Wavelengths

Bob Thompson, in an article, “Writing About Writers”, interviews Margaret Atwood (he also talks to Joan Didion):

Once, when Margaret Atwood (at left) came through Washington, I bought her a glass of lemonade and watched her draw waves in the air to illustrate the differences among literary forms. “The wavelengths of a poem are very short,” she said, chopping a hand quickly up and down. “You’re looking at the patterns of syllables, and how consistent they are with other syllables a little further down, and words and rhythms.” The wavelengths of a novel are long, like a tidal wave’s, so “if you put the pistol on page 30, you’re probably going to see it again on page 162 and then it goes off on page 415 — kaboom.” As for the short story, which was what I’d come to ask about, “the wavelengths are in between those two forms, and you can get a very condensed amount of power into that, of a different kind.”

Call it Atwood’s First Law of Literature: “It’s just a question of wavelength, how far away the bits of it are from the other bits.”

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One Response

  1. Apt analogy. I’ll keep this in mind in the future. Thank you for sharing.

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