Watching Paint Dry
The last few days I’ve been running a data pump to automate creating several thousand users I can use to run a load test. Unfortunately, no matter how carefully I organize it, I have no choice but to interact with the website through a script which acts as though it’s a user doing things, just faster than a user actually can work.
Which means that while that part is running, I can’t do anything else, lest my keyboard or mouse make something unexpected happen.
Not to mention, even with the best effort, when you’ve got something in the vicinity of 16 to 20 hours runtime (without interruption or problems), things go wrong. The timing gets a bit off and the next thing you know you’ve got the wrong data in the field and the system barfs.
So I have to nurse it and intervene because for something I do once in a blue moon if that it’s not worth the effort to completely debug the thing so it works every single time.
Mind you, watching some five thousand or so fake people register themselves in your application isn’t exactly the most exciting thing ever. It’s kind of like what Douglas Adams parodied in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when he riffed about how writers don’t describe everything – by describing Arthur Dent going down all thirteen steps. Thump. Thump. And so on.
It’s the balance of the familiar and unfamiliar. The familiar: you’re not going to have many readers who don’t know how stairs work, so you can safely skip describing the process of going up – or down – them. Unless of course there’s a reason they can’t do so the normal way (they’re daleks?) so you describe the non-normal way with enough detail to give a picture of what’s happening without leaving your readers wondering if watching a new coat of paint dry would be more exciting.
The trick with this kind of thing isn’t the description itself. It’s figuring out what to describe, and how. I’m not ashamed to admit I read a lot of fanfiction, and one of the common mistakes I see is the fanfic writer describing everything more or less like they’re following a sales brochure.
That – if the story is good enough – usually has me skipping paragraphs to get back to the good bits.
Of course, how much and what you describe varies depending on where you are in the plot. Scene-setting description works better in quieter parts of the story, and by all you hold sacred, please do not break your action scene to describe your character’s clothing or hairstyle. Unless you’re doing it satirically of course – but be warned that satire is bloody difficult to get right.
Yeah. There are no hard rules. Even this one probably has exceptions.
You could, for instance, get away with slipping in bits of information about your character’s clothing or hair in the middle of an action scene, as long as they were relevant. The character’s long hair coming loose from a braid and falling into their face, for instance, or the really nasty squelchy feeling of trying to walk or run when your shoes and socks are soaking wet. Or the way that dirt or sand blown against bare legs stings like hell and you wish you’d worn trousers (in these situations you’re not likely to be thinking about the brand name of the clothes, unless your character is one heck of a clothes-horse, in which case the whining is likely to be adding a good deal of comic relief).
I should probably just say this is where what passes for my mind goes when I’m watching paint dry and leave it at that.