Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Bones of the Story


You know I’ve been writing some fiction lately. I don’t talk about it all that much, well I do, but only to a few people, because mostly it’s in my head and taking it out and showing it off isn’t going to help, and then there’s all the questions, you know, ‘so how much have you written?’ ‘when is it going to be published?’ all that. If I tell you, I tell you. If I don't, don't ask. Just take it from me, I’m writing. 

The thing is though, it’s making it very hard for me to read. It’s as if, as I read, I’m seeing the bones beneath everything all the time. I don’t mean that I’m noticing the mistakes, although I am of course, you can never turn off your editor’s eye. I mean I keep seeing the technical bits, like how the paragraphs are broken up and what punctuation the author’s using and how a character gets from A to B when nothing important is happening. These parts are necessary, of course they are, but I'm noticing them because I'm thinking about them all the time, trying to work out how to do these things myself, how to make these parts, the bones, invisible. I want to find out how to make sure the story takes the most direct path from the author’s brain to the reader’s, so that the the flow of the words creates a flow of story in the reader’s mind exactly as though the reader were watching a film, or maybe even thinking the story up for himself. Of course, there’s plenty of literature that wants you to take notice of its structure and its language, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the stuff that you gobble down for the pure joy of story. 

So what I’m wondering is this: is it possible, once you’ve started reading in this way, with a writer’s eye, to turn it off, to stop noticing how many times in a conversation the writer says ‘said X’ or ‘said Y’ to make sure you keep up, or how he or she slips in physical details about a character rather than giving you a straight description, or when the point of view changes and how? It’s useful for me to read this way right now, but I hope it won’t last because it definitely gets in the way of the story. And that’s the point, isn’t it? The bones should be invisible.