f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Density in Writing

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Density in Writing

Maile Meloy is on my mind. Her latest novel, A Family Daughter recently released and I’m looking forward to reading it. Most of all of you weren’t around for this but her first novel, Liars and Saints, which was among the first things I ever wrote about at this blog. It was a slim novel and in my first post on it I mention being in wonder at it.

This book is a marvel, a wonder of storytelling that somehow intertwines and illuminates the lives of 5 generations of a Catholic family into 260 pages without feeling thin. This alone could be studied for days.

Well, I didn’t study it for days. I didn’t study it at all. But it sticks with me. How something 260 pages can feel richer, more substantial, and “longer” somehow than a 350 page novel is worthy of consideration. Gilead is the same way. The book is 247 pages. Lying Awake is briefer yet…just 181 pages.

And yet I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody complain about these books feeling slim or less-than-fully developed. (I’ve heard other complaints of course…but just not those.)

What I want to begin chatting about is the notion of density in writing.

When I was a Nittany Lion I grew weary of writing short stories because they were just at the length where an instructor or those annoying poetry students could insist on “getting every word right.” You can “perfect” a twelve page story. You can be held accountable for every word. Not so in a novel. It was too big a beast. Too sprawling. The language wasn’t tantamount anymore. Important of course, but not perfectable.

It’s a lazy way of thinking. Lazy and, I think, wrong.

The story we write rests on every word we choose. There’s really no other way of looking at writing. If were not focusing on the words…what in the world are we looking at?

Great writing hones and focuses language. They make their sentences work for them.

Please note what I didn’t say. I didn’t say that great writing is complex words in complex syntax. It can be when it needs to be…but it is always working. Word after word. Sentence to sentence. Paragraph to paragraph. Chapter to chapter.

I skipped out exploring how this happens last time I had the chance. I think it’s important though and so twenty-plus months later we’ll return to it.


Continue to the First Observation about Dense Writing.