The Novel Tells a Story

Scheherazade avoided her fate because she knew how to wield the weapon of suspense–the only literary tool that has any effect upon tyrants and savages. Great novelist though she was — exquisite in her descriptions, tolerant in her judgments, ingenious in her incidents, advanced in her morality, vivid in her delineations of character, expert in her knowledge of three Oriental capitals — it was yet on none of these gifts that she relied when trying to save her life from her intolerable husband. They were but incidental. She only survived because she managed to keep the king wondering what would happen next. Each time she saw the sun rising she stopped in the middle of a sentence, and left him gaping.” ~ E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel

As Forster goes on to point out, this is all that ultimately matters in writing a novel. All a novelist is required to do, at least in her first draft, is to tell a story that will “transform the reader into a listener to whom a voice speaks, the voice of the tribal narrator, squatting in the middle of the cave, and saying one thing after another until the audience falls asleep among their offal and bones.”

Further, Forster has this to console the anxious writer: “Unlike the weaver of plots, the story-teller profits by ragged ends.”

Ah, ragged ends. Surely, even I can do ragged ends. What a relief.

 

 

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