A chance comment suddenly helped crystalize my thoughts on something I’ve been looking for a way to talk about for at least thirty years. It has to do with the way a book is analyzed after the fact, versus how it is constructed.
The comment was on my novel, Dzur, and it discussed how the food described at the beginning of each chapter commented on and interacted with the events in that chapter. And, yeah, I did that.
After the fact, from the point of view of the critic or the reader, that was a complex bit of layering, where the reader is invited to consider additional depths of the work. Sounds pretty nifty, right? Also, probably, pretentious and maybe affected.
But from my perspective, as I was writing it, it was utterly prosaic and practical. Those “additional depths” were hooks to help me figure out what happened next. That’s it. I’d start with the description of the food, then, if I got stuck trying to decide what happened in that chapter, I’d read that description to see if it gave me any ideas. And, as I was describing the action, I might go back and tweak the description of the food a little, because by then it had become a game I was playing with myself.
I was well aware that this would have the result of a work that had more depth, more texture, more of what Emma Bull has called the “chewy bits.” And that’s great. But at the end of the day, to me, it was a bit of business I was using to help me figure out what happened in the story.
The analysis by the critic is every bit as valid as the remembered experience of the writer. I love a good critic for the insights into a work he or she can give me. But the analysis by the critic has little in common with the experience of creation.