On crowding and leaping in fiction writing

by look i have opinions

“Crowding is what Keats meant when he told poets to ‘load every rift with ore.’ It’s what we mean when we exhort ourselves to avoid flabby language and clichés, never use ten vague words when two will do, always to seek the vivid phrase, the exact word. By crowding I also mean keeping the story full, always full of what’s happening in it; keeping it moving, not slacking and wandering into irrelevancies; keeping it interconnected with itself, rich with echoes forward and backward. Vivid, exact, accurate, concrete, dense, rich: these words describe a prose that is crowded with sensations, meanings and implications.

“But leaping is just as important. What you leap over is what you leave out. And what you leave out is infinitely more important than what you leave in. There’s got to be white space around the word, silence around the voice. Listing is not describing. Only the relevant belongs. Some say God is in the details; some say the Devil is in the details. Both are correct.”

—Ursula K. Le Guin in her book Steering the Craft

“Crowding and leaping” seems closely related to scene and narration. In fiction, a scene is crowded by definition—crowded with sensory details, action, and/or dialogue. Narration, by definition, leaps past the scenes, even when it chooses to sprinkle scene-like details here and there. Some time I should do a couple of my awesome charts to determine what the typical ratio is. (See also my high narration-to-scene ratio tag for my obsession with almost sceneless fiction.)

I wish I knew a less ambiguous term for narration. I use the same word to refer to the narrative mode (third person, etc.) and other aspects of the narrator’s voice, regardless of what kinds of things are being narrated. “Showing and telling” (“Show, don’t tell”) also frequently gets conflated with scene and narration. I hate that term because it can mean so many things.

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