I tend to like cinematic books that draw me right into the story. Alan Furst’s pre-World War II historical espionage books do that. With the first sentence I immediately find myself in Prague, Paris, or Warsaw surrounded by intrigue and danger. And I’m there for a few days savoring that time and meeting all sorts of people I would never meet here at the beach.
I’m suffering through a bout of impatience with writing descriptive scenes. General scenery I can write. I can describe physical attributes, clothing, the weather, even the actions of a dog, but my dilemma is describing scenes that reflect the characters’ nuances, but scenes that also move the story forward. For instance, Corinne is standing on the corner of Pitt and Broome Street in front of a police station with the dog. She’s looking at the modern, square building and imagining the tenement that was located there eighty years earlier when Julius Rosenberg was a boy living on the Lower Eastside.
For this particular scene the following questions have cropped up: why is it important and how does it move the story forward? Is it because Corinne wanted to live in a neighborhood that was recognized for its progressive politics? Does it feed her obsession with the Rosenbergs and the injustice that was served. Does it foreshadow another event in the story? Is she incensed that most LES residents don’t even know their neighborhood’s history?
To help me answer these questions, I’m reading Monica Wood’s Description. In her introduction she states that “even the smallest decisions about description can affect a story in countless subtle ways.”
I’m beginning to see that writing a novel is similar to a long mathematical equation. Without the right variables it won’t lead to the correct result. Now as I read over what I’ve written in the past few months in this re-do, I see I have many missing variables in this rather long equation that I’ve titled Julius.