Friday, July 8, 2016

The Literary Equivalent of Bigotry.

Making fun of a character or in any way criticizing that individual through narrative comment reduces the dramatic presence of that individual and in the process undermines the narrative authority of the writer.

Once the reader gets the sense of a writer not liking one or more characters, the worm of doubt appears, then inches its way toward the apple of plausibility and credibility. You can almost hear the reader thinking, If the writer has such little regard for a character, why should I?

If the reader has any significant experience with reading--and it is a serious mistake to assume most readers are lacking such experience--you can almost hear the reader asking, Is what I'm reading a story or some resurrected fable, the characters' roles and clothing dusted off, their dialogue brought closer to contemporary.

To be sure, there are enough word choices, verbs in particular, with which to show characters thus discredited as somehow lacking or inferior. He slogged his way through the day. She stammered an apology while fumbling through her purse. He lurched. She fluttered.

To be equally sure, such approaches approximate the literary equivalent of bigotry. If the writer's goal is to topple a character, either from a high horse or a moral high ground, at the same time withholding obvious judgment, the writer must allow the character freedom to play his or her assigned part without stage directions.

By all accounts, this is well enough into the twenty-first century for the writer to realize how dramatic narrative has evolved in its way to the same extend the English language evolved as a consequence of the Great Vowel Shift. 

Dramatic narrative is descriptive, filtered through the perceptions of the characters. There is no longer an omniscient authorial presence lurking among the scenes or, indeed, a chorus, filling the audience in on backstory before the actual drama begins.

The answer has become manifest: Dramatic narrative does not describe, it evokes.  Many contemporary journalists and essayists bring the toolkit of extensive vocabulary to their work, producing memorable and helpful descriptions. Dramatic narrative challenges the reader to process story information by inference, nuance, and implication.

By dramatic necessity, story has to present a range of characters beginning with protagonists, those individuals whose observed actions cause things to happen. There could be no story without the obstacles and competition of opposition, forces that translate into individuals known a antagonists.

The storyteller allows the reader to observe these opposing forces through their actions rather than the authorial choices of verbs and adjectives expressing some higher form of enlightenment. By allowing the reader to happen on the opposing forces without authorial nudges and winks, the writer brings the reader into the midst of the issues both sides must consider, then deal with.

Anything more is propaganda bordering on bigotry. Anything less is not yet story, is it?

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