The Heart of the Story in Every Detail

They say that the current attention span of an average human being is now at seven seconds, his mind drifting far and away from what’s in front of him on the eighth and ninth second. This poses a brand-new challenge to artists and people whose work is presented before an audience. And this, I believe, includes the writers. To some extent, writers work for an audience, whether we claim to be exclusively writing for art’s sake. At the end of the day, the works will be read.

In this issue of Cotabato Literary Journal, we celebrate the keen eye for details and its significance in the hopes of keeping the attention span of the readers as long as possible. In this conscious effort and value for details, the writers have shown how ferrying the readers slowly through and towards the heart of the story may perhaps be more commendable than sudden and numerous plot twists put there for entertainment.

Marlon Allecer’s “Ugma, Puhon” narrates a few hours in the life of Felicidad, a teenager sent by her mother for an errand. The entire story begins with Felicidad being instructed by her mother. As the story progresses, we meet different people in Felicidad’s neighborhood, and we get to see a glimpse of what kind of a village they live in, only by translating the details provided of us. “Show, don’t tell” may be the first cliché we learn in writing but may still be correct even until we decide to innovate. “Ang babaye kay may adunay pula ka ngabil, nakabugkos ang buhok, ug nakagunit og sigarilyo. Mubo pa gyud ang iya nga short, gani ginatawag kinig pekpek short, ug nakasando og pula nga halos ang dughan molugwa na.” Before we are brought to the ending, we are offered with enough details throughout the story to help us with our own understanding and translation of the ending. I also especially like how the story made use of dialogue as a device to propel the story.

“Atin Lamang” by Omar Akbar Mamento is a brave erotic essay with the sultriness emphasized in every good word choice. As eroticism better works with metaphors and a tease of subtlety, Mamento did just that. “Ginagalugad mo ang aking pagkatao nang walang pag-aalinlangan. Hinila ang aking prinsipyo’t itinapon sa basurahang walang laman kundi mga kasalanang nakalukot at pinag-iwanan na ng katotohanan. Ginamit mo ang iyong nakasanayang mapa at tinuklas ang natatanging yaman na mayroon ang aking katawan.” These lines are a personal favorite as it shows the balance between being gentle and being bold.   

Kiel Mark Guerrero’s “Barya ’Yan” is a poem that discusses the plight of someone working an unconventional, taboo job. But instead of making the entire poem didactic, Guerrero provided us with details and metaphors that do not only make us understand the life of the speaker but hinder us from judging these kinds of people. And I think that’s important: we are told of the moral lesson indirectly, but the impact comes to us stronger and more meaningful.

In providing the readers the details they need, it is equally important that these details come in a certain rhythm made possible with impeccable word choices and the sound they create. With these put together, we do not just write a piece of literature, we create music to the ears of the readers as well. This is true with Julius Marc Taborete’s “When the Old Paints the Youth.” Just as equally as I loved reading aloud the poem of Grace Nadon–Aprosta titled “Anak.” Her use of the Hiligaynon words brings out the rawness of the emotion of the speaker and of the poem in general.

On the other hand, “Ang Libro ni Jay-ar” by John Dominic Arellano takes us to the story of Jay-Ar, a little boy who is obviously a digital native and had learned on his own the value of physical books and of reading. We are further ushered towards the magic, getting lost in the scene and the story of Jay-Ar.

This month’s selection only emphasizes the need and the value of investing into details when writing. This is much more important in this age of memes and one-liner hugot where the shorter the piece is, the better it draws attention and interest.

We get to learn from the writers that this concern on attention span does not necessarily require us to shorten our piece. We just need to capture the readers with the perfect words, guide them through everything so they don’t leave us mid-sentence.

Jennie P. Arado
Davao City