MaxBarry.com
self-promoting since 1998

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

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Fri 09
Oct
2015

Details, Details

Lexicon

SPOILER WARNING: Mild spoilers about Lexicon follow

Hello Max,

I am currently enjoying reading Lexicon, however my pedantic nature forces me to question the storyline at page 190-191 where Emily sleeps with Harry then he is not there next morning.

How does she get home?

How does she get home in such a way that she has difficulty finding her way back?

Regards

Graeme

I’ll be honest, Graeme: You are my nightmare. When I’m trying to move the story along while developing character and a satisfying emotional arc, blah blah blah, there is always a little voice in the back of my head that says, “You didn’t explain exactly how she got home.” Henceforth I will call that voice Graeme.

How did Emily get home? I don’t know. I never thought deeply about it. I presume it was somehow. She’s not that far from home; she is resourceful; she has feet; I just figure she gets it done.

But I know this isn’t a satisfying answer, because all stories are real, and real things have facts. So here is THE ACTUAL ANSWER that I just invented:

Her shoes were useless, of course, two-inch heels, so she carried them. She didn’t know the area but followed the dirt road in what she hoped was the right direction. It was an hour before she reached anywhere she recognized, which was another hour away from town. It would be less if a car passed by, but that would also mean she was recognized, and never live it down. So she walked with her head down. She was never going to see him again. She had already decided that.

Now I want you to bear in mind, Graeme, that rural roads are like rivers. There’s a main road, from which smaller roads branch out. If you start on a small road with a vague idea of the right direction, you can follow it back upstream until you reach the main road and there you are. But going the other way is more difficult, because you have to remember which branch to take. Right? And it’s dark when she returns. I hope we can agree on this.

I try to provide the minimum amount of detail necessary when writing. I think that’s my job: to figure out how to have the greatest effect in the fewest words. Because what amazes me over and over about novels is how much of the story is provided by readers. The page holds only the tiniest details, yet we conjure whole worlds. That’s the only reason novels work.

I don’t think they work when the author tries to explain every little thing. Or when they describe physical objects to death. I can’t stand that. It actually feels a little insulting, like they don’t trust me enough to share the story. Just tell me there’s a broken glass, dammit. I can do the rest.

Comments

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Machine Man subscriber Mapuche (#1184)

Location: Darwin, Australia
Quote: "Inconceivable!"
Posted: 504 days ago

I think the trees in that scene really stand out! :D

Machine Man subscriber Yannick (#3858)

Location: Heist, Belgium
Quote: "he reads things"
Posted: 504 days ago

I never really thought about withholding details like that. I'm sure to think about this when I give NaNoWriMo yet another go next month!

Machine Man subscriber M.I.Minter (#347)

Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
Quote: "When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading."
Posted: 504 days ago

See? Isn't this fun?!?!?! 17 entries this year! YAY!!!!

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