The need for speed ( awareness): N M Browne
I have to go for a speed awareness course today. Mea culpa.
I wouldn’t like you to get the impression that I’m unaware of speed: I am all too aware of it. I hate running or cycling down hill, skiing is impossible because I’m frightened of being out of control. I’m not some wild boy, or even girl, racer, I am just confused about the speed limits in my new locale. I moved to Cheltenham recently and Gloucestershire has a surfeit of cameras and a deficit of speed signs: much like life, in fact.
In general, driving apart, I am prone to doing things too fast and too carelessly - cooking, child rearing, shopping, form filling even on occasions novel writing. I don’t think I ever learned the right speed for any of them because if anyone gave me any advice I wasn’t paying attention: I missed the signs and had to make it up with a bit of guess work, and a hazy memory of something I read in the highway code thirty years ago. Well, I’ve already confessed how well that worked out.
I’ve been thinking about speeding and novels partly because of the awareness course and because of Nanowrimo, or 'National Novel Writing Month' in which the speed of writing is everything. Never mind the quality feel the word count. Participants are supposed to write 50,000 words in a month. I think I will have only done around 40,000 by the end of the week, but I’m not beating myself up because novels like cars can be driven too fast: they can plough through country lanes at a pace which misses all the interesting scenery. The fascinating character hitch hiking, can be overlooked when a novel is too intent on getting to the motorway. The narrative advantages of meandering B roads with their varied vistas and useful twists and turns are too easily ignored if the main concern is speed. With my current story I’m not sure I’ve found the most scenic route yet or the most compelling destination, but that’s OK. I have been writing a long time and I seem to be marginally more familiar with narrative speed rules than the highway ones. I know there is no correlation between the speed at which a novel gets written and its quality. I also know that it takes time and patience to get the speed of the story right and that the fastest, high action parts of the story are often the slowest to write as they take more page time. I am aware that the slower, more contemplative parts often have to be quicker so that the reader doesn’t get bored and the story doesn’t lose all tension. Of course, a novel which is too fast doesn’t cost the writer penalty points, but it may prove impossible to enjoy or to sell.
Of course, as in large parts of Gloucestershire, there is no sign to tell you that your story has been captured proceeding at seventy miles an hour in what should be a built up area with lots of detail and character development (and probably some street lights) which requires a maximum of thirty. Or maybe there is a sign and you just have to be more alert in order to discover it.
I have been driving a long time and I need a speed awareness course. I have been writing a long time too and a reminder of the need to curb my speed is no bad thing either.