(This is just a rambling, think-aloud sort of post.)


So I’ve been thinking about the textures of writing.  Textures is my word for it — other people might call it depth or richness.  What I’m talking about is the difference between eating a handful of potato chips and eating a baked potato.  Book A has good plot, good characters, decent sentence structure, and a quick pace; Book B, with a similar plot and characters, takes longer to read and feels more satisfying, fuller, richer.  I’m trying to tease out in my head what the difference is.

I think a lot of it has to do with sentence structure and the amount of description–rather obviously, a paragraph describing something will slow down the pace of the action.  Longer, more complex sentences will also do this.  But that’s not the whole thing.  Short, plain sentences can add richness to a work, and long flowery sentences are often distracting.

The old “Show, don’t tell” maxim probably has a lot to do with it.  “He was suffused with rage” doesn’t have the same intensity as “He kicked the water cooler furiously.”  Detail adds texture, as do active verbs.  But a very detailed description of a character can still fall flat.  The detail has to be part of the storyline, not a set of instructions to the reader as to what to visualize.

The emotional depth of the character matters too.  This is a bit of a truism and sort of begs the question, because then one asks, How does a character get emotional depth? and we’re back to the same issue of richness, just more narrowly focused.  Dialogue has a lot to do with this, though it’s not essential.  Internal dialogue (by which I don’t mean strictly a Gollum-like sequence of arguing but also self-awareness and emotional conflict) is another part of it — both what happens, and the fact that the dialogue happens at all. For me, creating emotional depth is especially hard with characters who don’t have a point-of-view in the narrative — we are never privy to their internal dialogues. (Working on that is an ongoing project.)

What I’m coming to now is that there a relationship between the texture of a book and the author’s configuration of the position of the reader.  Is the reader hopping on and the author is taking her the rest of the way?  Or does the reader have to work a little too?  Does the reader have involvement in the world-building that is going on?  That’s something to think about.