Much Disturbance


How you write depends on the length of the piece you're writing.

A book gives you room to stretch out.

You are driving the bus on a tour of new land. You have time to take a little side trip here or there to point out an interesting landmark and share an anecdote outside of the published itinerary.

In an article any deviation is confusing

You are an Uber driver. The reader may not even be seeking you out specifically. They're just browsing and happen upon an article on a topic they're interested in. They want you to take them where they want to go. If you pull over to show them something out of their way they're in the back seat saying "woah, this isn't the way to the Springfield Holiday Inn."

I've written articles for magazines where the hard limit was 250 words. You can get a lot in 250 words but every word has to count. It's tough.

Yesterday I received an email from Powells Books that linked to an article by Joy Williams titled Eight Essential Attributes of the Short Story and One Way It Differs from the Novel. I know, the title alone is half the length of an article.

Her rule number six is "A novel wants to befriend you, a short story almost never."

Tour bus driver vs. Uber driver.

The article includes other differences between a short story and a novel. Her third rule is "Sentences that can stand strikingly alone."

I disagree.

I think a good book includes stand-alone sentences that stand out and beg to be retweeted.

Recently, I read "Very Good, Jeeves" by P.G. Wodehouse that described a character as a "tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say `When!'"

I love that sentence.

Perhaps what the rule is saying is that although a novel may contain sentences that stand alone like that a shorter piece must contain such sentences.

I love her second rule as I didn't know what it meant without looking it up.

Rule two is "An anagogical level." I'll let you look it up too.

Rule one is the one that struck me the most. "There should be a clean clear surface with much disturbance below."

I love this.

Novels don't need a clean clear surface but I tend to prefer this clarity in any length piece that I write or read.

All writing needs much disturbance. If nothing is changing then nothing is happening. Every scene should move the characters or the plot.

So much is changing while the surface remains clean and clear. That means the disturbance must be taking place below the surface.

This is the swan paddling wildly below the surface while appearing to glide across the pond.

Keeping this activity below the surface assures the reader that you are in control.

It allows you to reach the reader on an anagogical level.