Prolonging The Magic: Capturing Emotion

Another day, another dime. And various other cliches about climbing back on the treadmill and getting back to it. Today may not be my most brilliant entry, as I didn’t sleep well and still haven’t completely woken up, but the point of this blog is to prepare myself for my writing day, so away we go.

Seeing as the mental gears aren’t all clicking together just yet, I thought I’d take an opportunity to dip back into the same writing prompt well that I used on Friday. Today’s topic is what comes to mind when someone uses the phrase “prolonging the magic”. I chose this topic originally because I’ve often pondered it within the context of photography and wondered how it might also apply to writing.

I’m a big fan of the blog Internet K-Hole, best described by someone more eloquent than I as a “fascinating collection of ephemera”. The concept is to post photos from the pre-Internet era, just random photos from all walks of life. The humanity that these photos capture is really quite stunning. I recommend checking it out, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. The latest update included a series of photos from the 70s that really caught my eye – including the photo to the right. It took me the longest time to figure out why this photograph captivated me so, and I believe that I’ve put it together at last. It’s a question of Prolonging the Magic. It’s a photo of an essentially dead era and culture, something that went before but is here preserved for…well, near-eternity, a moment suspended, a time capsule from that era.

Making it all the more fascinating is that when I calculated the ages of the people in the photograph today, I learned that they now must be approaching their 70s, if they’re not already there. My first reaction was perspective: to truly grasp how fleeting our time here on Earth is, once again. I’ve already witnessed some hints of this with today’s youth “discovering” the culture of the 90s and their fascination with it.

My second reaction was to marvel at the duality of our attempts to capture moments: because we realize just how ephemeral our lives are, we’ve attempted to capture those moments in so many different forms over the years. To prolong the magic of something that cannot be prolonged. Really, I think it’s the crux of our existence, the essential humanity of our struggle against the tides of time. Writing may be one of the few places where we see a push and pull between that instinct and an instinct for a more lasting immortality.  I see the question so often: how do you manage to be timeless when you’re a product of your own culture and time? How do you avoid falling into the trap of trying to capture a moment and instead create something that evokes its own time and place?

I don’t think it’s possible, frankly. Even the most “timeless” of classics betrays the era in which it was created in some way. Characters don’t use phones, or if they do, they use land-lines. Characters reference dated humor. Characters use the slang of their time. Everything betrays the place and time in which a work was created, and I think that’s okay. The question of creating something immortal and outside of its time is, I think, something of a false dilemma.

The true question that lies behind the issue of timelessness is whether a work captures humanity. There’s the real issue, and it’s not an easy one. I certainly have no tried-and-true model for doing so, though I strive to do so in every single work. My only bit of advice is to try to truly connect with your characters and understand what it is about them that makes them people, rather than pawns. Fads, media, slang, humor, all come and go, but the human emotional experience has remained the same for at least hundreds of years and most likely the entirety of our time on Earth. That’s the key to becoming “timeless”: harnessing the power of human emotion and tying it into your story, even if it’s the most genre of works.

Today’s link is to fellow writer Jill Elizabeth’s site. Here she reviews books, talks about writing much like I do, and shares some of her ideas. I’ve only been reading for a few days but I’m already a big fan. Check her out!

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  1. Pingback: I’m on My Way to Famous or Hooray, She Said! | All Things Jill-Elizabeth

  2. I had to stop by because Jill guest-posted on my blog today, and I really enjoyed this post, too. There is something truly fascinating about other people’s photographs, when we have a few clues as to context, but our minds seem perfectly willing to fill in some of the missing backstory. Great work truly is timeless. We may not use all of Jay Gatsby’s slang anymore, but we understand how he feels about Daisy.

  3. Thanks Erin! Just checked out your blog – may have to give it a mention sometime soon, too. Agreed about the power of other people’s photographs; there’s sometimes enough there to fill in at least a decent short story, sometimes more. In fact, it hadn’t occurred to me until just now that that could be a viable option for brainstorming new ideas. Hmmm. 🙂 And yes totally agree, that’s exactly what I was trying to say about what a “timeless” quality is.

  4. Pingback: Ultra Timeless Reality « dead beat poet

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