Saturday, July 23, 2016

Stringing the Reader along

Quite often you are motivated to put down a book you're reading after the first few pages because you are given too much information and too little movement or action. 


Within those dismal circumstances, information equates to description, explanation, or, worst case of all, the writer trying to convince you of something through the least dramatic quality of all, logic.

You don't want to be told John is beating his fists on the table from impatient rage, which was occasioned by his immediate workplace superior having refused to consider a work strategy John developed to achieve greater productivity and group cohesion. 

You want to see John pounding on the table, perhaps even looking about for something else to pound on, this done in such a way as to make you curious about why John is behaving as he is.

This is several degrees beyond the show-don't-tell meme and into the notion of story being bursts and bundles of dramatic information rather than long passages of description.

The important disclosure here is your awareness of your relative sophistication as a reader, the often embarrassing awareness on first or second reading of having missed some important clue or, of equal awfulness, a complete misinterpretation of some behavior or relationship. 

True enough, you've written books, edited them, reviewed them for major metropolitan newspapers. In your role as a teacher/workshop leader, you're often able to catch anomalies, discrepancies, missed opportunities, and unnecessary explanations. But.  

The possibility remains: the author may have intended for you to miss some small detail, may in fact have worked to bury a clue within some throwaway detail which you, with due diligence, have thrown away.

You want to question the action you see, your feelings of engagement in the story drawn out by degree rather than thrust upon you in some big mass of material to be sorted on a chapter-by-chapter basis. You want, in fact, to have been driven to retreat a chapter or two to ratify your belief that a certain character had reliable or unreliable traits, based on your first impressions.

A metal such as copper has a quality called ductility, which describes the extent to which it can be drawn into a wire-like extrusion, something like the strands of cheese hanging on with such tenacity as a segment of pizza is drawn away from the entire pizza.  

You wish your own stories and those you read to have that quality of ductility, the ability to be drawn out into a long, thin strand of substance.

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