Saturday, August 13, 2011

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Even among writers— maybe especially among writers, a lot of erroneous advice and assumptions are perpetuated about the “correct” way to write… as if there were such a thing as One True Way to write stories properly. I’m not referring to the grammar and logic and authenticity which comprise a well constructed story.
A perniciously utilitarian, economical attitude inundates and diminishes our contemporary story telling mentality— something can’t (or should not) exist unless it’s good for something… unless it “moves” or advances the narrative along. If it is in the story, it ought to be clearly contributing something. Directly filling some definitive, comprehendible role or purpose, or else it should be omitted.
But real life doesn’t work that way, so why should we expect stories to?
Expecting something to be obviously and economically useful is a very Western (and unhealthy) assumption.
Playing on and into our current social environment, this exacerbates and reinforces short attention spans and dumbing down media, as both symbiotic/ simultaneous effect and cause of each other. Most people are under the misguided impression that we should be able to summarize a narrative into a simplified “elevator pitch” or bullet points. And if you can’t, then either you don’t know well enough what the story is, or there is something innately wrong with the story’s conception.
Common, conventional writing advice advocates keeping things as short and simple as possible, with no room for extraneous or ancillary details. This “always be useful” approach does not enable us to be fanciful or artistic or experimental with text and format. Arbitrarily and unnecessarily restricting what one can and can not do (what one is and is not supposed to do) with a story, preventing exploratory and random world building or character development. Contriving a simple narrative and coercing a concise and coherent ending— which further engenders a general expectation of simple accounts for experiences, and over-simplified single-factor explanations.
The narrative— we are typically led to believe-- is supposed to be a direct and certain line between specific, even linear, plot points.
It must have a definite plot, an arc, a theme, a message, a point. There should be no superfluous characters who are non-essential or non-referential to the plot. Characters are not allowed to be doing nothing. Indicative of distinctly Western tendencies, the characters (and narrative itself) must always be active, in motion, going… and going… and...
Because the text is not allowed to wander or meander off course, diverge and deviate and digress into tangents, it requires or encourages deliberately simplistic characters and stories with a get-to-the-point, paint-by-numbers structure; as well as fostering formulaic design and cliché.
With my fiction, I attempt to counter the insipid status quo of such assumptions.

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