A fragment

Going through the 40,000+ words of notes I’ve accumulated for my current novel, I came across this fragment that I chose not to use:

“When I want to lament my circumstance, I sometimes try to imagine that my master’s mania was to re-create scenes in novels. I consider this an utter impossibility, for each of us may read the same descriptive paragraph and envision it differently in our own minds. Furthermore, what is not described allows more leeway in each mind as we dress a character or decorate a room within our own imagination when the writer has not done this for us, and sometimes, I think, even when the writer has.”

Part of my narrator’s tragic flaw comes from his inflated sense of his importance, and I think his high-sounding language serves that end. It’s a pity in a way that he doesn’t get to narrate his own tale in the end (since I must convert to a third-person narrator to make the story work).

I didn’t use this fragment because it strays from the story I am telling. The point my protagonist is making is one I happen to believe about reading fiction. There is a certain school that believes that writers must give their readers plenty of specific detail about the way characters are dressed or what is in a room or such. The readers somehow need this in order to sustain interest in the story or picture what is going on. I happen to think that is baloney. Most often these descriptive passages are intrusive and add little to the drive of the storytelling. In their most extreme these instances have been termed “Nancy Drew Moments” after the frequency in which they occurred in those novels. Furthermore, I truly think that thoughtful readers will dress the characters as they imagine them to be, despite what description the writer provides.

Robert Boswell makes this very point in his non-fiction work The Half-Known World: On Fiction Writing. He asserts that, at least in literary fiction, the story emerges from a world unknown to the writer (that has certainly been my experience with this novel) and that some things about it will never be fully known by either the writer or the reader.

This is not to say that a given character’s clothing or facial features or even the decor of a room can’t be important to a story. Indeed, facial features and physique are especially important in the novel I’m working on. When the reader truly needs these details, they ought to be provided. But if they are not needed, if they don’t contribute in some way to the story telling, whether in plot or tone or setting or something, they are superfluous and unnecessary. Some readers might even find them insulting.

So you can see that I care a great deal about this kind of thing, and I was ready to use my protagonist’s musings as a soapbox for my own, but I decided I was turning the story too much to my own ends and not to the needs of the story, so out it came.

Explore posts in the same categories: Humble efforts, Rants and ruminations, Sleep of Reason

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