Category Archives: random

Thoughts on Pacing

an image of a moon and stars on a gradient blue background

Pacing is the number one thing that prevents me from connecting to a creative work. Too slow, my mind wanders or I get bored or I just don’t get engaged to the material fast enough to want to keep going. Too fast? It’s harder to understand. I have to be aggressively tuned in or I never get to the point where I care about the characters. Of course, maintaining a steady pace somewhere in the middle doesn’t work either. In that case, everything can blend together due to a lack of contrast. There’s gotta be a nice balance of fast scenes of excitement mixed in with slow moments that are soaking in atmosphere. Variations add life to a story.

These last few years I’ve felt like most ‘popular’ media is too fast. Too much is introduced: there are too many plot lines, too many scene changes, and too many characters. Superhero movies are origin stories and universal conflict all at once. Adventures have people called to action before they even have breakfast. I don’t know these characters, but I am expected to yearn along with them for the journey or for the home they’ve lost. I was never even introduced to that home.

And when the pacing is that quick, it’s not even in media res–done right at least those stories gradually solidify the people and environment. Instead, these frenetic smash-cut extended trailers let details just pile on without any real connection. Every scene only brings more twists and turns and shocks and spasmic quips. This is all well and good for an experiment or a one-shot, but I’d prefer longer form work to have something cohesive connecting everything together. Instead, the connective tissue can be left to the viewer. A lot of heavy lifting is left to the viewer. We have to fill in background details and imagine character motivations and sustain just the right levels of suspended disbelief.

The trend of eight-episode seasons is the culmination of this in episodic works. It’s hard not to see it as a profiteering producer’s idea of fulfilling. Mostly, these shows are just long enough to glimpse something enticing. Even at one hour each, these seasons are only long enough to give a gratifying hit. There seems to be an aversion to the risk of dragging on and losing flavor. Instead, the show feels tuned so that every morsel is always vivid and shined to perfection. Every scene moves the plot forward with faithful doggedness. Scenes where the characters rest or heal or wander feel like someone cut them over and over again to shave off precious seconds. I can almost hear the direction to make them just long enough to break apart two scenes.

However, that tuning means that everything is sanded down until all the edges are gone. All the rough uncertainty is missing. The show goes straight through without even needing digestion. There’s a lack of contrast that isn’t due to a lack of art direction. In fact, plenty of these shows have great art direction. Every frame can feel very much like a painting. However, for many of these shows, that’s just set dressing to hollow messaging. At the heart, the media has no distinction because there’s still no risk. Sometimes, it hardly leaves space for collaborative ideas and fandom.

Because, amazingly a lot of these speedy works are otherwise well developed. The costumes and makeup and effects are beautiful. The actors seem to care and have nailed all their lines. The books have good prose and there’s wit in the construction. But somewhere along the production, invisible hands have sliced away all the breathing and quiet. The worlds have full flesh and muscle and sinew, but then someone painted over the masterpiece to simplify a line.

Of course, one might suppose that this is all just a trend. Maybe this is just what people want right now. Maybe it’s just what sells. And maybe the distaste is just the gradual aging of viewers. Maybe target demographics are no longer targeting me. It is quite easy to dismiss media criticisms as being matters of taste. Someone that dislikes a historical period or body of work might only prefer what they’re used to enjoying. It is easy to want more of the same because that is comfortable, and comfort can be fleeting.

Plus, most of history is only made up of exceptions. The ideas that carry forward through generations have been filtered by time and relevancy. In essence, only the best pieces of the past have made it far enough to be remembered. The past automatically rose-tints itself because we gradually discard the boring or distasteful. I think we generally want to believe that most people are good and that society trends toward bettering everyone’s station.

In the present, we never really know which modern creative works will actually become classics. Things that are considered as instant classics may just be bright flashes in the pan. We may adore certain books or movies or shows, but the future may find all of them to be pitiful reminders of a failed attempt.

Still, I do wish modern creative works would alter their pacing more. I wish everything didn’t feel so rushed. Sometimes? Falling asleep during a movie or show can be good, actually.

— J.A. Waters

Easy Beliefs

a stylized yellow and orange sun over a patchwork green field

It’s easy to believe:
that this is it
it’s all over.

Optimism foolish,
and hope a meager meal.
Seeing a pattern of life defeated:
prevailing winds all sailed.

Much harder is the challenge
to recover, to rebuild
to end the cycled brooding
where harvests never yield.

And it surely doesn’t help
that complexity seems fraught
little nooks and crannies
that only seem to rot.

Yes, simplicity is charming
like an easy winning smile.
It can seem a deft decision
to prune away denial.

But shutting off and shutting down
just mimes an early death,
barely meeting definition,
of fire taking breath.

And it would also be mistaken:
to paint a happy-lucky wash
grimness has its uses
to avoid perspective lost.

Oh, but it’s overwhelming
the grinding of this wheel
scraping skin and breaking backs
under boots of steel.

Which is all the reason
to keep the bridges open
to bind and knit the friendships
that soothe us when we’re swollen.

Because there are no saviors
no single points of success or failure
instead its threes and fours of us
that move this stubborn glacier.

No, it’s not quite the end
not this partial apocalyptic;
we humans still have centuries
despite naysayed insistence.

Hope is still the worthwhile choice
with meaningful resistance
neighbors helping neighbors
mutually aided persistence.

Ever Famous?

Reach for the starrrrrrrs, pardner!Ever Famous?

I overheard an interesting conversation earlier, but it wasn’t really all that interesting for its content. It was interesting because of what it made me think of. Snippets of some other life are like that. A lot of the time they inspire more than they intrigue.

Anyway, the thing I overheard made me think of topic I think about fairly often. I was sitting at a coffee shop, of course, and scrolling through random online media. Also of course. I was lending half-an-ear to the surrounding people. It was busy. Being a payday weekend, everyone was out shopping and perusing the wares of a strip mall I dropped into in search of house wares. I needed an airtight container where I could seal my cereal in defense against stale flakes and bugs.

The people at the coffee shop were also busy and moving fast to stay busy. Most weren’t sticking around long enough to strike up a proper conversation with their companions. They waited for their drinks with an impatiently cocked hip or with the kill-some-time swipes through their phone. Most of the snippets of conversation were about where to go next, the latest political nightmare, or how many calories some drink had.

There was, however, one group of friends that had taken up residence one table over. As friends do, they were making fun of one another for random things.

One didn’t understand the difference between a normal bank and a credit union. They were declared to be ignorant, stupid, and “Haven’t you heard of Google?”

Another was surprised to learn that you were required to have insurance to own a car. That resulted in less insults and more bitter agreement that such a rule was a terrible inconvenience.

But for the most part, whatever they said, as soon as one of them spoke up about something, the others made fun of that something.

One of the friends mentioned a hobby of collecting quarters. For non-Americans, or perhaps those Americans that don’t look at their coins, she was referring to the quarters with specific designs on them. It’s a campaign by the U.S. Mint called “America the Beautiful” that releases new quarters every year for states and notable places throughout the United States. They’ve been in circulation since 2010 and have 54 distinct designs on the backs of quarters.

The response to the young woman’s hobby was mostly negative. There was one friend that offered a generic, “That’s kinda cool.” The remaining reactions ranged between “That’s dumb.” and “That’s useless.”

Useless was the keyword that got me thinking.

Now, granted this is a group of friends that seems to have fun with making fun. They were all smiles as they insulted one another about trivial things. Maybe they don’t even believe what they’re saying. Some people like saying things for the sake of a laugh or to get a rise out of someone. So, the content of their conversation was mostly fluff. Not all that important.

But, it got me thinking.

My hobby, though it’s probably clear in some fashion, is writing. I like to write. I like to create things in general, but in particular I like to write. The main thing I write are fiction stories. That’s fun. One day, maybe, I’d like to publish one of my stories as a book.

Though, I often ask myself a question of little value. At least, I don’t value the question that much because I’ve come to believe that the question doesn’t matter. I only still ask it because part of me frets over stupid things. It’s difficult to stop yourself from fretting over stupid things.

But, how many people read a book? Not like, how many people buy the book. Not even how many people open the book to look at it. But how many people actually read it? The whole thing. The people that turn every page. Whisper every word. Hang on the end of each sentence and rush into the next.

Now, every book has a different audience, and every reader is not necessarily reading for the same reason. But, let’s pretend that we’re talking about those that want to read it. For whatever reason.

There are people, websites, organizations, that analyze this kind of thing. Of course there are. There are a billion sources of data in the world these days. We’re all little bits of someone else’s tracking system, right? And yet that data isn’t so easy to get at most of the time. Or it’s not very easy to digest. And so we often rely on nice bite-sized tidbits that give us the approximation of an idea. As usual, the curse of simplification is that it obscures the truth.

We like narratives. We like a story. We like an idea that’s been honed and sharpened and whittled down to something clever and pretty. Even if it is a repeat of a repeat.

For instance. Physical books are continually declared dead, alive, reborn, or somewhere in between. Zombie books seem to be doing well.

But what about the data? Well take some American Pew Research for one data point. Reading is declining! There are people that haven’t read a book all year! Well. Yeah. Not surprised. But what does this measure? How do we measure reading anymore in a world of content? These studies focus on the term “book” in a way that doesn’t account for other things that involve reading. What about online serials? What about in-game content for MMORPGs and games in general? Does it count if people only read screenplays? Or if they read magazines, or comics, or pamphlets, or zines, or whatever else by the dozens?

Data is meaningless, after all.

And The Long Tail continues to lengthen. Niches can forever get more specific. And that isn’t any kind of surprise. Between self-made bubbles, social media bubbles, and good ol’ cognitive bias, the easiest path is selectivity.

We do tend to focus on the things that interest us. Fortunately, now we can actually find more of whatever interests us with minimal effort. We’re not trapped to some localized version of the world. The town we live in no longer controls our information flow. Gone are the days of monoculturism and all hail the rise of globalization! Now everyone will be the same!

Right? Well. Maybe not.

Really, our neighborhoods, our communities, have moved to the cloud. The borders and walls between cultures have gone digital. Now we can just ignore the pieces of the world that we don’t care for.

We can each be uniquely more individual than ever before.

So. Collecting quarters. Useless? I dunno. What’s useful? A skill that brings about profit and a livelihood? Since when has that mattered when it comes to hobbies? Does something have to bring an eventual goal of wealth to be pursued? That doesn’t seem very fun.

I mean, don’t we all do something as a “day job” that’s useful so we can do the useless thing at night?

So, how many people read a book? How many people will read my book? My stories? One?


And if it is zero, should I care?

Nah. After all. I wrote it to fill my own special personal niche space of preference.