Friday, January 14, 2011

The Art of Not Writing Too Much

I've been neglecting my blog a bit. It's been very busy time for me as the CWA membership secretary. Subscriptions were due on 1st January and we have around 500 members so that's an awful lot of renewal forms and cheques. (And by the way, if you're a crime writer and you're not a member, why not? You're missing out on a lot of fun). To make matters more complicated, this year we have introduced online payment, so I am operating two systems, a paper one and an electronic one, which has made for a challenging first year in the job.
There has still been time for reading, of course. I've enjoyed the latest Camilleri, THE TRACK OF THE SAND. Reading this and also reflecting on FREEDOM, the Jonathan Franzen novel, it strikes me that reticence is a an important quality in a writer and that there is enormous skill in knowing how to give the reader exactly the right amount and no more. It's a common fault in new writers that they try to tell you everything. But it's a courtesy to the reader to assume that they don't need to have everything spelt out. There's a good example in FREEDOM when disaster overtakes one of the characters - I won't say more for fear of spoiling it - and Franzen doesn't describe how she felt or what thoughts went through her head; we imagine that for ourselves and the scene is all the stronger for it. Similarly when Inspector Montalbana has a ill-judged sexual encounter, we don't need a blow-by-blow account, but Camilleri tells us enough for us to understand the Inspector's discomfort later.
So: enough and no more. Sound easy, perhaps, but it is one of the hardest things to learn as a writer.

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