Martín Solares on Creating Novelesque Excitement

From The Literary Hub:

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, people were said to lead novelesque lives if they traveled extensively, experienced major twists of fate—at times disastrous (and someone would come to the rescue), at times lucky (in which case an enemy would try to destroy them). In any event, their lives were full of surprises, adventures, interesting anecdotes; protagonists who placed the most daring bets, laid it all on the line. The novelesque was at its prime: no one would have associated it with distraction, or called it boring, or outlandish.

Then, in the second decade of the twentieth century, as Thomas Pavel shows us in La pensée du roman (The thinking novel), came the great novels that sought to be more like poetry: Joyce, Proust, Kafka, Faulkner, to name just a few, followed shortly thereafter by a long train of imitators who, in their attempts to emulate their predecessors, managed to write some tremendously boring books. Adventure novels seemed to be the last bastion of surprise. As a result, people began to describe the novelesque as not having its feet on the ground.

A story is novelesque when it provokes in the reader, at regular intervals, the burning question: What will happen next? This question is as powerful as a wave: it lifts us high, pauses for a moment, takes our breath away, and unfurls onto the sand, or another wave, with a crash before disappearing. It’s strange: when we talk about a novel, we remember the emotion it produced but never the nearly minuscule strategies that built up our interest throughout. Of an enthralling novel, we remember—at most—the emotion and the suspense, that private pleasure it generated in us, the moments when we suffered because of a character’s impending doom; we don’t remember the techniques used to produce those sensations.

According to Raphaël Baroni, one of the theorists who have studied the curiosity sparked by fictional narratives, the tension we feel when reading a story is also a poetic effect, the result of well-crafted intrigue. For Baroni, tension mounts when the reader has to wait to see how the plot will be resolved, and this waiting is marked by enough uncertainty that the denouement sparks an intense reaction.

Though a far cry from novels focused on developing a highly literary language, several early twenty-first century television shows brought back the novelesque in the nineteenth-century sense—its constant surprises, its strategies for holding the reader’s interest—and, in doing so, revealed to practitioners of the form just how much they had forgotten of this essential aspect of their art. And they did something else: returning to this essential element of the nineteenth-century novel, they turned the novel into a popular product that is also undeniable in its artistic refinement, able to captivate the most demanding novelist.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub