Sunday, April 22, 2012

Skimming the Surface

Sometimes I think swimming faster will help keep me afloat, but it’s just the opposite. Slowing down is what gives me a chance to swim deeper and farther.

But it’s hard to go slowly when reaching the end of a draft. That’s when my muscles are aching,I can barely lift my legs, and I try to speed up, kicking like mad for the shoreline in the hope that I’ll make it to the end before exhaustion pulls me under.

It’s a natural response to fatigue, this urge to swim faster, except swimming faster means that I’m skimming the surface, unable to see the important details beneath the surface. What I need to do is slow down, keep a steady pace, and not worry about reaching the end.

Funny how speed in competitive swimming is something that every swimmer strives for, isn’t it?

Speed in writing can offer a quick way into your story, but quickness means sacrificing depth so that by the time you reach the end, you may not fully understand how or why you’ve written the words on the page in front of you. Skimming the surface by racing toward the end leaves your reader in your wake, too, with only foam and air bubbles, not water, to swim through.

For depth in your story, you need to slow down, dive beneath the surface, swim underwater to see and understand the dynamics of what drives your character. What’s her passion? What’s compelling her to act? What’s keeping her from acting? You can’t find answers to these questions by skimming over the surface of your story.

Probing your character’s life takes slow, steady strokes. It’s the kind of long-distance swimming that requires patience and steadfastness and determination. With each kick, you move deeper inside your characters, slipping inside their skin, learning how and why they make their decisions.

Sure, it’s appropriate at times to skim the surface, to glide over certain parts of the story, such as when you’re making a transition between scenes, or when you're first getting into the water.

But, for the most part, if you notice yourself speeding up, it means you’re skimming the surface, not diving, and you’re losing the chance to discover what your story’s really about.

For more information on skimming the surface, visit:


Anonymous said...

This is so true. I still struggle with impatience and learning to hold back and not let myself hurry ahead. Thanks for the insights.

Bruce Black said...

Me, too. It's an ongoing challenge to balance my impatience to reach the end with holding back, slowing down, and going deeper. Glad the thoughts were helpful.