Saturday, July 4, 2009

Chiropractic for MSS

manipulation--an arrangement of dramatic elements to produce an emotional effect in a story; distortion or exaggeration of narrative events; the deliberate bending of perspective and/or time in a story; use of implication and subtlety to engage readers; use of a red herring to alert or divert readers' suspicions.

Writers are the literary equivalent of chiropractors, adjusting, kneading, articulating; they are looking for a design pattern to provide the best posture for a story. A basic approach to such adjusting is to rearrange the time sequence. Mystery writer and teacher Leonard Tourney is an advocate of "a slice of the crime," in which he advocates beginning a narrative with a crime being planned or executed by individuals we will meet later on in the text. James Joyce manipulated temporally in his Finnegan's Wake, beginning the huge, complexity of a novel with the last half of the opening sentence, then, hundreds of pages later, ending with the first half of the sentence. Tim Gautreau's The Missing, narratively acute and suspenseful from the opening line, actually manipulates dramatic convention in the sense of providing a double hit of backstory before the main issue is introduced.

In addition to time manipulation, the writer may perform narrative chiropractic with point of view, choosing first-, second- third-, omniscient, and multiple points of view, and in some cases venture into authorial intrusion to make commentary on the characters and their doings. This last approach is amply demonstrated in Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, and William M. Thackeray's Vanity Fair.

Characters, their motives and activities, may be manipulated to the extent of influencing the way other characters and readers will respond to them, and indeed, motives may be manipulated to provoke reader sympathy or antipathy.

Manipulation works best when it does not call attention to itself but seems the most natural presentation. Such control is exemplified in the entire presentation of Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières.

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