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It Was Always Burning

Is there a word for a revelation that’s been sitting in plain sight the entire time? Other than “Duh!”, I mean. Something German, probably. A strongly curated news feed and a steady stream of dead mall videos have been informing my work in progress. It’s also pulled out some deep memories of my childhood, and made me realize that the state of the world isn’t new. This isn’t something that just suddenly happened in the last couple of years, or even the past few decades. It was always burning.

As I was growing up in the 1970s, the downtown area was functionally extinct. There were a lot of empty storefronts. One of the major department stores was in a gorgeous building that probably dated from the 1920s or 30s. It has been two or three stories above ground, plus a finished basement. There was a grand staircase. By the time of my childhood they’d consolidated to the ground floor and the basement. The staircase had been blocked off by ham-handedly shoving fixtures in front of it. Later that basement was closed off, and by my teens the store was gone.

There was a theater downtown that had once been a vaudeville venue. People talked about how gorgeous it had been, back in the day. It was faded and crumbling by the time I came around. As a teenager I went there to see a movie, and a chunk of the painted plaster ceiling fell in. Fortunately I was seated toward the back, under the closed-off balcony. This was something people supposedly valued, home to cherished memories, and it was openly decaying.

It Was Always Burning

We went to the Poconos a few times, to resorts that had clearly seen their heyday in the 1940s and 50s. Paint was peeling. Weeds were winning. There were photographs of the famous musicians and comedians who had played the ballroom, even though no one of note had been booked recently. My grandmother would tell stories. Older members of the staff would reminisce. I was supposed to appreciate the history, while understanding that I had missed out.

A lot of people back then attributed the decline to the rise of malls. It’s the same sort of logic that ascribes the dead mall phenomena to the internet. Things aren’t that simple. When I was growing up a lot of my friends planned to work with their father or uncles or older brothers in factories. Those plants had been there forever, and it was assumed they always would be. By the time I reached high school a lot of those places had shut down, and unemployment was a serious concern. It was always burning.

No one had disposable income to go shopping, or take vacations, or even go to the movies. There was only so much to go around, and retail space was oversaturated. Maybe the town could support a few movie theaters, but not twenty screens. There may have been a customer base to keep a couple of department stores thriving, but not a dozen or more. It was supply and demand, and somehow we keep expecting the demand to rise and meet the supply. That’s not how it works. That’s not how it’s ever worked. Yet we continue to make the same mistakes, attribute them to the wrong causes, and fling ourselves headlong into the downward spiral.

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Introducing Your Fictional World

My writing is admittedly formulaic. I want to break free from that. It comes from being a technical writer/trainer in my corporate life, and the nature of my current publishing niche. There’s a lot of cold, clinical explanation. For fiction this turns into dry-as-dust exposition. While I’m working break free from that in the first draft, I’m also consoling myself that it can be fixed with rewrites and during the editing process. I say this because in introducing your fictional world you want to lay the groundwork for things that will be explained later, rather than hitting the reader with a firehouse of trivia.

Some of this comes out in my descriptions of the setting. I’m trying to lean into the old saw that one should show, not tell. To do this I’m not describing the surroundings as they are, but as the characters are experiencing them. Another device is to offer up enough context for the reader to piece things together for themselves. At the very least, I am trying to postpone explanations until a bit after they happen, so that there aren’t continual pauses for information dumps.

Introducing Your Fictional World

This book starts off with the main character arriving in a new place. That scenario opens up possibilities for her to compare and contrast, which provides some explanations in a more organic way. Being new also opens up possibilities for conversations. Supporting characters can ask her what she thinks of the new place, or what her old place was like. I try to keep these brief, and also make them reflect the characters. A nosy or curious person might ask a lot of questions. The types of questions, whether they’re shallow and politely conversational or prying, says a lot about them. The answers provided speak to whether the person is open and chatty, or closed, awkward, or defensive.

Progress Report: Day 10

  • Today is day 10 of 90 on my journey to write the first draft of a novel.
  • Yesterday I wrote 615 words, bringing the total to 8,072.
  • That puts me 2,672 words ahead of my target goal, based on writing 600 words per day.
  • I’m currently working on the first scene of the second act, where the main character is trying to make lemonade out of the lemons the first act gave her.

Notes

  • All of this month’s blog posts are going to be collected into an ezine format. I’m not sure if I want to give it away, sell it for a buck as a means of supporting the site, or some combination of both. Your feedback on the matter is appreciated.

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