<$BlogRSDURL$> Spontaneous Things: Karina Sumner-Smith's Blog
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Karina Dreams of Totally Unsubstantiated Writerly Theories
Or, Yay Beth

My friend, fabulous writer and kick-ass web designer Beth Adele Long has a short story up in Strange Horizons this week, "Rapunzel Dreams of Knives." This is one of my favourite of Beth's stories -- I was lucky to read this one a while back -- and it's even better this time around.

Re-reading Beth's story has reminded me of something I was pondering about Kelly Link's work a while back when I'd just completed her new collection, Magic for Beginners (the title story for which totally blew me away). And also reminds me, in a strange runabout way, about a discussion I had on a panel at this year's Ad Astra. We were discussing "ramping up the tension" in a story (which, not coincidentally, was the name of the panel), and my fellow panelists were discussing at some length the ways to increase reader interest and tension through good plotting techniques.

At one point I chimed in something to the effect of, "But what about the actual writing? The way you write something affects the tension." Which was, sadly, totally misinterpreted as somehow supporting this earlier plotting discussion, despite my best efforts to clarify, and made no lasting impact on the discussion as a whole whatsoever. But it did make me think about the ways that writers increase tension in a story through word choice, sentence structure, and all the other subtle little clues and hints and turns of phrase that wrap a reader ever tighter around a writerly finger.

And when I read Kelly's newest story collection, I realized that she didn't do all these things. Or, at the very least, not to the extent of other writers.

While others so often give the readers clues as to how they're supposed to feel or react to a particular scene, character interaction, event or what-have-you, Kelly Link -- and I think that here I'm using Kelly as the ideal representative of a particular style of writing -- just lays it out there. The writing itself is clever, elegant, graceful the way the wind is graceful, rarely stooping to adornment, and totally without the emotional markers so common to modern storytelling. A disaster is dealt with in exactly the same tone, the same style as a ball of elastics. She does not tell you in any way how to feel, how to react to a particular event or revelation. You have to figure it out for yourself -- the meaning, the purpose, why the twist is twisty and why zombies are connected to Canadians.

This, I think, is what I had so much difficulty coming to comprehend when first reading Kelly's work (which, I think I've said a good dozen times, I hated the first time around), and perhaps other readers find this style a stumbling block as well. Though, who knows, this entire discussion might be totally incomprehensible to anyone but me. Were it an essay -- and I still in a situation to be writing such things for critical review -- I would perhaps get this returned with a notation saying, "An interesting premise poorly developed, requiring great leaps of understanding and comprehension of the inner workings of your brain. Also, the conclusion does not relate to your opening." A valid point.

So, in summary: yay Beth!

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 1:03 AM


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