Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Matt Cheney Tells It Like It Is

The trap many aspiring literary writers fall into is in mistaking static situations for dramatic situations. Most people who are drawn to writing literary fiction have a particular love for language, metaphor, imagery, and small moments of psychological revelation. It's a rare writer who can create anything particularly satisfying from those elements alone, however. (I recently described a book I found unreadable by saying that somebody must have told the author he wrote beautiful sentences, and so he decided to run out and fill 450 pages with them.) If a writer wants a narrative to be compelling, if they want a reader to feel a certain need to continue to read it, then they should try to make change central to the story rather than try to make a story that is a portrait of a few moments, a setting and characters caught in amber, a collection of moods. What has been written could be sensitive, it could be lovely, it could even be evocative, but it's unlikely to be compelling, and unless a story is either very short or a work of genius, it's going to need to compel readers to keep reading it instead of reading something else.

On the other hand, the trap many aspiring writers of popular fiction fall into is mistaking lots of action for a story. Lots of action might be compelling in video games, where the audience participates, but it's monotonous in a narrative unless it is linked to other elements, because there's just no reason to keep reading it when there are plenty of other stories that offer something more than just a bunch of titillating events.

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