f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: A Third Observation About Dense Writing

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

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Third Observation About Dense Writing

The world of the novel feels real.

To me there are three main elements to this.

1. A physical setting is evoked. We're not talking a Cooperish dissertation on leaf structure...but there is a sense of place that emerges in the reader's imagination. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon renders late-30s/early-40s New York in vivid colors. I think of this as "dense" writing because it fills in the scene for us, like a vivid backdrop for a play.

2. Time passes in a realistic way. I've read many manuscripts that wrench and lurch in fits and starts as they try to cover only a few months. Time is out of joint. Other stories can have you leaping back and forth through time and across generations...and yet you're always in the moment.

3. Finally, the world feels occupied. I suppose a great novel can be written about only two people (likely you will now name one) but none spring to mind. In fact, the novels that feel the most vibrant and alive are often crawling with characters. We have a lot of novels within our industry that toggle back-and-forth between POV A (woman) and POV B (man). The concern is that they're usually spending so much time together that even swapping between two POVs we're still only meeting those two characters. Other faces and names barely make a dent. Juggling a lot of characters is not an easy thing. It forces you to be dense with your writing. You can't devote swaths of words to each person...so the words that are chosen need to be the right ones.

I think Athol Dickson's River Rising does a strong job of populating his imaginary world of Pilotville, LA.