9.15.2020

The Mindless Loops, Part 1

Writers who want to narrate a story more from a character’s point of view often face a blank wall inside their minds. How, they ask, can I know what a fictional entity is thinking? They don’t think like me, because that would be too boring. This core difficulty seems insurmountable, and yet writing that way is one of a writer’s most important marks of progress.

One method is to pick apart how people think. A habit we all share is brooding about a topic that is bothering us. While this pattern is less noticed during the day, when frequent interruptions cut the sessions short, anyone who has lain awake at night, unable to sleep, experiences the phenomenon full-blown.

By way of a demonstration, let’s take a gaffe at a party. Shame sears most deeply in our consciousness, and that is what will come first to mind in retrospect. Maggie, say, remembers what she said to Sharon, the look on her face, the reactions of those immediately surrounding—whether these are known or not. What impact will the gaffe have? Will Sharon tell others? Why did I tell her, of all people? The list of neurotic possibilities can spiral outward, and the loop can start up all over again, only with supplied variations. The paradigm shifts—Sharon has no reason to tell anyone, it really wasn’t that big a deal, and on and on—until we look at the clock and realize an hour has passed and we still can’t fall asleep.  

The subjects change day by day, because we brood mainly about what is fresh in our mind. They also remain trivial, for the most part, because we don’t do anything consequential on most days. Same old routines, same old thoughts. We even relive old loops when, for instance, our mother calls and starts banging away on us about why she should fire her landscaper—and it’s somehow our fault.

A writer’s first step in the process is recording a loop. That is not as difficult as it seems, because our thoughts tend to be statements of fact—from our point of view at the time. You can write out a paragraph about the gaffe (to use that example), listing where it happened, what you said and what was the reason for saying it, the look on Sharon’s face, and what you fear will happen. 

Now turn to the positive view. In a new paragraph you write not the dark, awful reason you said what you did, but the version in which you are justified, where Sharon would understand you are right. You re-interpret the look on her face. You put a positive spin on what she might do with your gaffe, if she does anything at all. Why, really, should she bother?

The difference between the two paragraphs lies entirely in your deliberate spin on the incident. That’s how people think. They recall what happened through a filter. In this case, you have deliberately applied the one you want.

(To be continued.)

Copyright @ 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.







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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.