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On the mechanics of writing

Some ideas can’t be conveyed directly. This is especially true for feelings. These things you have to tell through a story (hence the novel), where you don’t speak the idea explicitly; instead, the reader picks up on it through identifying with the characters and noticing the similarities amongst them and themselves.

Once again I’ve been humbled. I thought I’d come along and revolutionize the novel, that all those “extra” words are unnecessary, but now I’m coming to discover that the story is only the means to an end – the very same end I’ve had in mind for many years: to convey subtle emotions and throw light on the absurdities of life to others through writing. There’s a reason why novels are so long, drawn out, and detailed in describing characters and situations. Still, I wonder if I can achieve what the medium of the novel aims to achieve without all that, or at least without developing life-like characters, with names, homes, and personalities. Or maybe I can do away with just the names part.

I’m picturing the profile of a human being behind the words of “Anna Karenina.” Levin, or Anna, or Oblonsky even. The character doesn’t necessarily have a face; he’s just an outline. Behind the transparent, bordered outline I picture a lot of words extending into the page; words of varying shades, fonts, and sizes. These words create a negative image of a person, so that he’s not rising toward me but falling away from me. Over his image are the words of the text.

Those words that give him depth, those are the ideas the author is trying to convey. But they can’t be written directly. They have to be placed there by me, the reader, inspired in my conscience from what I read. Someone else’s image will differ from mine, but not by much. Their choice of words might vary…shading, size – all these things are variable. But from a distance, each person’s picture of the character should resemble every other’s (unless someone has a really far and out interpretation of what the author is trying to convey).

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