Sunday, February 21, 2021

My Problems with Occam's Razor

Universes need not be unnecessarily expanded.

--William of Occam 

When you find yourself in the middle of the many things you've already begun, outcomes and resolutions appear to have lit out for parts unknown, their baggage assembled in haste, tails tucked low on their haunches. This leaves you abandoned in the wake of why you begin projects in the first place.

You've had a near lifetime to consider the mechanics of this condition. From time to time, answers appeared within your grasp. All projects and dreams have beginnings. Stories set off with some purpose, dreams begin for you with the awareness of a need. Over the years, many of your stories began with a character confronted with a choice or task. Your dreams often have you in a locale without shoes and thus your attempts to negotiate terrains not suited for bare feet. A variation of this theme has events of your dream dependent on your ability to find your car.

Sometimes days passed with no firm grasp on the moment of engagement, but when it came, some inner celebration within you spilled out into the atmosphere, where you could breathe it, see it, taste it. If the project showed signs of still greater intensity, you heard music in the same way you hear a soundtrack in a film. Wonder of wonder, the music you heard left you with the impression it, too, originated within your imagination, although in the past you've heard symphonies, ballet music, and chamber music compositions you were pleased to remember from your appreciation of music.

One of tools you rely upon in your roles as writer, teacher, and editor takes its name from its Latin origin, in the middle of things, thus In medias res.  The quickest way to apply the brakes to a story already set in motion may be found by providing physical and emotional descriptions before the dramatic action.  Look for the place where the lead character arrives at a similar condition you noted to begin this essay. Forget about chronology. Look for the place where the protagonist may be seen in action, her attempts to cope in direct proportion for the need to produce a significant, appropriate outcome.

In later years, you've warned students, editorial clients, and the aspect of you best seen as the writer: No stage directions. No description. No footnotes.

Your warning shifts to assurance with your observation that information and description are best served after the reader has enough information to read the situation ahead of the character, then begin to worry about it. So, okay, this Ishmael guy, he felt a bout of depression coming on, so he does the dramatic equivalent of slamming an Advil or two; he signs on a whaler, understands how a few months at sea will calm him. But wow, how's he gonna stay calm with a dude like that Ahab in charge?

How, indeed?

A possible plan:  consider story as a party. Arrive late, leave early, with the explicit takeaway that those who longer overlong at parties often get caught up in the cleanup activities.

Perhaps you'll learn the proper rhythm that will produce the outcome you seek. Perhaps not. Perhaps your clutter can best move you along in the state of delight with each new beginning. Perhaps remember to look for later places to begin your narrative at revision time.

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