I like landscape in fiction. I like women alone in a landscape in fiction. I like sentences that are gorgeous, and bright pops of color amidst more subdued, earthy hues. I’ve never heard anyone talk about the color tones of a story. Oh, and counter to everything we’re told, long scenes where nothing much happens. – Robin MacArthur (writer/creator of the blog woodbird, them mornings…one of my favorite writer blogs)
When I read this on Robin MacArthur’s blog the other day, I said out loud a resounding – Yes! Especially (in particular) the element of “long scenes where nothing much happens.” This sentiment filled me with enormous joy as it seems there has been a tremendous shift away from this in American literature, with a steady and pulsating focus on plot oriented storylines instead. I am not saying I don’t care for plot heavy stories…but I will wholeheartedly admit that they are not my favorite, by a long shot. Living is interesting! People who live are interesting! And the act of exploring and examining an individual’s life – never grows tiresome, or short on intrigue.
I strongly believe that we are here to live and experience rich, rewarding, fascinating, interesting, expansive, unique, head-on lives…and one of the greatest ways of stepping out onto that path is by learning what life means…and one of the greatest ways we can do that, is by learning from others who have lived before us, and who continue to live all around us: Learning about what their lives looked like, how experience shaped their knowledge or ignorance, how they felt, the construction of their beliefs, how their choices led to success or failure, the way they loved and why, what they gave away and what they buried…all the minute details about what constructs a life.
Literary fiction is one of the richest meadows that gives room for this unearthing to take place – it provides safe ground to dig in, with soil that is saturated with the collected deposits of deep history, gathered spans of time, and experiences that are as many as the stars in our sky. I believe stories hold the ability to unlock our soul – to carve deeper channels of humanity inside our spirit – to learn how to listen and see another human being, even one that stands afar, on an opposite shore. And what creates this expansive allowance is not so much the plot, but the silence that rests inside the human soul…a soul that we begin to see through the stillness of character engaging with life. A character standing on a hill, revealing through his/her eyes what they see, informs us as to who they are…which informs us of who we are, due to our own reading of this open ended conversation. It’s a miraculous thing, and I am grateful every single day for all the writers out there – for all of the artists out there, that help us all to see a much bigger world, because of the gifts that they give.
Here’s a few writers that I find provide room for “nothing much to happen” in their stories:
Cormac McCarthy, Per Petterson, Eudora Welty, Mary Oliver, Marilynne Robinson, John Berger, Julian Barnes, Brad Kessler, Alice Munro…to name a few.
Please share the love and let me know of writers that you adore, who allow for this “rich, emptiness” on the page. The more we know, the bigger we grow :)