Thursday, June 28, 2012

Week 27 - Form

1 Jul - 7 Jul:

"I have always been a writer of letters, and of long ones; so, when I first thought of writing a book in the form of letters, I knew that I could do it quickly and easily."  Laurence Housman

If we cast our minds back to highschool, or if you're like me, to wiki, we'll recall the major forms of writing:
  • Narrative
  • Expository
  • Descriptive
  • Persuasive
This isn't what this week is about, though it does focus on the narrative form.

Nor is it about structure, as such, though it might be.   I'm going to refer to what English playwright, Mr Housman, is talking about, though probably not as eloquently.

I started thinking about how form can be applied in fiction, after reading The Art and Craft of the Short Story.  The author, Rick DeMarinis, spoke specifically about the wonderfully varied ways a short story can be told, but he also recognized how form can add flavour to a novel.

Consider this:
My Dear Jude, - I have something to tell you which perhaps you will not be surprised to hear.... Mr Phillotson and I are to be married quite soon....
Wish me joy.  Remember I say you are to, and you mustn't refuse! - Your affectionate cousin, Susanna Florence Mary Bridehead

My Dear Sue, - Of course I wish you joy!  And also of course I will give you away....
I don't see why you sign your letter in such a new and terribly formal way?  Surely you care a bit about me still! - Ever your affectionate, Jude.
And this:
Dr Lecter pressed the switch in his palm and the projector came to life... the images of della Vigna and Judas with his bowels out alternate on the large field of the hanging drop cloth.
"Qui le strascineremo, e per la mesta
selva saranno i nostri corpi appesi,
ciascuno al prun de l'ombra sua molesta."
And this:
"A cringle will make an excellent emergency handle for a suitcase." The Ashley Book of Knots

Who could miss the hidden tension between Jude and Sue through the letters they exchange in Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, or the sinister intelligence of Dr Lecter when he presents artwork in this scene from Hannibal by Thomas Harris, or the wit of E. Annie Proulx as she opens Chapter 13 of the Shipping News with a quote from the Ashley Book of Knots?  And I couldn't even begin to describe the assortment of tools Matthew Reilly uses to tell his stories (photos, diagrams, symbols, lists, emails, captions etc).

These are just afew examples I randomly selected from my bookshelf, but I'm sure we can all think of many more cases where an author has successfully presented a scene using different forms of story-tellingPoetry, journal or diary entries, quotations (real or imaginary), mini-plays, song lyrics, text messagesfairy tales, ancient tablets with inscriptions... the list goes on.

Applying a different form to a story can add a unique dimension that straight narrative lacks.  Inserting different forms into a novel can not only make the reading more interesting, but can be an effective means of presenting information and detail that perhaps dialogue and narrative might struggle with.

To me, form is like trying a different food.  Stir-fried crocodile is just as nutritional as chicken, and a hell of a lot more interesting to talk about, so what not try it?

Exercise 53.  Make up a short, original folk story / fairy tale or traditional ghost story that includes a) a snake, b) a flower, c) an orphan, d) a blind man, e) a magician, or a combination of these.  Rewrite it in modern terms, using modern forms where applicable (emails, texts etc).

Exercise 54.  Write a letter to someone who is no longer in your life and say all the things you wish you had.  (Taken directly from So You Want to Write by Jean Rosier-Jones.)

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