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Writing Wisdom.

The Pump:

This has got to be the best short feature I can remember seeing during the past forty years. The viewer suspects within the first couple of minutes where the story’s going, but the way the scenes build on each other keep the viewer hooked, waiting to see how it gets there.

The film is like a great short story. I write literary fiction, but I admire those who can whip together abbreviated fiction: pithy but tight, with not a word wasted; a whole story told in the length of a chapter (or less). The best I can do to emulate short story writers is to weave the chapters in my near-epic-length books tightly enough so that each of them has a distinct arc that can support the story’s structure the way flying buttresses support a cathedral wall.

Flying buttresses at the Lincoln Cathedral Chapter House.

The story of The Pump also constitutes a lightning lesson for writers:

  1. Creativity is always to be desired, but “DO NOT TURN OFF MAIN HIGHWAYS ONTO DESERT ROADS WITHOUT FIRST MAKING LOCAL INQUIRY.” To me, this means checking the absolute essentials, to make sure I have the ability to make what I’ve envisioned into a virtual reality for readers. These essentials are The 7 Reasonable Rules of Writing:
    Excellent spelling.
    Good grammar.
    Sufficient correct punctuation for signage on the path to meaning.
    Thorough research.
    Understanding of literary conventions.
    Love for language and loyalty to its complete lexicon.
    Writing by inspiration, rather than controlling the performance of the tale.
  2. If the washer gets dry, “Just prime the pump.” Writer’s block seems to be a big problem to a lot of us, but I never suffered from it.  I don’t try to force the issue by trying to write through it, as some advise: Staring at the desert wasteland of a blank screen isn’t where my inspiration comes from, and just writing to fill in the blank – good, bad or indifferent – seems like a waste of effort. So I continually prime the pump by editing what I’ve already written, and by engaging in research. There’s always more than enough of both tasks to keep my mind and hands happily occupied, and before I know it, I’m involved in filling another hole in the plot.
  3. “If you trust too much, too easily
    “You will live to be deceived
    “But if you do not trust enough,
    “You may not live at all…”
    This quote from the beginning of The Pump has two applications for writers. First: Well-written characters need to have many opportunities to make up their minds and take action, and the consequences of their choices, as with the reasons for their decisions, have to differ in good and bad ways. Second: Trust your instincts as a writer. Don’t let unreasonable rules destroy your efforts to bring to life the story that’s in your head.

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