Shapes

The Red-Headed kid accused me of making the tripping jaguar afghan so large that it will require a trailer to deliver it. It’s not that big. It is officially a little over half done.

I’m reading through Ashland and kind of doing a mix of fiddling with displeasing stuff and marking plot holes. Probably, it would just make sense to read through it and mark plot holes first, fix those, and then fiddle with displeasing stuff, but some displeasing stuff can’t wait. I killed off some children, for instance, and I’m about to de-fake-gay someone (a husband claims his wife is a lesbian, so why not have an affair with him? Stupid. Gone.). But some stuff–shouldn’t this be fuller? Why does she immediately jump to this conclusion?–are going to require some more writing and I want to mull it over some more.

I’m never afraid to cut shit. But I try to be conscientious about adding. The lesson I’m trying to take to heart from The Haunting of Hill House and The Red Tree is to trust in the strength of a simple plot. I hate to use the word “simple” here, because it sounds like a backhanded compliment. But I mean it just as a fact.

I was telling C. the other day that I’d come across this author talking about how much world-building you have to do and, basically, how there’s this tension between how close you are to your characters and how much world-building you need. If you’re sitting right alongside your characters, you’re willing to accept a lot in the world as just given. You’re willing to go along confused at the world, because you trust you understand the character (obviously authors play with this, but we’re making sweeping generalizations). The further removed you get from the particularities of your characters, the more world-building you need in order to keep your reader engaged. In other words, the reader needs something to count on–either the strength of the character POV or the authority of the narrator. One or the other. You don’t want to accidentally weaken that and you don’t need to invest too much in one if you have the other under control.

I think there’s a similar kind of tension in horror writing. Here’s a genre in which a lot of strange things happen, in which people behave in ways that make no sense to them, and which can terrify the reader because they make no sense or a perverse kind of sense to the reader herself. To ask people to keep moving forward into a story that is terrible means you have to have a solid something for them to hold onto. I think, to me, it’s that, at its core, the story is simple. That’s the firm thing your reader can grasp and, in holding on to it, move forward.

Which is not to say that either The Red Tree or Hill House are simple books. Right? That’s the genius of good horror writing.

But, for me, the simple story of Ashland is that it’s about a historian who, while learning a complicated family history, meets the remaining family members and gets to know them, which she comes to regret. That’s it. There doesn’t have to be anything fancier.

4 thoughts on “Shapes

  1. B, was that author musing on world-building and characters Nora Jemisin? Because, if not, she recently put something similar up on her blog, which I found fascinating.

  2. I’m so glad you saw that, because I had meant to send you the link and then forgot to. She’s got a Big Idea piece on Scalzi’s blog today that tackles the same question from the perspective of which person (first, second, third) she uses in writing different viewpoints.

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