Saturday, April 14, 2012


From time to time when reviewing a book for your weekly column or some one-off assigned review, you feel the duty to add a note of disclosure.  The author is a personal friend; you are a member of the same faculty, you have had a previous association of rancor, ideological difference, or some elephant in some living room you wish the reader of the review to be aware of.  By use of the disclosure, you are alerting the reader to some bias favoring the author or the author’s reputation, or perhaps favoring you and, if not your reputation then your sense of pride in your powers of critical analysis.

No such disclosures are necessary in fiction, which of itself is a major reason for your preference for fiction.  At the same time, you are ratifying the belief that the writer not only must present some form of bias, the writer can scarcely avoid doing so.

Nevertheless, many writers at all levels of technical achievement persist in the attempt to maintain a rigorous objectivity, a condition of equal misguided footing to the emerging writers who render characters in extremes of good or evil, with no tolerance for that all-too-human state in between wherein the truly despicable are truly kind and altruistic and the likes of Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu kick cats.

In recent months, because of a combination of editing your own work, editing the fiction of clients, or attempting to teach fiction writing at intermediate and advanced levels, your focus has been on how point of view has evolved from nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction to the present day narrative which, in increasing numbers, has brought the story and the narrator seemingly closer together than ever before, at the least to the point where there no longer seems to be an authorial aura hanging over the story, by which means the author is able to filter emotions, explanations, and reasons.

This information, you maintain, is vital to story in general.  You also argue that the information must come filtered through the characters, evoked as opposed to being described by character and/or narrator.

“It was hot that August night.  Mary felt the drops of perspiration starting at her forehead.”  Wrong, you say.  Whenever a sentence begins with it—sorry, Bulwer-Lytton, sorry, Dickens—the author or the author’s appointed second is stepping on stage to address the reader.  “Mary did not like these hot, sweaty August nights,” allows us the narrative conceit of funneling the information through Mary so that we may believe we are privy to Mary’s feelings rather than being told what they are.

While this narrative shift is evolving about us, another is appearing, yet is not remarked upon to any noticeable degree:  Conclusions and endings are less conclusive and seemingly less emphatic in their finality.  Some short fiction, particularly short fiction appearing in magazines, may in addition to their opaque resolution, may arrive at the end of their text at the exact bottom of a page, whereupon the next page is often a large advertisement or the headline and author by-line for another narrative, at which point the reader knits a brow, then complains, “That’s it?  That’s where the story stops?”

With increasing frequency, the answer is in fact, “Yes; that’s where the story stops.”  Of equal frequency is the narrative, editorial, and, of course, authorial intention that the reader will internally add to the narrative.  We all of us seem to be saying that although there are senses of finality in quotidian activity, some of them are baffling, inconclusive, uncertain.  Some are frustrating, others yet are provoking.  Welcome to the simulacrum.  Welcome to life meets story.  Welcome to story meets life.

Many of the interesting individuals you know in what passes for Real Life, the outer narrative, the day-to-day drama, are fond of the use in their own oral narrative of the phrase, “But that’s another story.”  Even they can see the tidal chart equivalent of story, the wax and wane.

Has the species trivialized story by snipping of a chunk of its tail, thereby in metaphor trivializing life, the narrative on which story is based?

A portion of you grapples with such matters each time you stride out beyond a sentence or two,

In case you’d forgotten, a disclosure is called for at this point:  When writing short stories, you have frequently written past the point where the story ultimately ends, attempting to tack last scene upon last scene onto the scene-ending line, sometimes writing five or six botched or inappropriate final scenes before the awareness forced itself upon you:  You’d already finished the story.

Trying to add explanations or meanings beyond the point of necessity is a distraction.  Upper among definitions for the term "Anticlimax" is "an unnecessary distraction."  False clues, red herrings, and hidden agendas are mischievous distractions.  The former muddy story; the latter give it a sense of plausibility.

Take your choice.

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