“We do not remember days, we remember moments.” — Cesare Pavese
I’m a film buff, something that’s been with me since childhood. In addition to the usual Disney fare growing up (I saw Mary Poppins on original release), my parents also indulged in some choices that some might mark down as questionable parenting. As an adult, I wonder at it from time to time, but it means that I have vivid memories of a monolith on the moon and T.E. Lawrence watching Sherif Ali coming across the empty sands. I saw Paul Newman and Robert Redford pull a con, and, as revivals houses and classic film festival become fashionable, Joan Crawford as Sadie Thompson and Gloria Swanson both as Norma Desmond and the Queen of Silent Cinema she once was. Our local PBS station ran a mix of silent and foreign films on Fridays and Saturdays, so you could often find me in front of the television feasting in Lillian and Dorothy Gish in Orphans of the Storm — or watching Toshiro Mifune taking on a group of bandits threatening a town in Seven Samurai. Now, with channels such as TCM, services like Netflix and a host of films available for instant download from iTunes or Amazon or on DVD or BluRay, it’s much easier to find old and obscure films rather than feeling at times like Indiana Jones as I sought them out.
But while I love films, it really is the moments I remember. The Monolith, Lawrence’s burning sands, the looks between Captain Renault proclaiming he is “shocked” to discover there is gambling going on — just before the croupier hands him his winnings. I can even tell you what my favorite 10 seconds of film of all times is: Gene Kelly with an umbrella, spinning around a rain-swept street. For me, it is pure joy captured on film and makes my heart swell when I see it. Back in 1994, AFI created a short piece entitled “100 Years at the Movies.” It runs from time to time on TCM, but it’s also on YouTube and I’ve embedded it here. Watch it and notice where just a brief clip can give you an immediate emotional response.
As writers, what we capture on the page are moments, both good and bad. Our stories are scenes designed to provoke emotion in our readers. You can tell when you’ve connected because a reader will tell you what moments stood out for them. We strive for that, which is one reason NaNoWriMo is an excellent cauldron for a first draft. We are writing fast and furiously, not stopping to let our inner censors tell us to pull back, not be quite so aggressive on the page. Those are battles to fight when you revise, but once you get that emotion on the page, you’ll find it easier to keep it there. Never fear going too far in a first draft.
Here in the US, today is Thanksgiving, one of those days that often makes moments we remember for the rest of our lives. For those of you with families, enjoy the warmth, mine any drama for inspiration, and, if necessary, you can try using the excuse, “I have to write my words!” if it all becomes too much. (You have no idea how many times I’ve done that.)
For those of you on your own, I wish you well. I’ve been there, too, and I know today and the weeks to come can be some of the darkest of the year in more ways than one.
Best to you and yours today and all the days through the year. If you’re ahead on your word count, you might want to consider that second piece of pie your reward.
Word Count Goal: 40,608