Posted by: jeannineatkins | June 21, 2010

Nature Gives us Metaphors

I read Edith Wharton’s guide, The Writing of Fiction, many years ago, and one of the few but lovely things I remember is her comparison of parts of a novel to a wave. She wrote, more eloquently, that exposition should be most of the wave with dialogue as its curling, dramatic peak. This worked in her fiction, though I might not choose the same balance. I’m not even sure she did, but her point was that dialogue gives the power, and perhaps should be used more sparingly than we might first think. That so much of a wave leads up, but some well chosen words within quotes will make everything rise and tip over.

Really, it’s been so long that I’ve read the book that I might have spun her metaphor way out of control, but I’ve always liked thinking of writing in terms of a wave, even if I change what is what within the metaphor. And I was looking at this picture my husband took a few days ago when we bicycled on the Turners Falls path by the canal. The reflections are at least as stunning as the bank of flowers. Even though they’re blurred. Of course I don’t want my words to be blurry, but there’s some that might be more background, more the building wave than the crest. I’m thinking about what words might be held in water’s ripples, and what should go in front.

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Responses

  1. I think I’ve read just about all of Edith Wharton’s novels, but I had no idea she had written a book about writing. I’ll have to look it up!

  2. If you like her novels and stories, I”m sure you’ll love this book which I think is one of the best. I used to check it out of the library once a year, and was very happy when some smart people decided to put in back in print in a lovely slim paperback edition.

  3. I haven’t read this, but I think I should. (Of course the book on writing I really want is *yours*.)

  4. Thanks for the sweet thought in parenthesis, Amy!

    I think this book is not as great on how-to — no, surprise, since apparently she sat up bed each morning, had the maid bring in coffee, wrote for a few hours letting papers flutter to the floor, then picked up and typed by a secretary. But it’s good for the revising stage, or what would be in my revising stage: how to create a structure from clumps of scenes.

  5. I like that metaphor — it’s thought provoking, on top of providing an arresting image in my mind. I may not ever think of dialogue in the same way again. — PL

  6. I just ordered it. It looks like a book to savor.

  7. I love this post, Jeannine. “More background, more building than the crest.” Yes! I read Edith Wharton years ago but missed her book on writing! Will track down. Thanks for letting me know about it.

  8. I think Wharton’s writing book was out of print for quite a while. I did worry someone would never return it from the library. No longer! In fact after writing about it, I think it’s time to take it off my shelf (the paperback now! not the library’s!) and reread.


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