Monday, April 25, 2016

Collage Fiction

 The French verb coller, which refers to gluing or pasting something on a surface, became the entryway into the French language and, thanks to that particularly English way of colonizing things likely to provide a profit, the word collage. 

One way to look at collage is to think of it as a surface on which various shapes of different textures and media are pasted, intending on providing a sense of order or structure.
In the process of reading a review of the work of a collage artist in a journal, you feel the tingle of suspicion that a connection is about to come plummeting your way. 

You look up the definition in your trusty American Heritage Dictionary of the American Language, unabridged, then become aware that those tingles have a reason for being. Collage also has a literary meaning, which allows for the use of borrowed material. This is of mild intrigue to you because you sometimes like to borrow a quote from another author or notable to use as an epigram for a chapter or an entire book.

The intrigue becomes less mild, in fact downright exciting when you come to the additional implication that a collage in the literary sense can be a group of seemingly disparate or disjointed shapes and textures, leading the reader to an implicit (rather than explicit) conclusion. 

You'd written how, a few days back, you'd been kidnapped, driven off by your captors, who revealed to you how they wanted you to spend some time with fiction, dictated an equivalent of a ransom note for you to send off to the nonfiction book project you've been working on with enthusiasm and purpose, even to the point of having successfully worked your way through and past that stage of thinking, What the hell are you doing here? This meant you'd played the interior tennis game of running the numbers, thinking in worst scenario terms how many persons would read this book even if it were well written.

Through the years, you've come to the stage of adding one to your worst-case scenario answer, so your answers were, N + 1 and This book happens to be well written, thus your faith in it remains constant and enthusiastic. Nevertheless, you wrote the ransom note to it. You worked out a compromise situation wherein you agreed the nonfiction book was Priority One, and got most of your time, but you agreed to put in no less than six hours a week on the fiction project which, at the time of writing, you were hoping would turn out to be a short story.

The fiction project does not appear to want to be a shorter work, and you have no idea where, if anywhere, it is going. Indeed, it appears to be hopping around in time and place, beginning back in the days when male students enrolled in the University of California needed to complete X units of Reserve Officer's Training Corps, also known as ROTC, then jumping to more or less Burbank, California, and the writers' room of a popular television program. You have a hint that the narrative will make its way northward to Santa Barbara, because you see at least one potential scene taking place in a structure called The Old Little Theater on the campus of UCSB, where you in fact taught more than one class.

And yes, you were, also in fact, required to take X units worth of ROTC classes, one of which, to your ongoing amusement, you failed and had to repeat. And thus, yes, there are some autobiographical elements, but so far as you can see, the events of this work are fiction, coming to you from the same source(s) of your previous novels and shorter fiction. 

The exciting part, which also speaks directly to that What the hell are you doing here" stage, is the inescapable awareness that his material is in the form of a collage, thus it is what you call collage fiction, which is not a term you ought to take credit for having invented, even though you have not heard it used before nor have you used it yourself.  What you do know are these two things: Your narrative so far has one principal character and is likely to run its course that way, with your protagonist speaking through a close third-person filter, and at the present moment is about the theme of identity.  The work us a characteristic demonstration of your working method, adding new characters and situations, being character- rather than plot-driven, and at present having dramatic and scenic thrust rather than the more conventional and constant nudge of causality.

To date, there are precipitating events, but no one, least of all you, knows what the force behind them is.  Ah well. The first thirty novel are the most difficult, and you had no idea whatsoever about collage fiction when you were writing those.

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