Saturday, December 20, 2008


causality--a force in fiction even more primal than conflict, in which events are triggered by previous events; a quality by which things happen as a consequence of previous actions, events, or purposeful lack of action; the literary equivalent of the Newtonian law about actions and reactions. Without causality there would only be separate, unlinked events. Causality is also the literary effect of karma--stories are propelled by the consequences of things characters have done or have notably not done; the compelling reason characters behave as they do or interpret life as they do The bulk of Thomas Hardy's novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, happens as a consequence of chapter one in which Michael Henchard sells his wife and daughter to a sailor.

Commonly referred to as The Domino Effect because a row of closely placed dominoes falls in such a demonstrably vivid way, causality is a series of linked dramatic events that produce a memorable result which, by its very nature, produces an emotion.

raisins in the matzoh—an unnecessary elaboration; a good idea taken too far by an unnecessary element or refinement; the literary equivalent of preparing enough food for twelve guests when you’ve only invited six to dinner.

A matzoh is unleavened bread, eaten at the time of Passover to commemorate the flight from Egypt, when there was no time to use yeast and leavening. Matzoh was and is perfectly good for its purpose. It doesn’t need raisins to make it work. First articulated by the writer-painter-saloon keeper, teacher Barnaby Conrad, ritm is a kissing cousin of anticlimax, thanks to the way it undermines a perfectly good idea by adding embellishments that will distract the reader’s attention for no good reason and a good many bad ones. Ritm is a sure sign of the writer being uncertain, of an abandonment to an If less is more, more is even more approach. Accordingly, watch all descriptions for unnecessary detail, but also watch those perfectly wonderful observations you made and then spoiled by adding another, distracting element. Remember Conrad’s observation, the twenty-first century version of the wisdom of William of Occam (1285—1347): “Universes must not be unnecessarily expanded.” You could also say Keep it simple. You really could.

deus ex machina--a too convenient solution for a dramatic problem; a way of removing an obstacle that seems to have come from an independent, even unrelated source such as mere chance. Originally a device in ancient Greek drama where gods were thought to have a hand in determining the outcomes of human affairs, the name now evokes the presence of any dramatic resolution that creaks and groans its way to a mechanical-seeming outcome.

Hint in ancient Greek drama, competition and jealousies among gods and goddesses was assumed, thus even at that level, personality and motive informed godly activities. In modern stories, personalities, differing agendas, and cultural squabbles produce the best mechanisms for resolving plot complications.

Further hint: it is acceptable for obstacles to grow larger, complexities to grow more intense by accident, but their resolutions must be more convincing in their engineering.

concept--a pattern of situations, episodes, or ideas that wants to be a story but doesn't yet know how. A concept is an amalgamation of character, motive, and event, but be sure to read the label closely. When, for instance, you see food labels advising that protein is contained herein, the first question that comes to mind should be, Is it a complete protein?which is to say, does it contain all the essential amino acids known to reside in a complete protein? Then ask what the source of the protein is. Soy protein may well be a complete protein, but it is plant based. If you want plant protei, no biggie, but if you don't get what you want, you're going to be disappointed, perhaps evn feeling betrayed when you discover what you did get. The analogy holds for concept, which is the literary equivalent of protein without all the essential amino acids.

A concept lacks some catalytic agent which would transform it into a story. A private detective sitting his/her office, waiting for a client, is not yet a story it is a premise, which is one step down the food chain from concept. A woman who has been dating three men, all of whom suddenly propose marriage to her, is a concept because we know something based in history or action about the woman in question.

However intriguing it is to see a dog sniffing appreciatively at a steak that has just been removed from the grill, then set aside for a moment's cooling, that intrigue is only a potential for some great mischief to follow, which is to say there is concept sizzling away but no story yet.

So okay then, concept is resident potential for story.

One way to turn the private detective premise into a concept is to introduce a character who may not be a potential client. The detective, avid of income, persuades the newcomer to allow some investigative or bodyguard work done on his behalf. Now, we have a concept. To turn a concept into a story, let's introduce a character who offer the detective $5000 not to take the assignment that will be offered by a lady claiming to be from Pittsburgh, who will arrive within the next half hour.

Story can be made from the concept of the woman with the three suitors by having the woman remove herself with no advance notice to another locale, where she takes a job under an assumed name and begins to lead a completely different lifestyle. We could enhance this story by having the woman, within the net week or ten days of her arrival in her new home, be asked out by three different men.

The dog with an appreciative interest in the freshly grilled steak can cause story to erupt by nudging a chair close to the table on which the steak now resides.

In all three examples, concept is transformed into story when the ootagonist is forcd to take some action or make sme choice.

1 comment:

Querulous Squirrel said...

ritm: why is it fine in challah? perhaps because challah is full of hot air and matzoh is so condensed. One would have to scotch tape the raisins on. Yes, ritm speaks to me much more than "kill your darlings," or however that goes. Another Shelly unforgettable.