Monday, August 23, 2010

Coming to Terms

How real is realism?  How impressionistic is impressionism?  Why would either of these issues matter to a writer constructing a story?

Realism can be defined by arguing that it attempts to portray the world and its inhabitants pretty much as it is, where the characters and writer are of more or less the same mind about the history of events that have taken place to the moment of writing.  There was, for instance, the Crusades, the succession of kings in England, and presidents in the U.S. William Shakespeare writes a play in which he demonstrates how the man who became the actual Richard III became the anointed King of England, tweaking actual events, inventing others. Along comes a writer such as Philip Roth, who takes a slight detour from realism when he writes a novel in which Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR and becomes President of the United States.  Roth also writes a novel in which a man becomes transmogrified into a female breast.  May we argue that both the playwright and novelist were merely tweaking realism to provide a dramatic and thematic effect?  

We may have assumed that impression somehow distorts or exaggerates reality or, if we wish to be argumentative, assert the impossibility of rendering reality as it is and regardless of approach add or subtract some element from it, offering merely our individual impression of a reality in which our particular story can gain traction.

Neither of these issues--reality and/or impression--has value to the writer until the story is at least in the first draft, possibly even as far in as third or fourth.  Tempting as it may be to assume a pose or an approach, such issues in the beginning add the presence of thought to the process of getting the work down in the first place.  Even if a writer wishes to tell tales in which magic or an extrapolation on known scientific discovery play active parts, it is more profitable for the writer to tell the tale in the form in which it appears, then discover the proper means for setting the jewel of medium into the setting of dramatic construction.  The real questions are the basic ones:  What is the story about?  Whose story is it?  What is the goal?  Why should we care?  Thus if these critical-related questions were reshuffled to something as basic as What is the one tool a writer should carry into the opening confrontations with a story?  the answer would be variations on the theme of care/concern/curiosity.  Then we reach into the tool kit for the wedges that propel the idea into being, the characters who will be the actors who demonstrate the story, and the narrative voice, which provides the emotional landscape.

Post a Comment