Sunday, January 18, 2015

On Craft: The Novel as a Creature with Many Joints

I sometimes see the novel as a jointed creature, joints that are articulated for movement, but that are also points of weakness and possible erosion in the narrative. Each joint asks something of the reader. For example, when I write a multiple point-of-view novel, I usually draft in short chapters mainly so that I can keep each person's narrative fresh in my mind, aloft, with little time to burrow down and get lost. That said, I usually then go back and revise by pulling out a couple short chapters from each point-of-view and stitching them into longer chapters. Each time you switch points of view, you're asking something of the reader -- a shift of imagination, of internal state. (Even in a singular-narrative novel, you're usually asking for something by breaks -- white space might be little more than a breath but it also might constitute huge shifts in time, place...) I think of these breaks in terms of joints because they can pivot the narrative, allow for great agility, flexibility, but they're not just asking the narrative to bend, but the reader must bend, too. A novel can have as many rippling ribs as a snake, of course, but I'm mindful of the demands I make on those joints and how often I ask for the bones to break and move -- especially if I'm making other demands on the reader, ones I prioritize, that can be weighty, and that accumulate, applying more pressure to those joints (perhaps experimentation in other areas or heavy visualization of world-building...)