Friday, June 3, 2011


I recently re-read Francisco Stork's excellent Marcello in the Real World. Even though I'd read it a year or two ago, and this time was reading for technique, like a surgeon watching an operation, I was still pulled into the story.

But even as I was tumbling and roiling along, I noticed something that I've never seen before: There is no wasted narrative.

This is an epiphany for me, as I tend to write circles around what I really want to say. And then, having said it, I write my circular way back out to the story. The result is a fatty first draft that always needs to be tightened.

At first I worried that readers wouldn't able to connect the dots. First a character is eating dinner and then he's doing dishes? What? How did he get there? So I diligently (and tediously) would narrate the whole thing. Bo-ring.

What Francisco Stork does reminds me of some study that proved how little of a word has to be there for us to recognize it. Or of those stories of B-17s that returned, critically damaged, to airfields in London, somehow able to limp home.

Marcello in the Real World has only the bare number of scenes to carry the story. I don't mean that it's sparse: it's anything but. No, I mean that the gaps between scenes -- so invisible when you're deep in the story -- are actually pretty big when you stop and analyze them.

The magic here is that the reader fills in those gaps without even noticing.

And what it means is that the amount of narration I thought was the absolute minimum ... can be even less. The result will be a tighter story that's not ruined by being over-told.

So now I ask myself: what is the absolute minimum I need to show in order to carry the story forward? It's less than I think.


EyeInHand said...

Nice. I've always admired that talent, as it's so counter intuitive. Seems to require one, or both, of two things from a writer: confidence in the intelligence of the reader, and the delight in playing with that intelligence; like a stage magician plays with illusions that, more often than not, are based upon a collective imagination. It's like magic when done well. I can always imagine a scene more rich and meaningful from just a few choice, suggestive words, and with less effort, than when a writer attempts to provide it all for me. One excellent metaphor is, oddly enough, more powerful than seven.

S R Wood said...

So true. And the Tentative Writer -- of which I am one -- trusts little in his own judgment and not much more in his readers. So must we step into the abyss to risk greatness? I think we must.

Babs said...

I was told that by planting only the absolute number of plants needed in each square ft. of a garden, rather than planting a bunch of seeds that later have to be pulled and thinned out--risking damage to the original plants--is a better way to garden. Makes much more sense and ultimately less hard work with a better, healthier return in the garden. Go for it!