My beer buddies and I met last night. While drinking beer, discussions roamed over politics, personal adventures, news articles and science. Eventually we touched upon coding software programs.
Seven of us were drinking and chatting. Although from different disciplines of science, all had experience writing some computer programs, mostly using FORTRAN or BASIC variations. As we spoke, we talked about how hard and interesting it can be to reverse engineer somebody else’s code. We all think differently and what seems logical to one makes no sense to another.
But if you’re a good detective, you figure out predisposition and identify trends. Once you gain insight into their methodology, reverse engineering becomes much easier. In that sense, reverse engineering is a wonderful logic problem although they’re usually pretty intense; stalking one thread of code to its callouts, routines and results can be tortuous, requiring deep concentration for most of us. For example, I always liked writing in modules. I often created a number of sub-routines and called them out as part of nested loops. To understand my code, you need to understand the subs.
I later realized coding and fiction writing shared common cores. The author of each brings certain preferences. In fiction, we come to appreciate writers and their styles. They become favorites. Part of it is their voice and style, how they render the scenes, fold in exposition, contrast with action and illuminate with dialogue. Others are terrific at plotting, laying out serpentine trails. Following them, you wonder, where the hell is this thing going?
All of this ends up as a signature, the same sort of signature we see on many other levels of human behavior and activity. Serial killers establish a style as much as writers, as do politicians, economists, coaches and teams, politicians, musicians and dancers. Probably the toughest thing for each of us is to recognize our signature and understand it. With each, too, once you understand your signature, you work on what doesn’t work and maximize what does work. As a writer, if you’re going to really achieve something, you must massage that signature into something special, something so memorable that when others read it, they remember your signature and look forward to your next offering.
We even see this displayed in blog posts. Some are read for their straightforward delivery of information and opinion. Many posters, like me, are thinking through their lives and days. People check in on us as much to see what’s going on as anything. Others write with wonderfully lyrical prose, spinning simple activities into delightful swaths of poetry and imagery. More bloggers still surprise us with new or comic takes on our culture and existence or introduce us to deeper nuances of other cultures. The beauty of all of them is that each is a learning opportunity.
That’s why I read as much as I can, fiction, non-fiction, whatever, from any source and a spectrum of eras and opinions. I understand my signature and recognize its many weaknesses. Reading others help me absorb what they do. Read them enough and it starts showing up in my signature.
Which takes me back to software coding. In the early days, while trying to grasp what others did and how it worked, it simply made more sense to take it apart. Then I adopted what I perceived as the good stuff and dropped the rest, and eventually evolved my own style. So it goes with fiction. I read, I write, and I try, striving to refine my signature.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com