Thursday, 23 February 2012
I'm not done with my literary theory but I'll share it anyway. Remember, this is theory, not practice.
Literary Drift or Drifting Realism are my names for it. Most stories have an exposition, then rising action, some mini-climaxes and mini-resolutions followed by more rising action until you get to the big climax and the story resolves itself. It's like a roller coaster. You learned this in sixth grade, seventh, eighth and eleventh.
But Literary Drift is different from the typical sequence of events. I won't get too detailed about the "point" of a story since people have different theories but the point of my stories is always characterization. Either a character reminds you of someone you've known or I show you someone you've never met but will one day meet someone similar to the character. I go for highly individualized characters. They are not conventional archetypes or if they are, they distinguish themselves from the others through vividness or some quirk. Incidence reveals character, character causes incidence is roughly how Henry James put it.
So in Literary Drift, there is no plot that leads the beginning to the final climax. Instead, we follow the characters around in day to day activity and the interest of the story is the charm of the characters. Humor helps move it along too. There will be minor plots, incidences that reveal character, but no major plot that touches on some philosophical or psychological theme. The protagonist(s)/narrator has changing moods, contradictions in his actions and personalities like that of a normal person. He can be sullen and sarcastic one day but then he wakes up the next feeling chipper. As the day goes on he might sink back into that grumpy mood. Events of the day or week or month or minute will cause the moods. Something bad might happen and at first the narrator might shrug it off but as he obsesses about it in his mind, he sinks into crankiness or anxiousness. There are other forces at work that the reader and narrator doesn't see, but he sees the effects of them. For example, there is a presidential election in the background and the students are picking their candidates based on nothing but Fox News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart (misinformation). It causes tension between Fred and Wilma so suddenly Fred is spending a lot of time with the narrator. Then the election is over or they realize they're being stupid and suddenly Fred disappears as he is back with Wilma. The only time we see Fred again is when he's with Wilma or he's away from her but mentioning her in a positive way. Chronology of events can be entirely in the present, following the character for a week or a year (I wouldn't want to go longer than a year of in text time), or events can throw back to the past through flashbacks.
My goal is to imitate real life. This is not a new goal and other stories have background action that readers only see vague effects of. The real twist in my theory is that these stories have no singular plot, which you see in TV shows but those characters are very broadly drawn. My goal is characterize the protagonist so well that he is unique (one of a kind). He is not an archetype like the Wise Idiot or the Meddling Father or the Villain in Black or the Lovable, Loyal Idiot. The character is Jim Burgess and you can throw out any adjective in the language and either he is that adjective as seen by actions in Chapter 9 or he is not that adjective as seen by his actions in chapter 37.
Some problems I've noted with the theory and some of my solutions. It puts incredible strain on the writer's logistic ability. If one day it's summer, the next can't be snowy. Or if it rains then there has to be puddles on the ground. It can't rain for five minutes then be completely sunny in the next scene if that scene happens directly after the rainy scene. If Bret is tall has brown hair, he can't then be too short to reach the shelf and have a purple mohawk (unless he dyes his hair but there has to be considerable time between the two scenes). This is common in all character-based literature though. Some sketches or detailed notes can prevent this from being a problem.
Literary Drift could be a step backwards in literature. Romance and Picaresque fiction are episodic. The movement nowadays is to have a unifying plot or several plots (usually in British lit or Seinfeld). It seems like the craft of a novice if you don't have a plan from the beginning. This goes back to the logistics too, if you have tons of plot holes in the story because you didn't have it planned out. However, the difference between Lit Drift and other episodic genres is that this is episodic to reveal character traits. The single unique character is the unifying factor.
This genre could get boring. Most of us read literature for conflict. Something inside of us is still primal and yearns to watch conflict. We want to avoid it in our own lives but we want to watch others suffer and maybe come to a resolution. If a story lacks plot, we see it as a slow striptease and we just want it to bare itself so we can see the boobies. However, if it is a weekly or monthly publication, we're more likely to accept the slow pace. If actions are described well enough and are interesting enough, they might take the place of plot. We might wonder, why is he doing this? Or we might think, I remember when that happened to me. Humor is also a solution, as anything that makes us smile is easier to swallow. And with small plots, episodes and arcs, there will still be conflict but it will be secondary and caused by the characters as opposed to forced onto them by gods and writers.
It could get colorless. "Drifting" gives the idea of wind blowing the characters around. It could become repetitive or so much time could be skipped between scenes or so much time can elapse in a scene that we might lose sight of the character. This is common in all literature though and it's up to the author to condense things into the proper amount of time. But at the same time, readers might question "How is so much happening in a single day? My life is never this exciting." Again, the weekly or monthly publications might fix this. Readers might not notice that it's still the same day if it takes a year of publications to get through that first day. Flashbacks can also help or the writer can just skip ahead, saying the character is napping or doing something boring.
I run into major trouble at the end of the story. The end has to be satisfying, not just satisfying for that episode or for that arc, but for the entire story. I have no theories about how to do it yet. However, I hope to get there whenever I reach the end of NFG. It's turned into my experiment for this theory and I think Literary Drift works better as a weekly or monthly publication rather than as a single book. This way I have freedom to continue for as long as I need, without being confined by the front and back covers.