Thursday, November 29, 2012

Theory Meets Narrative: Classical vs Modern Writing Styles (part two)

In continuation of Tuesday's discussion, we find ourselves now taking a look at the Modern style of fiction prose. 

Modern Styles

It's hard to truly nail down a solid interpretation for the Modern style. Today there are so many transgressive forms of fiction that attempt to streamline a particular style, and to distill it down into a formulaic approach becomes quickly problematic. In light of this, accepting the limitations at the outset, I offer two distinguishing categories that could lend a hand in the discussion.

A Minimalist approach to fiction is one that many of my fellow writing friends undertake and the philosophy here is generally to make every word count for what it is. It's like when you read Heart of Darkness and, in every sentence, every one of Conrad's words should be there. He in particular, along with E.M. Foster, has this talent for word economy that is simply unprecedented. How to express this in prose is generally dependent upon the genre of modern fiction that you are writing. If you are composing a sentence in Science Fiction, it should probably be set up with an explanatory phrase with a clarification at the end, essentially something like this.
Encircling this alabaster giant I pondered my mortality, for what is my purpose in the face of age and eternal darkness.
This of course conflicts with the Classical style, whose thoughts are more teased out, and generally integrated with historical data pertinent to the universe of the story. Minimalism though is more of an art than a style. It's difficult to say something powerful in so few words, but if you read A Passage to India, or Heart of Darkness, or Waiting for the Barbarians, you'll find that it amounts to a powerful statement. Character development is important to consider as well. In the Minimalist approach you wont be vomiting up words all over the page to describe the subtle, quirky variances in the protagonist's coat, because it's just not necessary. Here is what I mean:
A white P-Coat and Hungarian galoshes clothed him in luxury and indifference. 
As you can see here we have a character dressed elegantly but it illustrates his callousness and the superficial nature he possesses, the white representing purity when clearly his inside nature is stained with innocent blood. There is a lot that you can do with a sentence like this, and it illustrates well the kind of approach you can make to characters in Minimalist fiction prose.

Moving on, the other category I offer is Detail Intensive fiction prose. Here the idea is to do simply the opposite, only with a twist. In Classical fiction, we saw that detail served to emphasize the pastoral imagery and the connection to the history of the land. Each sentence has rhetorical significance because each is utilized to construct a larger picture of how this world that the protagonist is planted into serves to imprint it's influence on the character. Substance in the world has an assumed effect on the main character, because it is still considered that the world possesses some innate defined meaning. In Modern fiction however, the philosophy is the exact opposite. There is no innate truth imbued into the physical world. Everything, and all philosophies are up for grabs here, so any and all sensory detail should distance your character from any firm foundation, and should be inwardly focused on how the character interprets the world at hand. As far as syntax is concerned, it will reflect the fleeting nature of the world. Generally in modern fiction you find shorter, more defined concepts, built into sentences like a puzzle piece in a large mosaic of color.

There is nowhere to go. As I looked out the rain spattered window next to me, I wondered where I would be taken next. A jungle of iron and concrete passing by without rhyme or reason. They are disjointed, squat, and covered with a film of ancient neglect, hidden away from the world. There in my plush cabin, I am removed from darkness. It's warmth shields me from their despair. What did I do better? I was born. It's hard to feel justified when you had nothing to do with it. Everyday they look to the sky and see monoliths to my success. They are reminders. "You are small." They say. "You are trapped." They wail. Without them the world spins away into a red mist, and spirals down, deeper, into darkness. Oh Christ, what is there to do but wait? The tide will come someday and flood this city, purge it of evil. I'll pray for death then, before they take me into the shadows and eat me alive.
So here,we have a sprawling description of a large open world, set in a city of any era. The Protagonist  describes the isolation of the poor from his comparably luxurious vantage point. It's all done in short, simple sentences, that when strung together make a much larger point. Here it's not the significance of the world that gives the narrative meaning, but the thoughts of the protagonist, who's vantage point of the city defines it's core characteristics.

Between these 4 (including those from last week) methods it's hard to go wrong. Each method can support a well crafted story. Some will require more work than others to construct, especially the Classical methods. Often those are the best anyways. Then again, I have a bias towards them. Next week I'm planning a new series to work off of. Not sure what to do yet. I'm certain it'll be good though.

Until then...

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