Monday, March 23, 2015


There are several goals inherent in the creation of fiction, but before they may be given serious attention, both reader and writer must wait until the illusion of life and reality are established. A narrative without the illusion of life and reality begs the issue of story, emerges instead in the manner of a fable, sermon, or other mnemonic for conveying cultural information.

Next up on the priority pyramid is information.  Story is a bundle of dramatic information, presented primarily as action, but also as exchanges of agendas, thoughts, and ideas among the characters.  To keep the narrative functioning as story, there must also be opposition, individual against individual, against social and moral hierarchy, and of course against forces of nature.

Story may grow impatient to begin its journey, but there is still at least one more matter wanting attention. Indeed, just as attention is required to the packing and adjusting of supplies on pack animals, the literary voyager needs to decide what form the narrative information will take, and what the length of the intended journey will be:  novel, short story, essay.

By the time the serious reader or writer is experienced enough to recognize the need for logistics, she or he has taken many paths, including fables such as those of Aesop, sermons of the sorts delivered in mosques, synagogues, or churches, and onward into the freer-swinging allegories of such ventures as Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.  

With more experience, the potential increases for awareness of the nuance of satire, when introduced into allegory, thus Orwell's magnificent Animal Farm, and Spiegelman's Maus, two ventures that could well prepare the emerging reader/writer to recognize the effects of overseasoning the narrative with propaganda as Rand has done in Atlas Shrugged.

Isn't it noteworthy how Rand struck a more resonant note with younger readers in The Fountainhead, then, almost as though she'd decided to expand her propaganda to the next age plateau, thrown illusions of life and reality to the winds?  Of course there are significant numbers of readers who are serious in their illusions that the people and their causes in Atlas Shrugged are real.

Among the goals needing attention in the reading and/or writing of fiction, character and characterization have considerable priority.  The individuals within a narrative serve reader and writer best if they have significant layers of complexity and ambiguity, qualities left in the waiting room in the Bunyan and Rand titles.  Like Bunyan and Rand, Orwell and Spiegelman are playing heavily on types, but these two do so in ways that play on  the uses of humor as an awareness of painful outcomes in human behavior.

Characterization is a necessary and worthwhile presence, causing reader and writer alike to focus on setting, landscape, appropriate and inappropriate social interactions, and the effects to be had from shrewd use of details.  

One facet of characterization, voice, is the use of language in the narrative tone, producing such emotional responses as irony, humor, frustration, and the significant ladder of social distinctions. If given proper attention, the voice of one or more of the principal players will sound in the reader's awareness.  The reader may not be pleased with the effect, but on close reading will understand this feeling of displeasure or unease was no accident.

Unlike fable, sermon, allegory, or even propaganda, story is a more complex artifice, the simulacrum of a real place and time, inhabited by individuals complex, vulnerable, and notional enough to appear real.  Story is an onion in reverse, layered about an armature which is left to the reader to discern, but only after the additional irony of the writer being driven to discover.

Anomaly of all sorts abounds.  Suppose the reader misreads the author's intent?  Suppose the author's intent has become lost in the passage of time between the date the work was written and the present day moment when the story was read?  Suppose the reader needs two or three readings to approach the author's intent?  Suppose the reader loves the story while still misreading the author's intent?  Suppose the reader is amused when the author's intent was to shock or dismay or alarm?  Suppose the reader is shocked or dismayed or alarmed when the author's intent was to amuse?

These and other similar questions await us as we progress beyond the books and magazines from which we have learned to read, packing our imaginations and attitudes for the journeys ahead.

No comments: