Snow A short story within Charles Baxter’s book Gryphon pp.168-178
Tone Setting …
I want to log some of my reading as I go along and figure it will be a good opportunity to write a blog post each time. My tutor recommended the short story Snow by Charles Baxter because it sets up a scenario where you feel something is going to happen then (spoiler alert) it doesn’t but the reader leaves the experience satisfied nonetheless. Or that is the aim.
She herself explained that some undergrads leave their reading a little cheated because nothing really takes place. However a lot does takes place and I found it an interesting, albeit slightly bleak read. The thing I would like to focus on in this post is how Baxter uses language to make you feel something will happen regardless of the outcome. I am keen for my reader to feel on edge and sense something will occur, as I’m sure most writers are. So here is my brief analysis of the word choices used to create an uneasy tone and set up this scenario.
Snow begins with a reference to a car which ‘went through the ice two nights ago’, the plot is then about the twelve year old protagonist visiting this scene with his older brother and his older brother’s latest girlfriend in a car. No prizes for guessing what you are led to believe could happen. I want to look at some direct quotes to show how the rest of the language reinforces a tone to set this up.
p.168 ‘time was stretching out unpleasantly in front of me.’
‘music was making me jumpy’
‘crackled and crunched.’
p.169 ‘friends and enemies’
Things he notices in his brother’s room – ‘a stainless steel sword’
p.170 ‘Pulling out onto the highway, he steered the car in his customary way. He had explained to me that only very old or very sick people actually grip steering wheels.’
‘the heater in my brother’s car was blowing out warm air in tentative gusts.’
p.171 (Love this line) ‘the paint around her house seemed to have blistered in cobweb patterns.’
‘I adjusted the dashboard clock. It doesn’t run,’
p.172 An example of dialogue use,
‘I can’t reach it,’ Stephanie said. ‘You two have both my hands tied down.’
An example of how colour is used,
‘The gum was light pink, a sunburn color.’
‘hinged on my ignorance’
‘I saw an old house on the side of the highway with a cracked upstairs window, and I thought, That’s what I’ll remember from this whole day when I’m old – that one cracked window.’
‘Stephanie was stepping awkwardly, a high-center-of-gravity shuffle. ‘Is it safe?’ she asked.
‘Sure it’s safe,’ my brother said. ‘Look.’ He began to jump up and down. Ben was heavy enough to be a tackle on his high-school football team, and sounds of ice cracking reverberated all through the bay and beyond into the center of the lake, a deep echo.’
Ok, so I have provided some excellent examples from the first five or six pages, enough for you to see how the scene is set up for something dramatic later on when his brother brings his car on to the ice. Honestly whether or not an ending is satisfying is for another post but I am interested in whether or not it is a good idea to set something up ready to happen when it is going to happen or whether it is better to subvert that and make it seem like nothing will happen when you have planned it to.
What do people think?
I want to give my reader a journey and keep them guessing throughout.
Will this make it interesting or stilted? I guess it depends how well I pull it off but I am keen to know how other people set out to write.
Tip : try and be mindful of your reader as you write but more so on subsequent edits and drafts. Get that first draft written first and foremost and keep writing. I am at 12k on my work in progress, still a long way to go.