Monday, June 24, 2013

overdoing it

Last week I posted a link to a video of Jim Butcher interviewing Patrick Rothfuss. The first question Butcher asks relates to Rothfuss's eloquence, i.e. the artful way he writes. Rothfuss mentions, in his answer, that he goes through a lot of revision in his writing process, and that doing so lets him feel free to really "overdo" it, because he knows he'll be able to look at it again later and see if what he's written works, or whether he was just "wanking around."

His words stood out to me. In the course of writing my novel Blood Brothers, my favorite moments tended to be the ones in which I really "overdid it". I had a lot of fun throwing prudence to the wind, and letting the purple prose gush forth. I did carefully evaluate those sections later, and I took the comments of several beta-readers into careful consideration, too--and in the end I almost always chose to let the "overdone" moments stand as they were (or, sometimes, I polished them up a bit). Like Rothfuss says, some readers will be turned away by such writing. But to me these moments are a blast.

Here's one of my favorites, in which the Verlvik character falls off the edge of a cliff:

Falling. Verlvik knew the sensation well. All pictsees did. As children, they spent as much time in the trees as they did on the ground. One thing that every pictsee learned about trees: sometimes you fall out of them.

Falling, therefore, was a familiar sensation for Verlvik. The instant of weightlessness at the start of the fall, the embrace of gravity that followed it, the feeling of the world rushing past you as you plummeted, Verlvik knew all of this as well as he knew the feeling of strong sun on his skin, or of rough bark beneath his feet. He knew falling like he knew the beating of his own heart.

But a key part of what he knew about falling, as key as the double-pulse rhythm of a heartbeat, was landing. Either right-side up or upside down, landing always followed falling. In a way, it consummated the falling experience. By its contrast, and by its inevitability, landing helped to define what falling was. And usually it happened rather quickly, almost always more quickly than you expected.

So in certain ways, as Verlvik fell off the cliff, as he felt the pull of the earth take hold of him and draw him downward, what he felt was quite unfamiliar. As the world plummeted by, and continued to plummet—as the earth’s pull drew him down more and more fiercely—Verlvik discovered that what he was experiencing now was rather different than anything else he’d ever experienced. Without the quick landing to fulfill the rhythm of falling, the sensation of falling became foreign to him. What he had known as intimately as his own heartbeat had become something entirely different, and entirely new.

Perhaps this is why his heart itself was behaving so strangely. At the start of the fall—the moment of weightlessness before gravity took hold—his heart had frozen in a clench. And now as he fell, as he remained suspended in that fall without a landing to return things to normalcy, his heart seemed unable to decide what course it should take. And so it held on, frozen in that clench, unwilling or unable to resume beating as normal.

His heart wasn’t the only thing acting strangely, either. The rope-like locks of his hair, which normally hung limply to the top of his shoulders, now writhed in the wind like snakes. His wide-open eyes flowed with tears, which in itself wasn’t unusual considering that wind, but instead of flowing down his face like tears normally do, these tears ran outward from the corners of his eyes, spreading over his temples, running into his ears.

Verlvik shook his head to clear his ears, and realized that though his heart seemed too stupefied to move, the rest of him still could. And so he turned his head to look at the massive waterfall to his left, and realized with delight that the torrent of water was falling at the exact same speed as he was: dreamily slow.

In fact, watching that water, Verlvik suddenly became convinced that neither the water nor he himself was actually moving at all. It was the cliff walls, and all of the rest of the world, that moved, passing him by.

Verlvik rolled onto his back to look up at where he’d been. He could see the top of the cliff soaring away into the sky. Father Longhair was up there, just a silhouette at this distance, looking down. Verlvik waved to him. It reminded him of being at the bottom of one of the massive forest trees, and seeing someone up at the top. And that led Verlvik to thinking of how trees had to pull water through their roots, and pass it up through their long trunks, to feed their leaves hundreds of feet above the ground. A tree, he decided, was sort of like a waterfall in reverse.

His stupefied heart, the velocity with which the mist-laden air rushed by, and the notion of every tree being a backward waterfall—together it all left Verlvik feeling rather breathless. He rolled onto his stomach again and opened his mouth wide. Air rushed in through his mouth, inflating his lungs, filling his body with moisture-heavy vapor. The mist was inside of him now. The physical form of the Great Goddess was filling him up.

He had fallen hundreds of feet already—or rather, hundreds of feet of the cliffs had passed him by—and he was nearing the thick cloud below. He could see it roiling and tumbling beneath him. The power gathered by the falling water must have been incredible, and when the water reached the bottom of the cliff it hit with enough force to vaporize a part of itself, to turn itself into the cloud, to become the mists ascending above the cloud, to become the heavy rain falling on the tops of the cliffs.

And then he had passed into the cloud. All around him, a white void. He could no longer see the falling water. He could no longer see the cliff walls passing him by. There was no motion, and no time. He was floating in a boundless white nothingness, as if the form of the world no longer existed, or had not yet been born. His lungs felt full to bursting. The Great Goddess was within him, filling him up. And he was within the Great Goddess.

He raised his hands to his face, but the cloud was so thick that he couldn’t see them. Or perhaps they were no longer there. His body had disappeared, had been absorbed into the cloud. His body had been absorbed by the body of the Great Goddess. There was no division between himself and Herself anymore.

Slowly, the white around him began to dim, to darken. The cloud became smoke. The smoke became ash. The ash became coal. And the coal became the black darkness of dreamless sleep.

And then, having returned to a familiar experience, his heart finally released its clench, and began to beat anew.

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