Black Ice


With temperatures across the country soaring, leaving everyone to seek out creative ways to avoid the heat and stay cool, I thought I'd post one of my analogies from a couple years ago that might do the trick.  Hope you enjoy it.

Anyone from a predominantly cold climate is probably intimately familiar with the term Black Ice.  For those of you lucky enough to claim ignorance, it refers to a type of hazardous road condition that occurs when ice with few air bubbles cover the throughways, making it virtually transparent.  Many an accident has been caused by drivers cruising along until they hit a patch of the slick coating and find themselves suddenly fighting to maintain control of their vehicle.

What you may not be aware of, we as writers have our own sort of Black Ice to guard against.  Moreover, this is a peril of our own making.   

There’s your reader, traveling down the road you’ve paved for him with your eloquent prose, losing themselves within the world you’ve created, when suddenly it happens.  Their attention wavers and they lose traction.  They begin to do something universally feared by writers of all content, they begin to skim.  Forced to jump ahead, searching for stable footing, an attempt to re-connect with the story line that had become abruptly burdensome.  Why? What happened?  The author failed to detect the Black Ice he unknowingly allowed to creep into his work.  It’s the material that bogs down exposition by including too much descriptive detail, mundane character interactions, or a plot contrivance that over-stretches the limits of believability.  It could even be the result of sagging momentum (see The Scooter Method). Consequently, the reader becomes distracted, or even worse, annoyed because they find themselves slipping through paragraphs or even whole pages.  Whatever the reason, the reader goes on the alert and the author’s reputation has taken a hit.

So how can we as writers prevent Black Ice from sabotaging our own work?  By its very definition, it’s extremely hard to detect by ourselves.  We re-read our stuff so many times its hard not to skim.  This is an area where our beta readers and critique groups are so crucial.  Consider them the salt or sand preventing the ice from taking hold in the final draft.  Used properly they can highlight sections where they feel themselves being taken out of the flow of the story, especially useful for first time authors. 

To be fair, skimming is just as much about the make-up of the reader as it is the intent of the writer.   That is why we have to work twice as hard to make sure we don’t give them any reason to slip.  Glue them to the page.  Clear away anything where ice can form.  Some of our most prolific authors would do well to remember this particular hazard.  It is our responsibility and shouldn’t be shirked in the name of we can’t please everyone. 

Let’s face it, no matter how hard we try and the measures we employ, some amount of Black Ice will probably sneak in anyway.  The occasional slip and slide can be forgiven.  But continually turning a blind eye to the problem will eventually impact readership, and status.

What about you?  Do you have a method for spotting Black Ice?  Care to share?   

38 comments

  1. This is a great analogy! That black ice can be deadly.

    Hmm. For me, the best way to spot this is to take some time away from the MS, and come back to it with fresh eyes. I think that lets me see it more as a reader, and less as a creator.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lengthy exposition isn't my style, but I can mess up in other areas. That's why my test readers and critique partners rock!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Your analogy works quit well. Even though I'm not from a colder climate, Texas has its moments where the conditions are just right - or wrong, depending on how you look at it - and those dangerous patches blend into the road, inviting disaster.

    And that is the same disaster that happens with stories when those same patches pop up. It really is helpful have another set of eyes detect those, help throw a little sand out there to keep the reader moving full speed ahead.

    ReplyDelete
  4. DL, I was so transfixed looking at the snow and trees, I couldn't even read your analogy! But you helped me in a wonderful way. My mental body temperature went down to a cool degree! :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Perfect analogy for writing, DL, and I almost forgot how hot it is outside!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've hit black ice in both my car and the book I'm currently reading. Great analogy. I have a teeny tiny voice when I'm editing that lets saying, 'boring'. I don't always listen.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Black ice is scary! Great analogy

    ReplyDelete
  8. Black ice is scary! Great analogy

    ReplyDelete
  9. Black ice was scary when I lived in Canada. Once we spun out of control and hit a fire hydrant. It's worse when there is a sprinkling of snow.

    Love how you related it to writing. It's so important to have others closely examine your work so they catch the mistakes.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I think it's almost impossible to detect black ice in your own writing. I did take an editing class where we were asked to pick out the 10 weakest scenes. If you can cut it and a reader wouldn't miss it, then you should. That was an eye-opener.

    ReplyDelete
  11. You know you've been following someone too long when you can recognize an old post just with the title... lol.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Black ice is so treacherous. Great analogy too. I'm so glad I have golden crit buddies who help me spot that ice in my work - it's hard to find on my own!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I know my current WIP is full of black ice. My poor critique partners have been skidding all over the place.

    Hoping to fix it up in Draft 2, but first I've got to finish Draft 1. Can't fix words that aren't written!

    ReplyDelete
  14. What a terrific analogy. We rarely encounter black ice here in Georgia, and I THINK I've eliminated most of it from my book. If I have a "sliding problem" in my writing, I reckon it's more a case of occasionally skidding off the main plot and onto a side story. Not too bad, as long as I find my way back onto the main road fairly quickly without plowing into too many trees.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I have so much black ice, I've gotten the ice skates out... and only my CPs/readers can point out the danger!

    ReplyDelete
  16. My CP's are amazing at detecting these for me. Often my head goes faster than my fingers and bam, I'm in a ditch.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Perfect analogy. Skidding and skimming are both dangers to be avoided at all costs.

    ReplyDelete
  18. This is very relevant to me in Scotland! Driving at night in winter can be terrifying. With the writing, I suppose it would be worse if you're speeding first. If you're writing fast, the momentum is there, but it would all be easy to lose control, in the push to keep going. Great post!

    ReplyDelete
  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Awesome post:) Love the Black Ice analogy.

    For me I find that if I'm getting bored in what I'm typing then, I take a break and come back to it with a fresh perspective.

    ReplyDelete
  21. great analogy. i skim, my son skims. if i catch myself skimming too much, i put the book down.

    reading my own stuff, i hate removing parts, but i see where i might be repeating or saying unecessary things sometimes so it must be "salted."

    ReplyDelete
  22. Or they could lose interest because we've confused them by leaving out vital information.

    ReplyDelete
  23. This is a great analogy and so very true. In addition to letting others read my work, I also let my writing sit for long periods of time (sometimes years) before I return to them with fresh eyes.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Black ice is such a great image for the skimming issue. I'll have that pic in my head now while I'm revising. I still have a scary spinning memory from hitting black ice on a ski trip. Luckily it didn't end in an accident, just a massive gut burning freak out.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Love the posting and the comparison. I am sure some have a time or two hoped that I would slide on real black ice like the time I did in my dads car and hit that guard rail. :/ I do like your take on writing. I have a.d.d. so if I am reading a book, it has to grip me on the first page otherwise I can quickly be distracted.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Well, if ever I move up North I know what "Black Ice" is now. As a humor writer, I try to say something humorous, then something profound and tie it in with an illustration. I do that about 10 times to keep people from skimming and only hope they don't.

    This is such a great analogy and I feel proud to know something about ice that my neighbors probably don't know! I feel "edumacated!"

    ReplyDelete
  27. Black ice...ugh! SUCH a good analogy. I've only recently discovered the magic of critique partners, and I plan to get a beta reader after they finish. Hopefully that'll cure me of any black ice I may have (: Awesome post!

    I really appreciate the follows on Twitter and my blog. :D I hope it doesn't seem too sudden that I nominated you for an award. (: > http://www.flamecycle.blogspot.com/2012/07/my-first-award.html

    ReplyDelete
  28. I'll echo a few other people~ critique partners are how I try to avoid black ice in my manuscripts. Don't know how I ever got by without them (for a long time, my shyness got in the way of my writing's improvement).

    ReplyDelete
  29. Great analogy. As a reader, I don't skim. I put it down and don't pick it back up. As a writer, that's more worrisome than skimming. I love my CP too.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Great post! I like really high-octane action and tension, and feel a lot of really popular books have slow parts. So, in my own writing, I pack a lot of action in, and after the first draft I even have to go back and interject brief 'down time' between scenes so the reader gets a little break. I use index cards to keep track of the flow between scenes - I give each scene an action rating and spread them out so I can visually see the flow. So, I would imagine this method would be helpful for the opposite, when a writer wants to interject more action and tension. But that's just how I do it, there are of course tons of other methods (which is one of the things that's so fascinating about writers).

    By the way, I heard over at Alex's that you're getting published in an anthology - congrats!!!

    ReplyDelete
  31. Totally unrelated: I was in Idaho last week and we stopped at a gas station. They had Black Ice scented car refreshers. I wonder what that smells like??

    Anyway, as to black ice and writing: yes! It's so hard to detect in our own writing. For me, I try to go beyond the story and examine the words. Am I using enough? Too many? The right ones? Will a different do a better job? So then it's editing not on a plot or character level, but on the actual line level. That helps me a little bit.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Great analogy, Don! I have some great critique partners that tell me the truth when the read for me....Hopefully, they help me avoid black ice.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Love it! I usually let a ms sit for a few months and then return with my virtual shears and cut anything that makes my eyes glaze over. It's hard to notice at first cuz we're so bogged down with our characters and the plot, we disregard the flow. I've cut thousands of words from past stories after months of letting it sit.
    Another way to do it is read bestselling novels right before going in for revisions. It helps me notice when my work is less than stellar.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Wow, that's an awesome analogy. To take it a step further, here in Canada we know not to jump over a patch of ice, because you might land on black ice (a foreign colleague did this last winter and broke his leg!). The same way that writers can't tell their readers "okay, I know this bit drags, but wait till you get to Chapter 5!"

    ReplyDelete
  35. Great analogy. I think it is nearly impossible to see black ice in our own writing. That is why crit partners and beta readers are so important.

    ReplyDelete
  36. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Definitely familiar with black ice. Great job with the analogy; I definitely need to find a way to watch for that in my writing.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Oh, I'm guilty of skimming. I have to read a lot of books to review and if there's a part I can skim, I will. It's always narration too. Usually when it gets overly descriptive because that's not my thing.

    ReplyDelete

 

Archives

Blog Blitz

Design by: The Blog Decorator