Silkworm 1: Kathryn Kent’s Plot/Narrative Distinction

Spoiler alert:  Don’t read this if you haven’t read The Silkworm and want to read it without having key points revealed to you before hand.

In chapter 10 of The Silkworm, Robin and Cormoran are in his office reading the weBlog of the red-headed writer-wanna-be named Kathryn Kent. Ms Kent is supposedly the mistress of Owen Quine, the famous author whose wife has hired private detective Strike to find. She refers to Quine as ‘TFW,’ The Famous Writer:

Great talk with TFW about Plot and Narrative tonight which are of course not the same thing. For those wondering:- Plot is what happens, Narrative is how much you show your readers and how you show it to them.

An example from my second novel “Melina’s Sacrifice.”

As they made their way towards the Forest of Harderell Lendor raised his handsome profile to see how near they were to it. His well-maintained body, honed by horseback riding and archery skills — [The Silkworm, ch 10, p 66]

There is more in this review of Kent’s weblog to which we will have to return, especially in discussing the choices of quotations for the chapter headings, but for starters I want to ask your thought on this passage with regard to two points.

First, this pedantic aside in a weblog is a piercing representation of the affected wisdom available online in personal weBlogs (and, yes, I recognize the face in the reflection, alas). The insecurity, the excitement with ideas, the eagerness to speak with authority — all there brilliantly encapsulated in three short paragraphs.

Showing-not-telling genius aside, at least for a moment, I think it likely that Ms Rowling here is also making a point that she wants to make with her readers and critics, many of whom praise her for the intricacy and cleverness of her plots. That’s not an empty bit of praise, of course, but it is not Rowling’s gift as an author. That would be her deft characterization — revelation of essence in short, quick descriptive strokes or conversation — and her ability to work the slow reveal in narrative exposition. The latter quality is exactly what Ms Kent spoke with her lover-mentor about and was sharing with her reader(s). Nice touch.

Next, I suspect that the red-headed Kathryn Kent is a snap shot of sorts of the nigh on desperate  J. Kathryn Rowling, then a red head, when she was writing Harry Potter (and other things?) before she was discovered. I suspect it might be a portrait of how she imagines what might have become of Jo Rowling if the remarkable series of chance events did not raise her out of obscurity (for conversation with that young writer, see the interviews posted here last week).

Or is that too far a stretch? I’ll be returning to this idea of embedded pictures from Ms Rowling’s autobiography in discussion of the title, which seems to be an argument that all fiction writing is author-distillation and, after a fashion, execution. For now, though, what do you make of this weBlog passage?

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