Sunday, May 27, 2007

 

Hidden Edges



As I'm approaching the end of my novel, I've been thinking a lot about the concept of "hidden edges." The term applies to fine arts, and is a technique artists use to ensure that the legs or back of a 3-dimensional object are where they are supposed to be, as in the sketch below.



If you've ever drawn a "3-dimensional" box, where you overlap one box on top of the other, then draw in the little connectors, you have some clue as to what I'm talking about.



My fiance was explaining the whole concept to me a few weeks back. He said that artists often draw in these "hidden edges" to ensure that a box or ball will look like it can balance, but later take out the edges that would be hidden from view in a final product.

I started thinking about how this pertains to writing, and to the endings of books in particular. It's no longer really acceptable to write an ending which reads: "And they lived happily ever after." We modern audiences tend to like something a little more subtle, and something that sustains the illusion that the fictional world we've just read about will continue in some way. At the same time, it's deeply offensive when a novel ends abruptly. So, how to write an ending?

With short stories, I don't tend to start writing until I'm sure of the ending. And even when I change the beginning to a story, the ending almost never differs from what I first imagined.

I read Debra Spark's excellent book on the craft of fiction a couple of years ago. Here is something she says about endings:

"To list strategies for ending a story may be less helpful than it is for openings, since a list of strategies begs the larger question of inspiration, of how to understand your own story, of how to discover what you mean ot say. That said, in general, when we think of effective closings, we think of a resonant final image or a powerful thought or a "killer" line. Or we think of some combinatino of these three."

Spark then goes on to describe some of these killer endings which often end with an image which momentarily presents us with a "large" view of the world.

I like this concept. It describes what happens when I read a book that is satisfying all the way to the end. But I think it works best when a story contains within it some hidden edges--some sense of how various things are going to end somewhere in the future, without being too oblique. In other words, the final structure isn't going to stand and the final image isn't going to open up and give a sense of "largeness," if the story doesn't have some kind of internal bracing to hold it all in place.

Have I succeeded? That's a somewhat subjective question. I will say that I've enjoyed this part of the editing phase more than any other. There's a wonderful sense at the end of writing a short story, when I know the characters, know what happens, and am just polishing and burnishing passages. This is the wonderful part of writing. It feels like being immersed in music.

The sad thing is that it also means a story, or in this case a book, is almost over.

And then it's time to start something new.

Comments:
I'm intrigued. We may need to speak more of this concept of hidden edges.
 
Ha. You got it.
 
Found you through Maud Newton. Wow, what a wonderful concept...now on to your archives!
-Deborah
 
Very cool blog -- i also found you through Maud and look forward to reading more.
 
Thanks, avidreader! I'm somewhat embarassed-- I will try to stop posting my silly pop culture opinions in favor of something more serious since you all are stopping by. And I'm I'm looking forward to taking a look at your own blogs in turn.
 
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