Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Issue 30, June 2013—Buch Märchen Issue)

Let’s say there are (at least) two kinds of flatness: One is a flatness of never was, where a character is never given psychological depth, not even off the page, in my own understanding of the character; and the other is a flatness of erasure, where there often was a psychological underpinning to the character at some point of the writing process, but then it was either completely or partially erased during revision. It’s the second kind that is perhaps the least fairy-tale-like, but it is one of my favorite techniques, in all kinds of stories, because it removes the kind of writer-provided psychological causality that both defines and plagues so much contemporary realism (and many of the weaker strains of non-realism) by creating worlds that are too simple, too known, too given in such a way that they require little movement on the part of the reader. When it succeeds, I believe an erasure of motivation and interiority creates a sort of discomfiting blankness that the reader detects in part because they have come to expect what is missing to be among what they are given. And so that blank becomes a mystery, and, in the absence of other options, the reader begin to fill that blank with themselves, inserting their own emotional and moral complications, which then begin to be acted upon by (and through) the action of the story. This, more than anything else, is the secret power of flatness: the wonderful way in which something flat can also be a container, and that what it might come to contain is the bottomless self of the reader, set in new motion from inside a story.

Matt Bell