Sunday, July 6, 2014

Who Wants a Window Seat next to the Wing?

Anyone desiring a view will dislike anything blocking it. Aboard a plane or not, which obstacles do fiction readers encounter?

*** Author.

Are you standing between your characters and your readers? As Jonathan Franzen expressed it in The Writer, “I think the most important thing―it may sound strange―is to get inside the character to the point that there is a lot of anxiety and shame. The real struggle is to find a dramatic setup and a corresponding tone that make it possible to dwell in that anxiety and shame without feeling icky as a reader. That’s a big challenge. My approach to that―pretty much with all the characters―was that when it started seeming funny to me, I knew I was there.  If it seemed anguished or earnest, I knew I wasn’t there.” Restrict “anguish” and “earnestness” to your life: use your characters to ban those from the pages of your novel. If, however briefly, you point out “anguish” or convey “earnestness,” you’ve obstructed the view.

Don Maass agrees, observing in Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling that “When your readers (temporarily) believe something that you’re not (ultimately) saying, you’re writing fiction at the level of art….Call it withholding, if that helps. Conceptualize it as misdirection, if you like. However you think of it, make your readers think.” Just so. If you tell them what to think, how can they discover for themselves what’s hidden under that wing?

*** Characters.

Just as you don’t want your ego overshadowing the landscape, you don’t want your narrator over-explaining, pontificating, or overshadowing the action and scenery.

*** Narrator.

But. The narrator controls the altitude and intensity. If your narrator explains nothing, makes no connections, and delivers no insights, either your book will be 2000 pages long or frustrated readers will terminate futile attempts at guesswork and—find a novel that balances character and narrator input. Narrators who guide without belaboring the obvious actually make the characters more visible.

How do you give readers the view they want?

~ Get out of the way. You’re the author—not the wing.
~ Use your narrator to control pace and clarify what readers can’t infer.
~ Let the characters star—they’re why readers choose certain novels, and certain seats.

Tip: Give your readers a window seat on a plane with invisible wings.

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