Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"In media res." I've written on this several times, but in reviewing my own writing, I see again where a leisurely pace has resulted in a less than satisfying manuscript. The slow development of plot and character is no longer possible.

I'm always reading several books at once, and just finished Edith Wharton's autobiography. That made me pick up one of her very early novels, The Custom of the Country. Slowly, oh so slowly, she sketches her character, Undine Spragg. Delicately, oh so delicately she paints the Gilded Age scenery. This is a bit boring, I think, and then, POW, she drops the first brick of the plot and I MUST keep reading. But I'm on page 127.

If Edith were writing today, her book would begin where the brick was dropped. Backstory, all 127 pages of it, would fill in the gaps, inserted only where the plot couldn't be slowed down.

 I still find it immensely useful to read earlier works (I just finished reading Beatrix Potter books to the grandchildren) But whenever my writing strays toward that old fashion mode, I try to cut it off, albeit reluctantly.  I know I can't go there any more.


  1. It's hard, isn't it? To figure out what should stay and what must go?

    Right now, I'm halfway through Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale. I loved this book when I first read it in the 1980s and recommended it to my book club. This is a book that takes its time. It meanders here and there. It is the opposite of writing for kids. And I still love it. I do admit to skipping over some of the description -- more snow, more cold -- okay. Since I don't usually like books that take this long to get to the point, I plan to look at it with a more critical eye after I finish.

  2. I think it's not only a matter of the time period, but who you write for. Meandering is still okay to a point in today's adult fiction, but not in fiction for the YA and MG audience?