The Art of Writing No. 35
Jacques Derrida and others of the postmodern literary circus, formulated a theory that it was impossible to produce unequivocal, unambiguous prose. Whatever you do as a writer, no matter how much of a Hemingway or Beckett you might want to be in the Spartan simplicity of your text, it will be read equivocally and ambiguously. Other meaning, said Derrida, leaks out. Reception Theory suggests that every reader reads with a unique interpretation. Fifty readers, fifty different books. Now I have said earlier that one of the ways we might attribute value to writing is to ask if a book lends itself to multiple interpretations. While acknowledging that even simple prose can produce wildly differing understanding (think about instructions to build a wardrobe), more complex expression extends it to infinity.
But the point to be made is this, the ambiguities of great literature are rich and lead to a far greater depth of discourse because the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts, the words. The very use of language, its poetry, its apparent verisimilitude, its authentic dialogue, its factual accuracy, its labyrinthine plots, its realistic and complex characters, all and much more, conspire to beguile the reader. And the closer you are to achieving such quality, the more you must be diligent over key turning points in your narrative. For example, if you are writing a crime novel, you will lay down, you hope unobtrusively, clues that will later prove to be threads in the rope of the plot. For this to work, each character must be in the proper place at the proper time, every motive and relationship must be credible. Look through your narrative and decide where the key junctures are – and then go over what you have written at these points and make sure you have refined them as much as humanly possible. There is nothing worse than finding yourself (as I have mentioned before) in the position of Raymond Chandler, caught out by film makers who discovered his plot did not stack up. As I have suggested, people will still interpret and believe they have read something that was not there, as a consequence, but on revisiting the vital section, they will grudgingly concede that you couldn’t have done more to inform them. Indeed, good writing leads the reader to acknowledge your arts in deceiving him or her, long enough to get a good tale told.
When I was writing Azimuth I became very befuddled because I was dealing with an extraordinary long time line and children were being born and growing up, events were happening that changed the course of later history, people said and did things which bent the fate lines. I had to create a flow chart at the end and check whether my time line actually worked over generations. I made alterations. I located passages that seemed to me to be main springs to the health of the book and worked on them again.
It is very difficult to get everything in a 300 page novel absolutely perfect but manage the key scenes for the plot to work and you will evade much criticism. Reading for most people, most of the time, involves unconscious editing as they go. They miss bits out of your writing without knowing it. They are not doing a Masters course in literary criticism so it does not matter to them. Key scenes are their stepping stones across the river of the life of the novel. Don’t let your readership get swept away because you have not made the footholds solid and supportive.
Azimuth by Jack Sanger in 3 separate ebooks at Kindle (Amazon)