Friday, July 8, 2011

Fiction Is a Risky Business

Much of the conventions relating to dramatic writing may be found in Poetics, a book by Aristotle (384 BCE--322 BCE).  Some of those conventions refer to dramatic platforms no longer in use.  Although interesting and insightful, the great practicality of these observations relate to the study of contemporary forms of verse and play no longer being produced today.

Poetics is still a useful source of study for playwrights,novelists, and short story writers.  You could argue that portions of it influence such notable works on dramatic construction as Anne Lamott's notable Bird by Bird, Sol Stein's ubiquitous Stein on Writing,  and E. M. Forester's epic, Aspects of the Novel, which you have at times past employed as your basic text for your fiction writing classes.  You could--and do--say Aristotle's observations have had an influence on your own work, The Fiction Lovers' Companion.


You could also say--and do herewith say--that a major characteristic of twenty-first century fiction, particularly the traditionally published kind (as opposed to self-published) is predicated on the shrewd,imaginative departure from Aristotelian convention or, indeed, any convention.  An alert interviewer would at this point ask you to explain what you mean by the terms "shrewd" and "imaginative."  You in turn would have cause to answer:  "Shrewd" as related to departure from convention relates to the use of a particular fear or trait bobbing about within the psyche of a significant demographic.  The departure would be shrewd because it would represent to similar individuals in real life a shared fear or awareness or resentment, thus causing reader identification to the point where the reader would root for the afflicted character.  "Imaginative" departures are those that seem to sidle up to the convention and mosey around it rather than attempt to mug it or become some sort of jihadist evangelical.  Shrewd and imaginative are choosing Huck Finn to narrate a novel; dumb is succumbing to the temptation to bring Tom Sawyer back into the narrative.  Shrewd and imaginative are having Lionel Esrog be afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome in Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn. They could also obtain in Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Detective's Union,in which the entire construct of Israel didn't work, whereupon the Diaspora moved instead to Alaska, where it has not fared significantly better.

Shrewd and imaginative could also refer to the matter of leaving it to the reader to decide if a particular narrator were reliable,  then coming forth with Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind, in which the narrator is an orthopedic surgeon, retired at the height of her career because she is afflicted with Alzheimer's, then confronted with the fact of the murder of her lifelong friend and neighbor, who happens to have also suffered the removal of four of her fingers.

Shrewd and imaginative is turning the servant girl poser for Jan Vermeer's painting, The Girl with the Pearl Earring,into the protagonist of an eponymous novel.

Shrew and imaginative means taking enormous risk, then making it seem so probable and likely that the only wonder is why no one has done so before.

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