The things that unite us

Welcoming the reader in

Quilt by Karen Meisner

It's Day 2 of my cold, and though it's only a cold (not the medical condition I often wrestle with, don't worry), it's got me too fuzzy-headed to read, or write, or do much of anything at all that requires linear thought. So since I can't manage much of a post today, I'd like to give you a reading recommendation instead: "What Writers Really Do When They Write," by George Saunders, whose generosity of spirit never fails to warm my heart.

"We often think," says Saunders, "that the empathetic function in fiction is accomplished via the writer’s relation to his characters, but it’s also accomplished via the writer’s relation to his reader. You make a rarefied place (rarefied in language, in form; perfected in many inarticulable beauties -- the way two scenes abut; a certain formal device that self-escalates; the perfect place at which a chapter cuts off); and then welcome the reader in. She can’t believe that you believe in her that much; that you are so confident that the subtle nuances of the place will speak to her; she is flattered. And they do speak to her. This mode of revision, then, is ultimately about imagining that your reader is as humane, bright, witty, experienced and well intentioned as you, and that, to communicate intimately with her, you have to maintain the state, through revision, of generously imagining her. You revise your reader up, in your imagination, with every pass. You keep saying to yourself: 'No, she’s smarter than that. Don’t dishonour her with that lazy prose or that easy notion.'

"And in revising your reader up, you revise yourself up too."

At the window

If you'd like a little further reading this morning, here's Maria Bustillos' take on what it's like to study literature and writing under Saunders: "The Chekhov-Saunders Humanity Kit."

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