Thursday, March 29, 2012

That Invisible Thing

It's a simple test, and unfortunately my wrong world view often resists simplicity. But every once in a while I'm reminded of how well it works and how rarely books pass it. I'm talking about the goosebump test, when people judge the quality of the book they're reading by whether or not it gives them goosebumps. (It works for other things too: love, hairstyles, puppy cuteness, frozen dinner commercials.)

I'm revising Cyberlama--tentatively titled The Monuments--and I'm finally remembering to let the goosebump test guide a lot of my decisions. I was working on a scene that felt pretty boring. I tried to expand it to create more of an experience, but at some point I just felt like I was making a boring scene longer and still boring. Then, I ran through some possibilities in my head, and suddenly, I got them. (Goosebumps, that is.) And I was excited enough to stay up far past my normal bedtime, despite the fact that I knew I'd have to get up early to walk Peanut.

For me, the goosebump test helps to distinguish between when my brain is saying, "Yeah, this is logical and the flow is nice," and my heart is saying, "Ooh, yes, yes, yes! Yes, yes! Yes!" I think readers prefer the latter most of the time.

It's an invisible thing. The right words and the right ideas don't always add up to goosebumps. So for me, someone who often has to fight being too analytical, it's a great test, and I fully endorse it.

1. Don't forget our anthology is available!

2. If any of you ever have a chance to see a ballet choreographed by Angelin Preljocaj, I highly recommend it. I've seen three of them now (last Saturday I watched Blanche Neige at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion), and each time I'm left driven to make my writing more creative, beautiful, and emotional. Preljocaj has sold out by letting Air France use a scene from his ballet Le Parc--which, funnily enough, was the first ballet I saw of his and one I've mentioned here before. It gives me a chance to show it to you.

And if you have 8 minutes to spare. Here's the same scene in context. For me, this passes the goosebump test while the first one does not.


  1. The excerpt from the actual ballet is much more aggressive, surprising and interesting. Which, to me, helps it be a "goosebumps" moment. The ideas in my own books which give me goosebumps are the ideas which are harder to do, more unlikely to happen and are harder on the reader, if you know what I mean.

    I'm willing to hypothesize that there are people who will get goosebumps from art that they find comforting, that fulfills their expectations; there are also people who get goosebumps from art that makes them uncomfortable, that defeats or challenges their expectations. Maybe there's a whole spectrum. I don't know. The more I think about art, the less universal my own responses to it seem to be. Which is, you know, weird.

    1. I was already thinking of MUDBOUND as I read Davin's post, but Scott, when you say, "ideas which are harder to do, more unlikely to happen and are harder on the reader" I almost shouted, "YES!" Except then my dog would have woken up and thought we were going out, and we are not. So instead, I just whispered a tiny yes to myself.

      Although the main scene I mean, in that case, evokes more of a "no, no no!" feeling, but it is hard and stunning and not what I might have had the guts to do. Or maybe just the hold-it-togetherness to do it.

      I am probably making no sense. So I'll just wish you both a happy Thursday!

    2. I get what you mean. Real art is an act of bravery. It takes nerve.

    3. One has to be willing to be unguarded and vulnerable. (I have put a couple of stories out into the world that still scare me when I think that other people might read them.)

  2. I just started watching the actual scene from the ballet that you included and it is beautiful (looking forward to watching the whole thing)- thank you so much for including the link...You know sometimes, the goosebumps come as a purely visceral response to what I'm watching/experiencing but sometimes they come every time a pattern is defied or like in the ballet when an action is surprising yet correct..what I mean is that there is sometimes this slight delay between the goosebumps and my thoughts about what I am watching and those times are almost like a window to what causes goosebumps..(not sure if that made sense)
    Just an observation..not really trying to make a

    btw- did you watch this in LA- where do they play usually?


    1. Lavanya, This ballet company seems to travel a lot. I saw them first in Paris (Le Parc), but the other two times I've seen them have both been here in Los Angeles. Snow White just played last weekend.

  3. Nothing really to add just wanted to say I loved this post!

  4. Thanks for this, Davin! I actually use the goosebump thing too when I'm writing. You know what I find interesting, though? A lot of times I'll hear from people what sections they like best, and they are usually not the sections I wrote with goosebumps. Sometimes it is, though, and that always hits me with the most pleasure. :)


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