Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sugar-Coated Exposition

If you haven't yet read Out Stealing Horses, do. You're in for a treat.

By page 67, the reader is really curious to know more about Trond Sander, the protagonist in this book. In chapter one, he has moved back to a cabin on a river in Norway where he spent a summer as a boy. He is a sixty-seven year old man. He seems broken but we don't know why or how. In chapter two we are with him in his childhood for some vivid and evocative scenes. By chapter five we're back to the narrative present--Trond, out walking with his dog Lyra, has recognized a neighbor. We have no idea what has happened to Trond between his teen years and now but we're hooked on the sensual, melancholic writing. We want to know more about Sander.

Here's how author Per Petterson informs us. He has our main character go into the small town to shop at the Co-op. Here's Trond Sander in the store:

"I exchange greetings to right and left, they are used to me know and realize I am here to stay and that I an not one of the holiday cottage crew who pile out here in their mammoth cars every Easter and summer to fish by day and play poker and swig sundowners in the evening. It took some time before they started to ask questions, cautiously, in the queue for the check-out, and now everyone knows who I am and where I live. They know about my working life, how old I am, that my wife died three years ago in an accident I only just survived myself, that she was not my first wife, and that I have two grown-up children from an earlier marriage, and that they have children themselves . . . " and so on.

As readers we always need to know about characters. We demand to know, and if we don't know enough we will detach. At the same time we bristle at direct exposition. So this is a great way to let the reader know in a totally believable and indirect fashion.

Sugar-coated exposition, my husband calls it.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Reading for Life

I saw this on a student's email signature and had to post it.

A woman in a class this week talked about her six-year-old son saying something to her like, "You're always reading, Mom. Nose in a book."

At the time she was sitting on her couch devouring Mary Karr's The Liar's Club. She read him the part about kids shooting BB guns. He got wide-eyed.

Later, he wanted to hear more from the BB gun book.