Fiction notes: The power of juxtaposition

15/04/2023 at 10:53 am | Posted in Fiction notes, Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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For decades, I wrote non-fiction. Then the poles shifted in my personal life, and now I almost always write fiction. But back in the beginning of my career, I did write a single short story. It was called ‘The Dormer Window’, even though the window in the story was a slanting, attic sort that could be more properly termed a skylight.

When it was published, in Britain and Ireland, no one seemed to mind the architectural inaccuracy. What they liked was the way it juxtaposed the hard drudge of a couple’s ordinary life with a window that revealed their passions and dreams, in unexpected ways. In the story, the husband created an attic bedroom, complete with slanted window above the bed. At night, their reflection revealed them as Chagall’s lovers, entwined and floating in the air. As one editor memorably put it, “It’s about love and DIY”.

I had a quick look for the story yesterday, but couldn’t find it. If I do, I’ll share it on these pages.

But what I really want to talk about is the use of juxtaposition in fiction writing. It’s such a useful device, to put two contrasting things closely together. And it seems to work particularly well for people. To be human is to have duties that we must do, to survive and hopefully thrive. But to be human is also to have powerful emotions. In day to day life we often try to hide these. However, it’s vital for our sanity that there is an outlet for our yearnings, hopes and dreams – a dormer window, if you will.

I invite you to consider what you are currently writing, or perhaps reading. Is juxtaposition present? And, if so, how does it enhance the story?

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