Dissonance, a Novel
by Lisa Lenard-Cook
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The Art of Fiction: 

The Missing Link

by Lisa Lenard-Cook
September-October 2009

". . .I’d like to look at the flip issue: the missing link. "

A few days ago, I began, and put aside, a literary novel in which the narrator had moved, between chapter one and chapter two, from a rumination to a car trip. I actually flipped back to the first chapter to see if the car trip had been alluded to and I’d missed it, but no: it arose from the ether of the author’s mind. This, to me, is a missing link – an error of omission.

So, while in my most recent column, I talked about T.M.I.  – too much information – this month, I’d like to look at the flip issue: the missing link. When a writer other than yourself skips something important (as the author above did), it may be easy to spot, but admitting what’s not yet in your own fiction can be a far more difficult proposition.


Iceberg Tips and Other Myths of Omission

You’ve of course heard of Hemingway’s tip of the iceberg theory, wherein all that should be revealed in a story is what shows above the surface. Everything else, Hemingway asserted, is hidden – but very much there. My take on this is two-fold. First, it may have worked for Hemingway, but we’re not Hemingways. Second, as many times as I’ve read “Hills Like White Elephants,” I still can’t find evidence of the secret critics claim is at its heart. (Read it yourself, if you haven’t.) I should add that I consider Hemingway one of my masters. But that doesn’t mean I agree with everything he said or did.

On the other hand, Raymond Carver (considered by many Hemingway’s successor) didn’t leave the hearts of such matters out of his stories. Rather, his deceptively simple sentences and natural-sounding dialogue alert readers to exactly what’s at stake for his characters. What Carver does omit is elevated diction, authorial intrusion, and fancy dancing – all to the benefit of his storytelling.

". . . think about what keeps you reading others’ work."

Omission v. Suspense

And there’s the key – the story. To help you think about your own storytelling, think about what keeps you reading others’ work. Chances are, it’s suspense that holds you – not knowing what’s going to happen next.

But if what happens next happens without suspense preceding it, the compulsion to keep reading is no longer there. Instead, your reader is left, as I was above, flipping back to see if she missed something.

". . .the scenes you haven’t written are likely the most important. . ."

As I’ve said many times, the scenes you haven’t written are likely the most important ones to your story – and the hardest ones to write. If these scenes are missing, your reader won’t keep reading. So fill in the blanks. You – and your reader – will be glad you did.

Lisa Lenard-Cook
Lisa Lenard-Cook

Lisa Lenard-Cook’s first novel Dissonance was short-listed for the PEN Southwest Book Award, and her second novel Coyote Morning short-listed for the New Mexico Press Women’s Zia Award. Lisa is on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference and Vermont College’s Lifelong Learning Program. Her book about fiction writing, The Mind of Your Story, (April 2008) can be purchased at amazon.com.