Recently, I had the opportunity to observe a hospitalized teenager (someone I didn’t know) suffering from bulimia. It was tough to watch her eat and then regurgitate her food a few minutes later, only to slowly chew and swallow it back down again. It was even tougher to understand why this young woman looked more like a famine victim than the slender, beaming teenager she had been. (I saw a photo by her bed.) The teen seemed to have a lot of things going for her: intelligence, career goals, a loving supportive family who visited every day, and friends. She also happened to have a gorgeous face. But truly, her body was down to the bare bones. Her collar bone and vertebra protruded noticeably; her arms were merely two sticks layered in flesh.
A few weeks later, I was reading a novel as I always do before sleeping. A couple of times, when I put the book down, I thought of the emaciated teen, though I wasn’t sure why. The novel was a sci-fi thriller and none of the characters had an eating disorder. Food was scarcely mentioned in the story. But when I began to analyze the writing, I realized something was missing. Here was a book with an intriguing concept, memorable characters, and a fast pace, yet there was almost no narrative description. The story moved forward on dialogue, a trend I see more often all the time. A trend I’ve also followed.
These days, there’s a certain amount of pressure to tell a quick-paced story to hold readers’ short attention spans. The downside is that the strive for fast, thrill-a-minute reads can take a toll on one’s work. Certainly, there are readers who love the heavy-dialogue style and habitually skip narrative descriptions, and I was one of them. But I’ve begun to look at things differently. Now, I want to flesh out of my work, especially in short stories where the goal to tell a story in as few words as possible can pare a story down to the bare bones, and that’s not always a good thing. I now want to achieve a better balance between narrative and dialogue, and take time to tell a story.
Life is all about balances. And when something goes out of sinc, it reflects on the quality of life and the quality of one’s writing. Sometimes, it’s almost impossible not to succumb to pressure, whether real or imagined. And it’s really tough to look at your work and yourself as a writer, in a different way. But look we must. Painful as it might be. In the long run we’ll be better for it.
To read excerpts of Taxed to Death and Fatal Encryption visit www.debrapurdykong.com