MONTPELIER, VERMONT: “Literary writers embrace exterior details to convey our interiority.” So said Sue William Silverman in the opening lecture of my latest MFA residency here with the Vermont College of Fine Arts. The award-winning Silverman–author of Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, and Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir–walked a packed room in the ornate College Hall Chapel through the use of windows in painting, poetry and prose. From Vermeer to Joyce, she emphasized the unique role a window can play as a tool for storytelling and metaphor.
A window allows the narrator to see a broader world–a world she longs for, or fears, or even simply imagines–but by choosing which details the narrator sees through that window, we as readers gain insight onto the character herself. Don’t just list whatever may be outside the window, Silverman said: “Slant the details to invoke the narrator’s interior.”
Much is said of the symbolism of a door, but she said unlike a window, a door suggests the possibility of escape, and of course can be solid, not allowing a new perspective. A window also is reflective, allowing the author to contrast the outside and inside, the world beyond and the narrator’s own reflection. So if you find yourself struggling to properly convey the interior of your narrator, she said–whether in poetry, fiction or creative nonfiction–“give him or her a window.”
ABOUT THIS SERIES: As promised, I am posting occasional “nuggets” of wisdom I am acquiring here at my second residency in the MFA for Writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. My goal is to have you here with me for the next ten days!