Gettin’ Some Action Between The Covers Of A Novel

F. Scott Fitzgerald, scribbling in the working notes for his novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, said, “Action is character.”

I’ve long cleaved to this wisdom, as if Fitzgerald’s statement formed a guiding set of reins, setting my course as a writer trying to entertain on two levels: The action of the tale has to keep a reader longing for the next word, of course, but the words themselves ought to glimmer with a life all their own. They should form a sound that moves the reader’s soul. The words alone should have breath and a voice. It’s not an easy reach.

This little passage of She-Rain is a quick look at what I’m talking about, at least in my opinion. Let me hear yours.

The day came on so cold the air felt breakable. The coldest day even the grayest heads could recall, talking of it for weeks. A pack of us had piled onto Pap’s mule wagon, the children smothered in quilts and shivers and a show of good faith. We were party to the goodbye.

Everything outside shone silvery white, all the trees wrapped and crackling in the shimmer of frozen January rain atop a snow. Cloth wrapped about the faces kept the ride quiet under the low winter noise. It seemed every branch, twig and roadside weed crunched against the lightest wind. A feel of frailty came off it, yet I loved the blank white. The way it made that trip to town feel as new as Christmas morning the day we hauled Frank to the Marshal Depot. Pap was paying his way.

Reading should be transformative. Writers ought to take you somewhere, causing the dust of a dirt road or the cold of a place and time to settle onto you. When we succeed at this, you, as a quiet reader, live out loud the truth of the people in the tale. You have a chance to touch, to hear, and to know them. By the transport of words, readers discover deeper parts of themselves. They find a new and familiar world at once. To read well is to travel well. But more than travel, readers – in the hands of a caring writer – arrive in a story from which they don’t want to turn away.

Some writers decry description. They uphold only the leanest truth telling, figuring the reader’s imagination will do the rest. It’s not a terrible idea, though one that often underachieves what a writer is called to do. Fitzgerald’s genius still holds true – action is character. And in a world of well-chosen words, action — and readers — find a fine place to dwell.


2 Responses to “Gettin’ Some Action Between The Covers Of A Novel”

  1. Karen Lucking Says:

    I felt cold and yet saw the beauty of the white covering.
    John Steinbeck was so good with this in “Grapes of Wrath” and you, my friend are up to par!!!!

  2. Baby doll changing table…

    […]Gettin’ Some Action Between The Covers Of A Novel « Michael Cogdill[…]…

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