Monday, June 13, 2011

Burn Ratio

Given the frequent propensity of portions of California to erupt in flames from time to time, "burn ratio" would seem to be a term originated by a fire department or insurance carrier.  But it is no such thing.

Although Californian in origin, burn ratio came out of the Hollywood film studios as an index of the number of frames of film exposed by a director in order to produce the final print of a story.  Burn ratio figured in the balance sheet of every film made.  Directors with low burn ratios were thought of more highly, regardless of the quality of their work.

By the merest slip of metaphor, you are able to transmogrify the term from film to manuscript.

Burn ratio is the number of false starts, POV shifts, and other revisions necessary to get a scene, passage or narrative, or tricky exchange of dialogue into its most ideal presentation.

With no damage to the concept, you could push burn ratio to encompass an entire short story, essay, poem, or novel, to say nothing of the memoir or booklength polemic.  You would in effect be turning burn ratio into a metaphor for the process of revision, in the process strengthening the conflation by which the original spark of idea is captured, advanced into a viable idea, teased into first draft, then led through the crucible of discovery to its ultimate form.

More often than not, the final form has assumed a confidence and stature of such ease and fluidity as to make it seem friendly, approachable, humming with the conversation of insight.

With the passage of years, your own burn ratio has progressed, to your great relief, from almost nothing to significant, high numbers.  In days of eld, you were so taken by the energy and enthusiasm that you were willing to believe "this" was how it was done; writers not only wrote from the seat of the pants, they had the idea worked out and were as married to it as a fly to fly paper.  Material no longer flies from your printer as it once did from your typewriter, nor does time appear to pass at its leisurely pace of earlier years; you are now caught in the press of having the illusion of more to say and the greater illusion yet of having less time in which to get it said.  In the Reality That Belongs to the Universe, nothing has changed except those things that are of the Universe's doing.  In the parallel universe you have devised for yourself, assembled from experiences, formal and informal education, culture, reading, and mail order catalogue, there is a sense of urgency emerging, trying to insinuate itself in front of you into the ticket line.

A number of Hindu and Buddhist philosophers have observed how illusory is the Reality many of us inhabit.  Tao philosophers warn us to be alert for the lure of the "ten thousand things," by which they intend as metaphor to suggest illusion.

Your place in line takes into consideration your awareness of the vast numbers of Reality--including your own--that you see about you, all in some relation to the Reality That Is.  Some of those in line with you have a term for the Reality That Is--they call it God.  You have also done so from time to time, but now you are spending some of your burn ratio time revising that vision, not content with atheist nor agnostic nor even sceptic; secular humanist sounds a bit pretentious in your hope for a negotiated settlement.

At one time, you wrote long, rambling narratives that focused on persons waiting in some line or other, subtext for your narrative eavesdropping on their concerns, motives, and secret agendas.  Other such narratives had large groups of individuals out on treasure hunts, connecting with other individuals they did not know.  In one such narrative you recall with vivid fondness, the individuals on the treasure hunt all wore costumes, which were all relative to the party--you think it was Halloween--they were attending.  How much you knew then amazes you because you were working on the theory that you were in your own costume, a bather with one toe in the literary ocean.

It is time to revisit those alternate Realities through which you have passed.  At least sixty percent of a story should be in the present moment, even if that present moment were back in early or late medieval. But all of us carry some sort of fanny pack, some sort of iPad devise on which the past is as clear to us as an electronic, pixilated screen.  The past waits for us with You Tube streams of memory, literally freezing itself in increments for us to see what we have brought with us into the present and how we deploy these things.

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