Monday, October 24, 2016

Are You in Trouble If You Like Your Characters?

At one time in the not too distant past of the novel, one of the more significant influences on it was the magazine, which appeared on a monthly or quarterly basis. 

Let's objectify that statement by bringing Charles Dickens into it, allowing the observation that the novel began to draw epic readerships around 1840, by which time Dickens had published his fourth novel, Barnaby Rudge, and was beginning to get the hang of the longform narrative.

Thackeray was finding the form for his own novels with great thanks to magazines at about the same time as Dickens; at least two other major writers of the time, Trollope and Collins, came along shortly after. 

By 1850, the novel had adjusted its format to the publishing schedules of magazines, meaning readers of books could expect cliffhanger endings of installments because, indeed, readers of magazines stood in line for the newest installments of Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray, and Collins the way music fans of today camp out in anticipation of concerts.

Not until you took courses in Victorian literature did you understand the dynamic of the format, but no matter, really; you'd read enough to absorb the need for continuous movement in the longform narrative, and thanks to the accident of your own birth into a resurgence of magazine fiction, you could discuss if not always demonstrate the successful shape of the short story and how such concepts as the sub-plot drove the longer narrative form.

All about you now is another resurgence, the online literary journal, where story behaves like a puppy, struggling to escape being fenced into the yard, ever alert for opportunities to be memorable. By no means the least of one of these escapes is the notion of likable characters, men, women, and youngsters who, as the late periodical, The Saturday Evening Post, told its writers, looked for individuals such as the Tugboat Annie character--someone who might be unusual but nevertheless someone you'd not think twice about inviting into your home.

Times surely have their effects on story. At the moment, there is nothing like The Saturday Evening Post available, and such journals as there are often feature characters who'd not likely be invited to anyone's home. Rather, they'd be found in centers for homeless or, as you've done with at least two of your own characters, living in their cars.

You've been at some pains in these warm-up-exercise notes and essays to argue for the need to find different ways of ending the short story and the novel, veering as far as possible from such tropes as "and then they all lived happily ever after."

Beginnings have been important learning occasions for you because you grew up in an atmosphere where the plot-driven story held sway and you recognized the significant weakness in your own work of being able to construct a plot.

You were driven by your own reading of the works from well before your time to those right in the middle of it as plot-driven, leaving you not only the outlier personality who wished to write but as well the outlier who wished to write other than plot-driven narrative. 

This meant the need for an opening sentence, paragraph, or concept to intrigue the potential reader away from the conventional plot.


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