Ten minutes, perhaps less. Use straightforward language. Simple sentences. No Jamesian syntax or vocabulary David Foster Wallace would likely approve of. The tone could either be sad, or it could be self-deprecating. Maybe both.
The story is going to be about friendship. More than that, it is a story about the loss of that friendship.
In “Hang the DJ,” the fourth episode of the fourth season of the British TV series Black Mirror, its premise takes on an expedient approach to speed dating. In its world those who seek true love are placed in a simulation called the System, in which theyfind themselves paired off with seemingly random people. Embarking on a relationship of sorts, they each then try to get to know one another within a certain period of time (lasting anywhere between a few minutes to short of a year), after which they each go their separate ways to be then paired off with their next match. These couples are not always smitten with each other; some relationships are purely sexual and superficial. The System’s algorithm tries, through collection of personal data from each relationship, to match their users with his or her perfect mate—or in the case of the episode’s protagonist, his 99.8% match.
Written by Charlie Brooker, the whole premise makes for an interesting hour of television, not to mention an apt commentary in the age of Tinder and social media. But isn’t that how it really is in real life? With each failed relationship you gain a little more insight about yourself, what you really want and what you need. Through the process of trial and error you learn what your tastes and preferences really are. You understand yourself a little better. And in turn, you get a clearer picture of what you want out of a relationship, out of a partner.
Writers, especially young writers, new writers, writers who have not had that much experience with the craft, are often advised to write what they know, write stuff about which they can say something, anything. Although on the whole I do not find it an unsound advice—in fact it is a great way to jumpstart the mind, get the juices flowing—I believe there is a better way to go about it. Instead of writing what you do know, write about the things that you don’t. Write not about falling in love, say, but about how that certain someone makes you feel and why you think it is love you’re feeling in the first place. Don’t write about the beauty of the sun sinking under the horizon, or the tranquil glow of freshly fallen snow on the pavement; write about the visceral responses these visual cues trigger in you. Write about art and death, about feminism and patriarchy and racial inequality. Writing this way forces the mind to engage with a concept, to thread a coherent narrative line in order to make sense of it, render it less obscure, understand it. And there are plenty of things I don’t know.