Friday, January 30, 2009

A Nigerian Bank Has Designated You

flashback--a narrative device in which the forward movement of a narrative comes to a halt and the action shifts to a past time, in which a relevant scene is replayed; a technique for using a given narrator's sensitivity to reflect back on a past event as though it were taking place before the reader.

Largely archaic because of the universal discovery of the two-line space break separating one scene from another, the flashback is no longer necessary; the dramatic unities (See) to the contrary notwithstanding no contemporary dramatic decree or convention argues the need for a story of any length running in absolute chronology. Scene B, directly following Scene A, may have taken place fifty years in the past, a shift the reader can easily accommodate provided the writer give a simple, basic clue of when and where Scene B is in progress.

True enough, the contemporary novel or short story ought to take place more in the present than in the past, but such is the nature of so-called rules of composition that in any given venture, a novelist or short story writer could make quick work of that dictum.

verisimilitude--an overall sense of believability in the dramatic rendition of a person, place, or thing; a convincing sense of authenticity about a narrative; an override on the reader's skepticism and sense of disbelief.

In spite of some writers' defensive "But it happened that way in real life," verisimilitude makes the reader forget about such quibbles and settle directly into the story; it is a quality, almost pointillist in nature, of small, significant details that convey authenticity to the reader.

you--the unique persona of the writer; the experiences, opinions, tastes, and prejudices of the writer; the attitudes, curiosities, and fears of the writer emerging through portrayal of character, theme, and resolution of stories. The totality of the resident writer within as it emerges in the writer's stories.

In similar fashion to a wide range of actors taking on the same dramatic role, each writer brings to story a particular set of sensitivities, sensory awareness, and attitude. Could we imagine James Dean playing Hamlet? Could we imagine Norman Mailer capturing the angst and wrench of "Brokeback Mountain? Similarly, could we imagine Mel Brooks doing Lear or Dustin Hoffman doing Rocky Balboa? The question for the writer on any given story is Why you? This question is not by any means in the sense of How dare you? but rather what do you bring to the story that gives it the ridges and whorls of your own writer fingerprint? Would you bring Mel Brooks's antic humor to Lear or would you bring his incredible sadness from his personal life over the loss of his wife, Anne Bancroft? Possibly a hint of both? What could make Dustin Hoffman want to do Rocky Balboa? What could possibly have made Philip Seymour Hoffman, a large man, want to portray Truman Capote, an elfin presence? There are no right answers as long as there are indeed answers, specific answers reflecting the reasons you were drawn into writing and find resonance in it. The answers may come from anywhere within you, reflecting a spectrum of human emotions such as revenge, envy, proprietary power, exuberance at being alive, desire for respect or being noticed at all, wanting to share a vision, wanting to take down a vision, anger...

Think of it this way, you are a writer invited to contribute to an anthology, the literary equivalent of a pot luck dinner. What do you bring? A chunk of a novel? A short story? A poem? An essay? What says you? Why?


Heather said...

I heard a commentator (?) on the How Stuff Works 'stuff you missed in history class' podcast use verisimilitude in a sentence the other day. It gave me hope.

Querulous Squirrel said...

My story for a pot-luck? A baguette.