I’ve come back to Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot after more than 20 years away. It’s a total pain in the ass to read. I’ve read his other big ones more recently and found them riveting. I suppose my problem with this one is I don’t find Petersburg’s interpersonal intrigues among its 19th-century elites as intriguing as I once did. I find them frustrating, like adolescents. Still, there’s something in The Idiot that makes me keep going, and it’s the Prince, who’s at the center of it all but who’s also the book’s main observer. He’s presented as the pure-of-heart innocent, “the idiot” who’s not really an idiot at all. What’s the most interesting to me now, after all this time away, is the insight into the Prince’s mind’s workings written sometimes across several pages. This is something that influenced me, and stayed with me for a few years after the initial reading, but I guess I’d forgotten. Now, it reappears like an old friend reminding me: You can go in-depth into a character’s consciousness, and it can be more interesting than the physical action around him.
Also I’m reminded of this masterpiece, maybe not as pure of heart:
How do you keep the reader interested as the story unfolds?
That’s the six-million-dollar question. I think it’s a question of pacing and tension. You have to keep the story moving, quickly enough that nobody gets frustrated and slowly enough that you have time to build the world, to make the story full-fleshed and evocative. And there’s also the matter of controlling what the reader knows and when they know it. When I’m writing a book I sort of think of it as a dark ride at a carnival: over here there are some dangly things to brush against your face in the dark, but down the line the car spins around and a skeleton jumps out. You have to make sure all of your creeps are creepy and all of your surprises are surprising.
I love this analogy of the dark ride at the carnival. You can read the whole interview here.
Ever edited a large work and wondered how to organize the chapters? This piece by Jonathan Russell Clark in The Millions gives some great insight. The way we authors set up our chapters and sections of our books makes the reading a lot easier for everyone who isn’t us and hasn’t spent time with the story for years. That’s the gist of this piece, and it’s inspiring for those of us embarking on a novel revision. Organizing chapters in a certain way could give the book exactly what it needs to make it a compelling read.
Twenty-one authors tell BuzzFeed Books how they wrote their first books—what obstacles they overcame, what happened, how they feel in the aftermath. It’s a very instructive read, and it shows a pretty good range of experiences. For whatever reason, the part about writing something before the first book is published—a novel that won’t ever be published (a prequel)—stuck out for me. Also the fact that some were shocked when their first books sold. And I love when Sam Lipsyte tells his marketing team at a large publisher that he wants to be on Oprah. Read it here.