Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Out Of Control

It's been a week and a half now since I last blogged -- sorry.  NaNoWriMo has had me enthralled in its intensity.  I've been following along the synopsis I wrote, and now I'm thinking that I'm gonna force myself to synopsize every book before I write it.  Far from confining the writer as an outline does, I'm finding that having a pre-written synopsis close at hand frees the writer up to be creative while not having to craft the action plan at the same time.

For once, I've hit 30,000 words without an overwhelming feeling of being out of control, in other words.

Out of control is a bad place to be.  I recall numerous times during my years up in Alaska when I suggested that any driver's training course or test should include an exercise in being out of control.  It's easy in the winter -- just pick an empty parking lot that hasn't been sanded yet, get up to speed, and slam on the brakes.

Wheeeeee! *spin spin spin*

When/if you do that, you'll experience one of two reactions.  One, the one that the driver's manual claims to be the best practice, is to have your brain process the "hmm, I'm no longer in control" sensation and make sane, physics-sensitive adjustments to your driving practice.  Specifically, you should either remove your foot from the accelerator/brake area or actually apply a slight acceleration, depending on how far into the skid you are (I know you don't want to hear this, but experience makes a great teacher for which option to choose there).  At the same time, you should gently turn the steering wheel so that the only controllable part of the multi-thousand-pound projectile you're no longer actively piloting is aligned with its actual, physical path. 

That last is, I should point out, kinda like buying "insurance" in a game of Blackjack.  By the time the dealer asks if you want it, the odds are already stacked against you.  There's a really good chance that the dealer has the unbeatable hand, and all you're doing with "insurance" is hoping to minimize your losses.  

Same thing with steering into a skid -- the only reason we call it a "skid" as opposed to "driving" is that you're not going in any of the directions you'd prefer to be going.  On a directional path such as a road, and in particular when there's other traffic around, the fact that you're in a skid means that, odds are, you're going to end up somewhere you don't wanna be, and that eventual end-up will likely be bad.  Turning the wheels into the skid reduces the friction they're going through and gets them turning with the speed of the vehicle, in the hope that something miraculous happens and you, at least momentarily, regain control.  At that point, if and when it happens, you're much more likely to be able to pull back into an appropriate trajectory if you've already aligned your physics with the physics of reality. 

The other reaction is, I think, far more common.  Granted, I have no statistics to back that claim up, but I've seen an awful lot of accidents happen in wintry conditions.  That look on most peoples' faces just as they're skidding sideways through a red light?  Yeah, that's not the "I'm steering into the skid and removing my foot from the accelerator" expression, is it?  No, it's the "OMFG I'm skidding so now is the time to PANIC!" look.  

Along with that look comes a complete aversion to the principles of physics.  Instead of letting the wheels continue to roll with the car, our brains want control, and we want it NOW!, and that can only be achieved, of course, by coming to a complete stop immediately and instantaneously.  Physics says it ain't gonna happen, but our brain at that panic-induced moment of craziness says that it will, and that the way to do it, of course, is to stomp on the brakes harder than the Saints stomped on the Cowboys this past weekend.

At the same time, our knuckles crack due to the extreme force we're applying to the steering wheel, making sure we have a sufficient hold on it while it -- um, doesn't do much -- and then, while we're choking the hell outta the steering wheel, we always make sure to point it in precisely the direction we wish we were going.

The problem?  Wishful thinking ain't physics, man.  But panic doesn't really care, does it?

Hey, I'm not blaming.  I've been there, myself.  Most of us go through the panic phase the first one or two (or dozen) times we lose control.  Many of us also have strong enough psyches that we manage to forget completely about it later, as our psyche convinces our memory (and we hope our mouth convinces the police) that "nah, I didn't do anything that stupid.  I controlled that skid perfectly.  By the book, even."  

Panic is normal, both in driving and in writing, when we lose control.  That's why I've said it's so important to include that in driver's training (and probably, for that matter, in writer's training). That way we'll know how best to deal with it when it happens.

I know I had an important point to make about writing, but it was more fun talking about sliding around on the ice. 


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