Burke and Wills

The next snippet tells us what Ort is supposed to be doing.

I should be doing Burke and Wills. They don't seem very bright blokes.

On one level, this is that same pattern we’ve seen already: detail + commentary.

In this snippet, the detail is an obligation (“I should be doing X…”) and the expansion is a judgment (“They don’t seem Y…”)

If nothing else, aim to write each of those types of statement in your variation.

But if you want to look more closely, this snippet is the gateway to everything that makes the overall passage work.

You’ll see as we go through these lessons that Tim Winton builds emotion and meaning by reusing and reincorporating specific details.

So pay attention here to Burke and Wills; they’ll reappear later.

Something else you’ll see as we go is the way in which Winton chooses details that have a certain kind of resonance, based on their association with death, decline, failure, and so on.

Some of these will be more obvious than others. 

Burke and Wills is a non-obvious example. To get the resonance, you have to know that Burke and Wills were pair of early Australian explorers who led a doomed expedition to traverse the continent from which they never returned. 

But if you do know Burke and Wills, this detail will trigger certain resonances in the back of your mind, making you think of death, doom, and people leaving and never returning, and so on.

We’ll see other resonant details as we proceed through these lessons.

Symbols vs resonance

Recurring, resonant details in stories are often called symbols. We’ll avoid that term here because we find it a little too analytical, and discussion of symbols can turn texts into a kind of logic puzzle that might not helpful for learning how to write. 

So we’ll stick with the more musical term resonance, which might be a more accurate description of what’s really going on.

When you strike a key on a piano, you not only hear the note you played, you hear a bunch of other tones as strings vibrate in sympathy with the primary note.

A similar process happens with words: when someone says a word, other words/thoughts/ideas will resonate in your mind in response (assuming they exist in your mind in the first place, and you associate them with the primary word).

The notes above have a lot of theory around detail, symbolism, resonance and association. 

It’s not realistic to expect you to come up with all these great resonant and reusable details in this exercise, so relax. 

Focus on coming up with concrete details—that’s your first goal.

But if some particularly resonant details, images or words come to mind, incorporate them as you go, and we’ll try to reincorporate them later.

I should be cleaning the office. That place is never clean enough.

I should be churning the butter. We need it for dinner.

Write your variation here.