The Lost World: Harnessing the Power of Descriptive Prose in the Novel
What makes certain novels so irresistible? What gives them the power to colonize the imagination so completely that putting them down is like parting with a beloved friend? The ingredients aren’t so hard to isolate: complex, coherent, sympathetic characters; robust narrative energy instilled by way of excruciating dramatic tension and conflict; a compelling voice; deeply resonant thematic unities; and a well-rendered setting that creates the effect of an entire, vibrant world. It is the last category in particular that gives many novels their deep emotional power: descriptive writing that appeals to the deeply ingrained human yearning for sensory completeness, for a return to what has been termed the domaine perdu, or the Lost World. The Lost World is the Eden myth. It has a tremendous resonance in every culture. It’s one of the main engines that drives writers to describe, and that allows readers to be transfixed by fine descriptive prose.
In this craft-based seminar, we’ll examine passages from a number of contemporary and classic novels in order to understand how the Lost World operates. We’ll trace its influence on the content and structure of works by authors as diverse in approach as Ernest Hemingway, J.R.R. Tolkien, Colum McCann, Edith Wharton, Patrick O'Brian, Leslie Marmon Silko, and James Welch, and we’ll discuss various ways it can be used to give fiction enhanced power and meaning. Finally, we’ll undertake a series of generative writing exercises designed to help students identify their own Lost Worlds—and to harness them in the interest of creating irresistible, deeply resonant fiction.
Previous Students Say
- "Great for Newbies"
- "Diverse Reading Assignments"
- "Inspired Me to Write More"
- Craft Lessons
- In-Class Reading
- Class Discussion
- Concept Development
- The Novel
- Book-Length Memoir
- Literary Journalism
- Young Adult & Children's Literature