Thursday, June 4, 2009

Distraction: On the other hand...

digression--a movement away from a story line; a detail, introduction of character, time shift, or description that calls the reader away from details vital to the understanding of and immersion in the present narrative.

Digression is either a dramatic strategy or a literary wrong turn, the former a contrived movement that will have the effect of urging the reader to continue reading, the later a case of the author becoming impressed with some detail of surrounding, of meaning, or of implication that will have the effect of causing the reader to say, "Huh? What was that about?" The gap between the two poles is, sadly, rather narrow, hence these questions: Does the digression directly add a sense of tension or suspense to the narrative? Digressions in novels are easily achieved--merely shift the point of view to another character, who is appropriately engaged in intriguing activity. This strategy causes the reader to suspend focus on the previous situation, although keeping it close at hand. A short story proposes a more difficult situation because words must be chosen with mosaic precision. Digressions in short stories may be achieved and accommodated in short stories by having one or more characters respond directly to the digression, questioning its very appropriateness (which is what the reader will be doing).

A key to understanding the related plateau of anticlimax is the awareness that digression produces distraction, which in turn yields anticlimax. Digression and distraction combine forces to undercut the dramatic momentum of story. Writers need to develop a search-and-destroy agenda for digression and distraction. This agenda begins with the close examination of the digression to see if it will effectively assist the payoff of the story or is placed where it is merely as an advertisement for the writer's ability with words. Does it lead to a relevant discovery, or is it in fact merely showing off? If it does contribute to a discovery the reader and one or more characters may achieve, stet it; if it is merely showing off--well, that will not get us very far.

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