“We’re not keen on the idea of the story sharing its valence with the reader. But the reader’s own life ‘outside’ the story changes the story.” -- David Foster WallaceI think about what Wallace is saying here. I think about it a lot. In our arrogance of creation, it’s too easy to forget about this very aspect.
A story is never mine alone. It’s ours: yours and mine. When I write a story, I bring something. And when you read it, you bring something else. How successful the story is -- in terms of carrying you away -- will be largely dependent on how much room I have given you, the reader, to participate.
Think about all of this when next you read. The stories that spell it all out -- that describe every eyebrow and every motion and every breath -- leave no room for the reader’s own creativity. When I write, I try to allow for your ownership; your participation. I don’t need to describe a the color of a character’s hair. That’s something that you will bring, even with no direction. The cleft of a chin, the swagger of a walk. A character should be defined by the impression he leaves in the world. Your job as a writer is to give your reader just enough information that this impression forms itself.
“The reader becomes God,” Wallace also said, going, I think, in the same direction, “for all textual purposes. I see your eyes glazing over, so I’ll hush.”
I’m thinking a lot about Wallace these days, partly because of a close encounter with The Pale King, his last novel, published posthumously this month. I wrote a somewhat heartbroken review of the book recently. That’s over on January Magazine if you care to peek.
Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this:
“It looks like you can write a minimalist piece without much bleeding. And you can. But not a good one.” -- David Foster Wallace