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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Fiction Tips Via Kovach Via Larson


By Michael Neff

Here is some matter by Ron Kovach of WriterMag that I found helpful for Writer's Edge. He's talking about Erik Larson and making fiction points in the context of Larson's historical bestseller, THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY. A little Q&A worth posting:

You're clearly fond of foreshadowing. How would you describe its storytelling value?

I think foreshadowing is a fundamental element of suspense. I think that if you can somehow hint--and the more obliquely you can hint, the better--that something bad is going to happen, no reader is going to leave you until he or she finds out what that thing was. It's like Chekhov said: If you show a revolver in the first act, you have to shoot it by the last act. People come to a work with a sense of unity in their minds, and if you tell them that something black is going to happen, they want to know what that black thing is and will stay with you to find out--provided it's not too far down the line, and provided that between the two points is not just a bland plateau of nothing. Foreshadowing is vital, I think, for any work.

You really keep Devil in the White City rolling. What advice do you have for writers about keeping a narrative engaging and moving along?

For one thing, the first piece of advice I would have is read John Irving, because he is one novelist who is very transparent in his use of technical maneuvers to keep you going. Cut-aways, foreshadowing and so forth.

One of the things that's very valuable in foreshadowing is, in a given chapter, instead of presenting the whole story to completion, [you] take it almost to completion and leave that lingering question. You withhold detail at a certain critical point, cut away to something else and then, when you come back, you have held the reader's attention, partly because you just said something's going to happen. The trick is when you cut away, you have to cut away to something good.

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