Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Tipping Point, Exaggeration, Hyperbole, and Magic

tipping point, the--the point in a dramatic narrative where momentum changes to the extent of becoming irreversible; a literary equivalent of irrevocable consequences becoming the guiding force of events; the place in a story which, once crossed, makes it impossible for events to return to their previous status.

Thus the appearance of Hamlet's father's ghost, early on in act one, in which the ghost cries out for revenge, becomes the tipping point for the young prince. Even if he'd ignored the call for vengeance, Hamlet would have been racked by guilt for his inaction. Deciding to actively take up the ghost's request, Hamlet becomes the instrument by which the deaths of all the principals except Horatio and Fortinbras are assured.

At almost exactly the midpoint of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, Tender Is the Night, the growing personal attraction between a young patient, Nicole Warren, and her promising young psychiatrist, Richard Diver, has been set in motion, culminated by the two of them taking an afternoon stroll in downtown Vienna, then being surprised by a sudden rain shower which sends them scurrying into a narrow, protective doorway. 

 What do persons who are attracted to one another do when caught in a rainstorm and forced to take shelter in a doorway? They look into each other's eyes. As Fitzgerald put it, from that moment, Diver knew that whatever Nicoles problems were, they were his problems as well. And were they ever.

Thus two places for the tipping point or point of no return to take place, almost immediately in the beginning, or at the mid point, two arguments for it being able to fit almost anywhere in a narrative, just so long as it does appear. It does not have to be as explicit as the examples cited, but it is a present condition in a dramatic narrative, and should be given due notice as one of the many elements stored in the tool kit of the accomplished writer. 

How to develop awareness of it? Read or recall from previous one hundred plays, one hundred novels, one hundred short stories. Identify the tipping point in each. Add tipping point to your Revision Laundry List, insuring you will look specifically for a place where it might have been included, a place you will note and, if necessary, enhance.


exaggeration--a device in which attributes, events, and gestures are significantly overemphasized to provide a dramatic such as humor or apprehension; a conspicuous situation in which a character will demonstrate with emphasis a response one hundred-eighty degrees in opposition to the resident condition or emotion; an extension of superlative degree to hyperbole; use of hyperbole as an ironic comparison to simple fact.

A drunk exaggerates sobriety in movement and speech, a liar who has been caught out exaggerates his protestations of truth-telling, both in tone of voice and rhetoric; a self-possessed individual is less likely to resort to operatic flair in defense of an opinion or position; a teller of tall tales deliberately minimalizes astounding or paranormal events.

Exaggeration is the equals sign between reality and desired effect. An individual is hungry becomes the reality, the hyperbole response is, I could eat a horse, making the momentary hyperbole comedic, rather than humorous. A character who is hungry for power has large ambitions and an agenda to back them up, the behavior in both cases given a stronger sense of dramatic intensity by exaggeration. 

 The net effect on the reader is cumulative: the reader expects the character's exaggerations to bring the character tumbling down into the pit of humilliation, thus rendering the hunger for power a candidate for humor or tragedy.

The purpose of exaggeration is to remove it from the ordinary, continuing the dialectic between ordinary and extraordinary. Use of exaggeration alerts the reader to expect some revelation, whether in direct plot points or through thematic implication. Characters who emerge as larger than life broadcast the pheremones of some inner flaw or inability to cope on some level, said flaw or inability a useful tool in producing an end result or payoff.

Character who exaggerate tend to be unreliable as narrators; characters who overly rely on hyperbole emerge as less than likeable; characters who are themselves exaggerations, say the protagonist of Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, attract our sympathy and interest because of their vulnerability.


magic--a non-scientific ability to control natural phenomena through charms, spells, ritual,and alchemy; paranormal behavior or abilities exhibited by individuals and inanimate objects; a power that allows designated individuals to foretell future events and/or defy known physical qualities; the attribution of unusual traits, qualities, and abilities to real and imaginary beings.

Magic is the basic power in all fantasy fiction, its possession and use having effect on who the reader sympathizes with. Magic often has a time span, a character, for example, having the magic of remaining invisible for thirty minutes, after which point he will become immediately visible where ever he happens to be. Magic is the glue that holds spells and curses in place; it is a power to be possessed, used, challenged. Just as some adventure and historical stories depict the clash of rival forces, fiction is often presented as good or evil.

Magic often employs animals,spirit beings,totems, and arcane formula as adjuncts to mystical forces, directed by mortals or imaginary beings who have found ways of manipulating the force. Individuals who become magicians are able to manipulate elements, chemical reactions, and human destinies.

Attributing magical qualities to a person, place, or thing is also a superlative on steroids, a hyperbole expressing extreme admiration. Describing an individual, a setting, a work of art as magical is the ultimate hyperbole of declaring it too good to be true and thus by implication it can only exist through paranormal circumstances.

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