Friday, June 5, 2009


distraction--a character, event, or detail that will shift attention away from the main goal in a dramatic narrative; an accidental or deliberate device having the effect of arousing the reader's curiosity and possibly as well the interest of one or more characters within the story; a detail that because of its being noted by writer or character has the power to change the direction of the story in which it appears.

Distractions appear as a result of authorial laziness, authorial intervention into a narrative, or through random accident. Distractions may be deliberate calculations, sometimes no more than a word, much of a piece with a skilled magician using some device to distract the audience from seeing the mechanics of an illusion. The point to be emphasized is that distractions take the reader's attention from the procession of story elements. This may or may not be a good thing, depending on the writer's intent. A distraction or digression will raise expectations in the reader and, possibly, within other characters, triggering the reader-as-matchmaker instinct, causing the reader to make assumptions, to wait for a payoff which might not come.

Even though the writer is as conversant with the necessary elements in a story underway as a director is aware of the throughline in a written narrative, the most efficient mental state for the writer at work is the state of being "in the story," or completely immersed in the movement of events. Unanticipated details emerge from such states. It is a good policy to include them and move on until the next convenient moment for revision and possible rethinking. In other words, do not think about these distractions as they appear, waiting instead for a thinking mode--a revision mode--to decide whether they stay or go. Yes; you heard that correctly: details come rushing forth during the writing mode. Like guests wanting the maitre d' to seat them in the restaurant, they must be given appropriate scrutiny. Do they belong? Do they enhance the story? Or, like the fabled tourists with white belts and loafers, worn with green polyester trousers, are they distractions?

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