Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Diagramming Babel (Part 20)

Diagram 20. These diagrams have proved to be strangely popular among a particular sub-set of readers -- new and developing writers. (Old pro Tom Purdom tells me that they're the only entries which he finds boring.) But, as a rule, they'd like more info on how to translate my squiggles into something useful. Hence, today's diagram, the simplest of the lot, which is little more than a list I made as the novel moved into the end-game of major characters whose individual stories need to be resolved by the time the novel ends. Just so I didn't find myself trying to cram in all that resolution in the last five pages.

From top to bottom:

Bullets in Flight

Burning Man

(Name Withheld)

The Dragon




Oriental features?


There are obvious omissions here, such as Esme, who are not included simply because they don't have a story that requires closure. Esme, by her very nature, has no story. She sold it to the Year Eater.

I went back and forth over whether to mention the fact that Victoria il Volpone Sheherazade Jones (if that truly is her name) has Oriental features. As a fox-spirit, it should go without saying. And, indeed, her human form was originally described with one short sentence: Her eyes were green and her hair was short and red. But finally I decided that with a last name like Jones, it was something that should be mentioned. So when Will meets her at last, several chapters later, she's described as follows: She was one of those women who were beautiful at first glance, then showed their age, and then were beautiful again. Her hair was red and cropped. Her features were sharp and Asian.

That is, incidentally, an unusually detailed description. Aspirant writers are convinced that fictional characters need lots of physical description. Not so. The reader is ready and willing to do the heavy lifting of imagining how the characters look. A zaftig blonde with a birthmark by the side of her mouth is all the description Marilyn Monroe requires. Paul Bunyan has a big black beard and is ten miles high.

Notice how when you read Her eyes were green and her hair was short and red you assumed that Victoria -- never call her Vickie -- was beautiful? That was a good example of the kind of hard work and good faith the reader puts into a story. Never underestimate it.


James said...

Hi Michael,

I see that today is the release date for *The Dragons of Babel*. I'm looking forward to reading it. I can tell you, sight unseen, about your new book: Keep up the good work!

James said...

D'oh! I see that I'll have to wait until tomorrow (today not being the 8th).

Oh well....