Monday, August 2, 2010

Time Will Tell

From the moment you engage the first paragraphs of a story, you could be yanked back into a particular historical time, scarcely aware of the forces and nuance involved.

In earlier times, writers were at some pains to yank you forward, into the very story you were reading, using their artifice to convince you what you were reading was an accurate representation of actual events, happening to actual persons.  Their principal device or artifice for achieving this effect was the epistolary or letter format, letters exchanged between the characters.  This had the then effect of a news leak today; the reader believes the material to be authentic, that someone or something is in some form of danger or, if not danger, on the verge of deception.

This discovery did not prevent subsequent epistolary writing nor did it forestall writers from moving to even more nuanced artifice such as stream of consciousness as a means of making the story seem more immediate and real.  These techniques are the literary equivalents of a scientist examining a segment of some artifact, tracking its elements, analyzing them.  They can be dated as carbon 14 or tree rings or even the enamel on prehistoric animals' teeth are dated, providing a timetable to their birth.

Even when the writer is in pursuit of a fantastic, future or imaginary world, the writer is in a sense using the tree rings and carbon 14 and mitochondrial dating devices of his or her age, thus simultaneously writing of other worlds and times while using techniques of the present moment.  A writer embarking, for example, on a restating of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde would have in the tool kit words, terms, and concepts well beyond Stevenson's range; the writer would be writing of Stevenson's time or perhaps an earlier or later time but also of his/her time simultaneously.

The important thing to remember about story is its ability to encapsulate and transfer feelings, the emotions displayed and suggested by the characters and those intended to be sent forth by the writer.  Many conventions in story have changed.  This one remains.


Storm Dweller said...

I think in some ways we are limited in our scope to utilize the tools of the present... a frame of reference is necessary for the reader to understand the time period the events are set in, whether they occur in the future or the distant past. Never mind that in a millenia we may determine that Carbon 14 is not entirely accurate and that there is some mean of using light spectra, or some sort of ultrasonic method to better pinpoint the age of an object/event.

As a Sci-fi geek I embrace the simple concept found in Star-gate... you might have the address for your destination, but you can't plot the route without knowing where the the point of origin is. In the same fashion, the reader can't make the leap to your time and world without knowing where their point of origin is, and we as the writers give them that with something present minded... a sort of Tardis that looks like a simple call booth on the outside. It's recognizable and familiar... that is until you step inside. I realize of course, my geekiness is once again showing, so I shall leave it there.

lowenkopf said...

That's just the point, Nichole; you want your geekiness to show your geekiness. If that's your voice, embrace it and be heard.

Storm Dweller said...

Right now the voice of my inner mother is speaking louder than my inner geek. But you get my wheels turning.

Querulous Squirrel said...

Ah, you have been using the epistolary format for some time now and have suddenly switched. I wonder why.