where a writer takes great pains to illustrate exactly how to groom a horse, say, or amputate a leg without anesthesia. I appreciate the meticulous research that goes into this kind of clinical, encyclopedic writing, and I understand the writer’s desire to represent the world accurately and completely, but a part of me always thinks, “Who cares?” I don’t want to know how to amputate a leg, I want to know how it feels to amputate a leg. After all, a robot could cut a man’s leg off if we programmed him to do so, but only a human would know that amputation without anesthesia feels exactly like a red Monday.
Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!