A Learning Experience

As a writer, I have found it very helpful to read the work of other authors. One discovers techniques and approaches which can be very effective. My latest experience in learning from others involves not my own reading, but my wife’s reading. She has been reading a series of novels in Italian by Elena Ferrante (a pen name). She said the first in the series is extremely good; it concerns two young girls with very different personalities growing up in the 1940’s. She said the remarkable aspect of the novel is that nothing extraordinary happens, but that the writing was so good that it was captivating.

I got to thinking. How could this be? Then I realised that it wasn’t the content but rather the characters’ reactions to the content that was important. In other words, the novel constantly explored the characters’ emotions and reactions to events which, in and of themselves, were ordinary, but the emotions and reactions painted a vivid picture of the character.

I am reading a novel by Sebastian Faulks which makes frequent pauses to describe the principal character’s inner reactions to events, or to describe a relevant snippet of his history. Faulks and Ferrante are using similar techniques.

It occurred to me that, having started out as a story-teller and a writer of thrillers, I have a tendency to keep the action moving. My dialogue is crisp and to the point. The words express what the characters are feeling and they imply values. But this approach misses a dimension of richness by not pausing to see the characters more completely in their history, their personality and their values.

I am about 75% of the way through a new novel, and I’ve decided to continue with brief diversions on the characters’ feelings, history and values. But these diversions have to be succinct, relevant, and truly interesting – perhaps unexpected. My further intention is to review the 75% which is ‘completed’ and add similar passages.

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