Last night I actually got off my lazy ass and went to the cardio room at the gym while my daughter was at her dance class. As is usually the case, I was exposed to weird new television shows I’ve never heard of.
I’m still not sure what this show was actually called, but it involved a group of people living somewhere that looked like my worst nightmare–snow and ice covered land for as far as the eye could see–and they were shooting geese or some kind of large fowl. I had my Rihanna blasting in my ear as I tortured myself on the elliptical, and between the music and the guy to my right sounding as if he was going to keel over and die at any moment, I was too distracted to hear or read much of what was going on.
But, I don’t think that mattered. It still looked like the most boring show I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Granted, I’m no hunter. The biggest thing I’ve ever shot in my life was a potato, and I couldn’t tell you the caliber of gun I used or anything else about it except that it was pretty fun to shoot. Still, it got me wondering about what we as a society find so damn fascinating about these reality shows detailing the day-to-day life of ordinary people.
Then I remembered something from an article I had read a year or so ago. I’m not sure where I read it, but it was a piece written by a writing professor from some college. He was writing about the importance of slowing down in your writing, the ways in which you can make ordinary occurrences seem wondrous. He described how, at the beginning of the year, he would have his students write an exciting scene. He’d give them something really crazy to start with, tell them to write the most exhilarating short story they could from this high-octane writing prompt. Next, he would have them write about something mundane, a boring scene everyone had experienced before, something no one would ever think was worthy of a story prompt.
His conclusion? The “boring” stories were always more fascinating than the “exciting” ones. The students really had to dissect the boring scenes, fill them with detail, slow the shutter speed and pay attention to every single aspect of the setting, characters, and voice to make it work. When they wrote the adrenaline-pumping scenes, they depended too heavily on the situation and forgot about the setting, characters, and voice, leaving the scene empty and one dimensional.
As I went up and down on that damn butt-punishing elliptical machine, I realized it was the same with all these reality shows. There’s just something about becoming intimately acquainted with geese-hunters and swamp people that excites us. Same for fat dance moms or no-talent, semi-famous pretty people. People who hoard cats and newspaper clippings. These people aren’t overly fantastic or unique. They’re just under the microscope, and we love anything we can see at such a close, personal level.
Which is great news for me, since I’m finishing a novel about the oldest, most abused themes used in literature since… well, since the beginning of literature.
I just need to slow it down, find a new angle, and bring you all in, mesmerizing you with my detail and fervor until you’re the metaphorical equivalent of a 32 year old mother of two killing herself on an elliptical machine while staring up at a large flat-screen TV, wondering why the hell she is so emotionally invested in the gutting and cooking of a Canadian Goose.