Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Tip of the Iceberg
I love his choice of color and the peace this scene exudes. You can almost smell the lavender breath, see the bees flying their dance. I want to follow that row straight into the villa in the distance, find a chair and watch the people go by. The muted, indistinct edges of color invite me to connect the dots in my own way, drawing me in, like I was participating in the painting of it, interpreting it for myself. It's not work - but discovery.
I think this is why I like reading the style of writing that Hemingway termed in his iceberg theory. (at least, a variation of it) He said, "If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only the one-eighth of it being above water."
Okay, that's saying a mouthful. So we don't take the reader by the hand and explain everything. We trust readers to get what we're saying. I like what Les Edgerton adds about the iceberg theory in his book, Finding Your Voice. "The writer should provide the "bones" or skeleton of the story and the reader furnishes the flesh..." To do otherwise dumbs down the writing and makes for boring, passive reading. In other words, it makes lazy readers of us.
I like something in between the minimalist Hemingway style and the style of writing that doesn't quite trust the reader. I like a wee bit of flesh on the bones, as in this passage from David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars. This scene comes at the end of the first chapter, so we haven't had time to learn about the characters. (I've shortened it for brevity) The local reporter has been sent to cover a murder trial in their small coastal community:
At ten minutes before nine that morning, Ishmael has spoken with the accused man's wife on the second floor of the Island County courthouse..."Are you all right?" he'd said to her, but she'd responded by turning away from him. "Please," he'd said. "Please Hatsue."...
"Go away," she'd said in a whisper, and then for a moment she'd glared..."Go away," repeated Hatsue Miyamoto. Then she'd turned her eyes, once again, from his.
"Don't be like this," said Ishmael.
"Go away," she'd answered.
That's how their scene ends. We deduce that Ishmael and Hatsue have known each other but we don't know what their relationship has been. We know her husband's life may be at stake. They speak with a veiled intimacy that is implied rather than explained. It's the tip of the iceberg, and we discover what lies beneath as the story unfolds.
I think this is why I dread the unavoidable information dump that happens with a book series. The writer must bring the new reader up to speed in some fashion, and I guess there's no graceful way around rocking the iceberg.
How about you? How much flesh do you want on story bones? Is it work or pleasure? We'd love to hear.