I’ve been reading more of John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist and I’d like to share some quotes on generous and ungenerous writers.
In the best fiction, plot is not a series of surprises but an increasingly moving series of recognitions, or moments of understanding.
Gardner calls this generous fiction. Here is his definition of the opposite.
Ungenerous fiction is first and foremost fiction in which the writer is unwilling to take the reader as an equal partner.
He uses an example of a story where a man (Frank) moves into the house next door to the house of his teen-age daughter (Wanda), but she does not know that he is her father. Then he gives the examples of how foolish and wise writers might differ in their storytelling.
What the foolish or inexperienced writer does with this idea is hide the father-daughter relationship from the reader as well as from the daughter until the last minute, at which point he jumps out and yells: “Surprise!”
The wise or more experienced writer gives the reader the information he needs to understand the story moment by moment, with the result that instead of asking, as he reads, “What’s going to happen to the characters next?” the reader asks, ”What will Frank do next? What would Wanda say if Frank were to … ” and so on. Involving himself in the story in this way, the reader feels true suspense, which is to say, true concern for the characters.
Gardener then goes on to say that by being a generous writer you allow your reader to worry about, understand, and care about your character. Your reader will become emotionally involved in the story.
Are you enabling your reader to live vicariously through your characters?