The Writing Life,
Annie Dillard wrote,
I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month, a guest writer shares how he or she spends the day.
March 1, 2013: Dawn Tripp
This past fall, listening to the ocean in one of the little cottages pictured above, I had the pleasure of reading Dawn Tripp’s third novel, Game of Secrets, now out in paperback.
I’m not a fan of prologues, preferring one page if a prologue is necessary (and hopefully it’s not titled “Prologue”). Game of Secrets begins with a three and a half page scene entitled “Tinder” involving two characters named Luce and Ada. I was hooked. And before Part I.
The novel runs 253 pages, is divided into seven parts, with each part being divided into many short chapters. Each of these parts and chapters has a title. Listen to these. For the parts: Kindling, Girl on the Bridge, Tribes, The Road, The Night Pool, Salvage, Parables of Sunlight. And for the chapters, some of my favorites: Lilies, Star-Splitter, Boodles, Frost Fish, Crush, Husk, Glance, The Blue Hour…
In addition to character names (Marne is another one in this novel) and part/chapter titles, Dawn is also particularly gifted in creating descriptions that put a picture before the reader’s eyes, a picture that allows the reader to see in a new way things like a character’s voice, the physical location of a character, a shirt with holes in it, writing on a sheet of paper:
I bite off a small piece of toast and glance at my mother again, in her corner at the hem of things… (18).
As he talked, some lit tobacco fell off the edge of his cigarette where it wasn’t rolled quite tight, leaving tiny holes burned into the dark shirt he wore, holes his skin glowed through like stars (58).
The shadow of my hand, the shadow of the pen against the page, like the ink is flowing out of the shadow (102).
When I write, I’m always working on not saying something the reader can figure out for herself. But here’s an example of an extra sentence that creates the power of the paragraph:
She studies me a moment longer like she might say something else, but she doesn’t. Because we don’t (143).
Sometimes it’s difficult to know whether including a reference to a movie or a TV show will add to your novel or whether it will take the reader out of the world you’re trying to create. Here’s an example that worked for me, pulling me further into these characters and their lives:
PAGE 146: I hurl myself into a late-night movie binge. Wim Wenders. What better way to drown? His Road Movie Trilogy. Wings of Desire. These two angels roaming through West Berlin before the wall came down. Unseen, unheard, they wander. Their work to observe only–assemble, testify, preserve. Do no more than look!–until one falls off the wagon, falls in love, and gives up his foreverness for her. He bleeds, wriggles his toes, feels cold, runs into walls, and the film shifts from monochrome to color. Foolish choice, I mutter, foolish, foolish.
PAGE 147: That man. He would have been like those angels. Removed. Nothing taken from him. Nothing robbed. Listen. Observe. Assemble.
Another one of Dawn’s novels, The Season of Open Water, won the Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction.
Come back on March 1st to read how Dawn Tripp spends her days.
The next writer in the series is announced on the 8th of each month so you can read ahead!