A Pocket Watch

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I recently acquired a pocket watch.  It’s an old-fashioned mechanical watch, which means it has to be wound every day.  In the center of the face, you can see the gears moving.  The tick-tick-tick is rapid and soft, like the heartbeat of a bird.

It’s been years since I owned a timepiece that didn’t require a battery.  My home is full of glowing digital clocks.  I’m sure yours is, too.  In the computer age, we’re accustomed to instant information and constant updates, but we’ve sacrificed something beautiful for that knowledge.

We always know what time it is, but we no longer know how to tell time.

I find myself opening my new pocket watch just to see the second hand tick around the mother of pearl face.  The minute hand moves along slowly, in no rush.  It knows it can’t outrun the second hand, nor can the hour hand overtake it.  Everything moves along at an even pace, the gears moving in turn.

I’d forgotten how long a minute can be.

We rush around, especially at this time of year, glancing at our phones or our digital dashboards to see how much time we have to get to the next place or the next thing.  There isn’t much we can do about it.  We all have deadlines and promises to keep, but I can’t help but wonder if much of what we call writer’s block is really just writer’s rush.

I’ll be keeping my pocket watch with me when I sit down to write.  Before I open my laptop or my notebook, I’ll open the watch and do what the name suggests–I’ll watch.  I’ll watch the second hand make its way around the face.  I’ll watch a minute pass.  I’ll listen to the tick-tick-tick.  I’ll let my digital mind slow down.

I’ll make time to write.

 

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Atmosphere

This time of year, you can’t avoid the Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel.  No matter how hard you try.  Trust me.

At first glance, the success of these movies and their popularity with viewers is puzzling.  They’re running a few basic plots that are done over and over again with minor changes in the characters and locations.  The plots are so predictable that you can come in on the middle of one and walk away before it ends, never missing a beat.

This has become a running joke with my husband.  He can come in at the beginning of a movie, ask me what’s going on, and get a full run down from me of how the entire thing is going to play out.

What should be obvious by now is that I’ve gotten sucked into watching quite a few of these.  Why?  I mean, I don’t even celebrate Christmas anymore.  Is Hallmark slipping in subliminal Christmas messages?

I think it’s pretty simple.  As with their mystery series, Hallmark has mastered the art of atmosphere.  Each movie features little towns decked out in impossibly lavish Christmas decorations.  The homes are cozy and festive.  Snow is abundant and pristine–no muddy slush at Hallmark.  Even the characters are dressed in greens and reds.  In the end, wrongs are righted, true love triumphs over misunderstandings and selfish ambition, and the true spirit of Christmas is realized by all.

It’s genius.

The holidays are a stressful and often sad time of year for many people; but 24/7 during the season, you can sit down with a cup of tea or cocoa and enjoy an innocent tale in an ideal town with a guaranteed happy ending.   As a children’s book author, I recognize the need for that sense of warmth and safety in my picture books.  Kids need that more than ever to overcome the effects of social media and the 24/7 news cycle.

But the lesson can apply to any genre.  Where is your story taking place? What does that dark room in an empty house feel like?  What kind of couch does your detective stretch out on at the end of the day, and what is she drinking?  Can your reader feel the story?  How are you engaging their senses?  Can you do it without being too heavy-handed?

Trite, formulaic stortelling is something we all  want to avoid, but we can learn something from those who are successful in spite of being trite and formulaic.  We can learn how to immerse our readers in our story’s world and how to keep them coming back for more.

Hot cocoa, anyone?