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.”


One Response

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

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