Thursday, September 27, 2012

On the Fringes (by Jennifer R. Hubbard)

My dictionary includes this among the list of definitions for fringe: “a part considered to be peripheral, extreme, or minor in relation to the main part.”

By that definition, no element in our books should be fringe: everything in the book should be there for a reason, contributing to the story. But in life, we’re surrounded by details that don’t really have an impact on our lives, by random events whose beginnings or endings we never know, by noise that we have to filter out. And so, when we read, we often overlook the importance of little details.

sleepingmThis is where writers can have a lot of fun. Mystery writers are famous for strewing the real clues around in the background, where they are easy to miss but a pleasure for astute readers to spot. I remember how proud I was that I figured out the guilty party in Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder before the detective told me who it was! I had learned how to pay attention to clues that seemed fringe but were really central.

holes  whenyoureach

The books Holes and When You Reach Me were enormously satisfying in the way they managed to weave a great number of seemingly unconnected happenings into coherent wholes. We saw one thread, then another, then a glimpse of a pattern, and when we stepped back we could see how every thread fit into a complete tapestry.

I’ve never managed to scatter puzzle pieces so widely before fitting them together at a story’s conclusion, but I did include some hints early in Try Not to Breathe about a couple of secrets that are revealed at the end.
TNTB thumbnail2

Fringe details make rereading a pleasure. When we know how the story turns out, certain little items that were mentioned casually jump out at us now. We see their significance and realize how they subtly influenced us the first time around, building a world in which even a surprising conclusion seemed right and inevitable.

So pay attention to those fringe details ... because you never know!


*New World Dictionary, Second College Edition

6 comments:

  1. Holes is one of my favorite stories for exactly this reason; it's all interwoven.

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    1. Yes! I was knocked out by HOLES. Every piece of the jigsaw fell into its place until, at the end, the picture was complete and nothing was left over.

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  2. Love what you say about all details needing to be in a book for a reason--so, so true...

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    1. I once heard a writer say that every clue we give, the readers have to carry around with them, waiting for the payoff. And that they get annoyed if they carried something a long way and never needed to use it! ;-)

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  3. Great post about those fringe details. I absolutely love when all the pieces come together and hit the reader at the end. Two books that I adore for this reason are Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta and Where Things Come Back by Corey Whalen.

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    1. You're right, Jellicoe Road is another! Where Things Come Back is still on my TBR list.

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