Saturday, December 27, 2008

You Really Mean It

second person narrative--a dramatic vision of narrative that addresses the reader directly as you, putting the reader in the position of assuming the role of the protagonist; story in which the protagonist is you, a narrative device that gives the appearance of intensifying focus on the principal character by making events seem as though they are happening in the immediate present. One of the most prevalent criticisms of the second person narrative is its seeming inability to maintain plausibility beyond the length of a short story. (Try telling that to Jay McInerney, author of Bright Lights, Big City, or William Faulkner in re his Absalom, Absalom, or Richard Powers for Ploughing the Dark, to name a few. ) Short story uses abound, notably Dennis Lehane's "Until Sylvia," and Lorrie Moore's collection, Self-Help, in which six of the nine short stories were second person renditions.

One of the reasons second person narrative is thought not to be as substantial as first or third or multiple points of view has to do with its restricted use for fear of editorial reprisal (a rejection slip); another reason for its relative lack of popularity has its roots in tradition--writers of fiction did not take to expansive use until well into the twentieth century. So what? As with the other pronouns, you is perfectly able to freight a story; while you are doing so with the second person form, you will discover the small but valuable secret that you can pack in more reader feeder information than you could have done with the first or third or multiple point of view. Example: You are not the kind of person to be bound by conventions; it was only natural that you experimented with second person.

copyedit--a process of checking a manuscript for consistency in usage conventions; a mechanical intervention made on a manuscript, usually by a person other than the author or content editor, to insure standardized use in matters of abbreviations, use of numbers, acronyms, punctuation, etc. The avowed intent of copyediting is consistency of use, the ultimate goal of which is to suggest authorial and publisher accuracy and reliability. Most trade book publishers in the U.S. follow the conventions set forth in The Chicago Manual of Style (latest edition), published by the University of Chicago Press; magazines, journals, and newspapers are more eclectic in their usage or style guides, The New York Times Style Guide and The Associated Press Style Guide being basic models on which most in-house guides are based.

Much is made of a fictional character's reliability to the point where unreliable narrators are regularly exposed by critics and in classes. It is not a great leap to consider poorly copyedited manuscripts as unreliable narrators because of the reflection such a manuscript casts on the author.

In the usual procession of publishing events, an accepted manuscript is subjected first to content editing, which relates to meaning and clarity of authorial intent. After author approval and revision (if any), the manuscript is sent to the copyeditor who may have queries which are fact-related but not content-related. Even though many publishers employ in house or freelance copyeditors, the process still conventionally assumes the primary responsibility is with the author.

The Modern Language Association Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing is a key copyediting information source for schools, academic publications, and universities.

Simply put, copyediting, which has to do with the manner in which content is set in electronic or paper format, is a major step toward publication; you might even call it a trampoline.

surprise--unanticipated dramatic behavior or circumstances in a story; events that cause characters to do things they would not normally do; unplanned turns of events within a drama that nevertheless have feet firmly planted in plausibility. Impulsive behavior erupting within a least likely to rebel character, surprise is a contrived device, intended to catch the reader unaware, but it is also a means by which a writer may learn surprising, unintended things about himself. More often than not, surprise comes from character-driven stories, but it is neither unheard of or unwelcome in plot oriented narratives.

The best foundation for surprise is a deep understanding and knowledge of the front-rank characters, by which means the characters will appear to behave in an unanticipated-but-plausible way that may push the story in an entirely original and yet satisfying manner, neither seeming contrived nor accidental. An unanticipated consequence of surprise is the fact of it causing tension or suspense, two of the major elements of story. After one or two surprises, the reader becomes aware of the potential, then begins to wonder where and to whom it will appear next.

1 comment:

Kate Lord Brown said...

As ever so much to think about. Deep knowledge of character is everything (this is why pages of notes, background events, character profiles, images, music are reduced and edited down). Who was it said it's as much what you know and leave out as what you put in to a book that gives it depth and resonance? As you say - then even surprises seem plausible. Thank you for the links Shelly.