Veronique Darwin

Writing Through The Detail

In Language, Thoughts on Writing on June 22, 2016 at 9:38 pm

Not with the detail, or by the detail, but through the detail, as though the detail is the target and the tree on which it stands the thing you are describing.

Don’t write about her honey hair or the way the sunlight hit it. Write instead the ant who climbed up the yolk, the scarecrow wig. That way they’ll see the woman standing there in the fading summer light.

Don’t write about the boy who held his hands to the waist of his pants, about his pee dance — don’t even describe the shuffling feet! Write instead the sounds of compression you hear reverberating in the back of his larynx, the uneasiness of the couch cushion under his bottom.

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Don’t even let them know what you’re describing! Just do the detail thing and they’ll see and hear the world that, even though you haven’t lived in, you’ve made up with words, which is better. You’re passing on that world to them, so you better do it in juicy words and turns of phrases that will make it worth their money. Why say someone is dancing when you can describe the way they move the air? Why tell the reader that someone is talking if you can move their mouth and make the sounds? It’s through detail that you realize that you are the boss of a world and the detail your servant.

Write as though no one is watching, and then make them watch. Make them live through every little gasp or sigh or release of breath, but don’t use those words. Be like Karl Ove, who can make you do dishes for dozens of pages without realizing you are learning nothing, that you hate doing dishes, because you’re so present in the moment that doing dishes is simply what you have to do, as a part of this new life you’ve found yourself in inside of a book.

I’m trying to revisit my novel but it is so painful to see someone who was trying to tell a story. Just give up on the story and realize that life wouldn’t exist if you didn’t take a shit every morning, and that even though high literary art is not there yet, it’s on its way.

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