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Portraying Character Thoughts Across The Page (Part II)

17 Aug

So I thought last week’s post would be the end of looking at various ways to portray character thoughts (mostly as it pertains to a third-person POV), but then J.P. Cabit made a comment that really got me thinking…and I decided to make a Part II!  (Lots of great comments were made last week.  If you haven’t checked out Part I yet, you should take a peek!)

Okay, so JP shared an example which was unusual to me because I realized I also like to write in a similar style at times but wasn’t actually sure what to call it.  So, for your benefit (and with his permission!), I’m going to quote it here:

Alex turned and danced out of the room. Brianna hated it when he acted like this—who did he think he was, the king of France? And anyhow, there was no king of France, which made his situation all the more silly. What a roitelet. Or, that was what Ms. Jones had called him. Brianna thought it had something to do with Les Miserables. Which is exactly how Alex made everyone feel. There! She nodded, feeling full of rightness.

Now for me, the unusual thing about this example is not that it doesn’t use italics or quotes to indicate a thought, but rather that in addition to this it doesn’t always use filter words like “thought” or “believed” and is told in a way where the line between character and narrator become blurred.  It even has the feel of stream of consciousness (SoC) about it, too, but it’s in third person; usually when people talk about SoC it’s used in first person.  (As I talk about below, I have some confusion on the difference between SoC versus interior monologue.)

Okay, I thought, so what do you call something like that?  I thought maybe it was something like “stream of consciousness in third person,” but I was almost certain there were more concise ways of describing this.  Since I had to start somewhere, I decided to plug “stream of consciousness in third person” into Google and see what popped out.  Mostly, there was some stuff about Katherine Mansfield, who I’ll bring up again later, but a deeper search led me on this trail in which a myriad of terms were thrown at me, terms such as:

  • stream of consciousness (of course)
  • internal monologue (sure)
  • direct internal monologue (huh?)
  • indirect internal monologue
  • narrated dialogue
  • quoted interior monologue
  • psycho-narration (I’ve also seen it spelled psychonarration, though neither is in any dictionaries I’ve come across)
  • direct/quoted speech
  • indirect/reported speech

.  .  .

Really?  I’ve never heard of most of these before, to be honest.  And when I read about them and compare them, some even seem to be expressing basically the same ideas.

Why can’t things just be simple???

Anyway, eventually I sussed most of it out in my head–or tried to, anyway.  Here’s how I understand all of this (and perhaps someone  can add some clarification, as well, as I’m no expert here).

Styles of Third-Person Narration

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way.  Wikipedia lists three styles of third-person narration.  They are as follows (taken from the site):

  • Quoted or direct speechHe laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. “And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?” he asked.
  • Reported or normal indirect speechHe laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. He asked himself what pleasure he had found since he came into the world.
  • Free indirect speech [aka “free indirect discourse” (FID) as well as two other names, according to Wikipedia]He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this world?

That’s pretty easy to grasp, right?  I don’t use this terminology, but it makes sense to me.  Also, to clarify something, it seems they are using the term “speech” to encompass both verbal (external) thoughts and nonverbal (internal) thoughts, so this is still very much relevant to this post.

Did you see how in the last example it became a little blurry as to who was doing the talking?  It’s basically like blending elements of first-person POV with third-person.  Katherine Mansfield was known to do this, as well.  (If you have nothing better to do, you should check out her short story, “Miss Brill” (1920), made available by the Katherine Mansfield Society.  It’s a good example of using free indirect speech at length.  Virginia Woolf was another earlier author who used this style in her novel Mrs. Dalloway.)

Now, going back to JP’s example, it looks like he actually uses two of these styles, both indirect and free indirect speech.  I’ll re-quote it and color-code it to make it easier to see.  Indirect speech will be in orange and free indirect (the “blurry” parts) in blue; plain narration will be left in grey:

Alex turned and danced out of the room. Brianna hated it when he acted like thiswho did he think he was, the king of France? And anyhow, there was no king of France, which made his situation all the more silly. What a roitelet. Or, that was what Ms. Jones had called him. Brianna thought it had something to do with Les Miserables. Which is exactly how Alex made everyone feel. There! She nodded, feeling full of rightness.

(If you think I’ve color-coded this wrong, then please say so!  As I mentioned, I’m just learning about these terms myself.)

Right, so the short and sweet answer to “what do you call it when the line between character and narrator are blurred in third person?” would be “free indirect speech” (or discourse).

Thanks, Wikipedia.  That much makes sense to me.

Okay, but that still doesn’t address the “stream of consciousness” element I suggested was present in this example earlier.  But that’s the thing: does JP’s example actually use stream of consciousness, or is there something else going on here?

Stream of Consciousness vs. Interior Monologue:

I was looking at various descriptions of both SoC and interior monologue and comparing them before, and to be honest most were difficult to tell apart.  There was one place, however, that made a clearer distinction.  (I think so, anyway.)  Here’s how Britannica describes SoC: “[a] narrative technique in nondramatic fiction intended to render the flow of myriad impressions—visual, auditory, physical, associative, and subliminal—that impinge on the consciousness of an individual and form part of his awareness along with the trend of his rational thoughts. […] To represent the full richness, speed, and subtlety of the mind at work, the writer incorporates snatches of incoherent thought, ungrammatical constructions, and free association of ideas, images, and words at the pre-speech level.”

They also have a definition for interior monologue (IM), but it’s their comparison I find interesting: “The term interior monologue is often used interchangeably with stream of consciousness. But while an interior monologue may mirror all the half thoughts, impressions, and associations that impinge upon the character’s consciousness, it may also be restricted to an organized presentation of that character’s rational thoughts.”

In any case, I think the example JP gave actually uses a very similar style to Katherine Mansfield’s “Miss Brill,” which is said to use stream of consciousness in some sources and interior monologue in others.  Hence my confusion.

That’s the problem with the internet sometimes; it’s confusing.  When people use the word “may” in their descriptions, it leaves room for interpretation and makes things wishy-washy, you know?

So I guess I only have one question for savvy readers…

How do you understand the difference between stream of consciousness and interior monologuing?

(Okay, maybe more than one.)  Does the former always have to be choppy and erratic?  Is SoC just a sub-technique under IM?  (That’s how I understand it.)  Also, could SoC be used in third person while using free indirect speech?  (The New World Encyclopedia tries to provide further explanation on this, though honestly it’s still pretty confusing.)  And lastly, would you say JP’s example uses interior monologuing or the stream of consciousness technique?

I think next week I want to talk more about some of the other terms I listed earlier, just ’cause I had never heard of them until recently and think they are interesting.

Portraying Character Thoughts Across The Page

10 Aug

Late post!  I started up another post earlier about a different subject then decided halfway in, “Eh, never mind.”  Then I went away and came back to some of the partial drafts I’d started but was unsure on whether I wanted to continue and came across something that better suited my current mood.

Sometimes that happens.

Portraying Characters’ Thoughts Across The Page

Not too long ago I came across this post by writer Marlene Nash-McKay; she talks about the various ways to show character thoughts on the page.  It got me thinking about the methods I use and also those used by other writers.  It also got me thinking about whether there were standards nowadays about which methods to use and which to drop.  (There’s a lot of linkage in this post just to show the trail of my search and giving credit where credit is due, though I don’t anticipate anyone to visit them all; in fact, I think that’d be unnecessary.)

So I was looking up articles about this on the internet, as Marlene suggested, and came across one discouraging the use italics for internal thoughts where a commenter contrasted by pointing out how William Faulkner used italics to portray his characters’ thoughts.

Unfortunately, I don’t read much Faulkner (not sense high school, anyway), but I was still curious.  So I looked up more references made to him–starting with the link shared by the aforementioned commenter, Nicole, leading to an article written by David Jauss at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs website.

Faulkner’s Approach

It’s pretty long, and I was only interested in it as it pertained to Faulkner, so here is the one sentence from Jauss that caught my interest where he talks about examples from Faulkner’s Light in August: “In short, Faulkner quotes Joe Christmas’s conscious thought and then, in italics, presents first a semi-conscious thought that exists simultaneously with it and then the unconscious thought that underlies them both.”

I found another description of Faulkner’s approach on Spark Notes, also referring to Light in August:

When a character speaks, verbalizing his or her thoughts or reactions, Faulkner indicates this in traditional fashion, through the use of double quotation marks (e.g., “I”). However, thoughts that remain internal and unspoken, often spilling out in a loose, stream-of-consciousness manner, are indicated by single quotation marks (e.g., ‘I’). Finally, the third layer to Faulkner’s character development consists of unconscious thoughts—the characters’ innermost psychological workings, of which even they themselves may not be aware. These are indicated in italics.

What I most like about this approach is how it makes the distinction between conscious and subconscious thoughts.  Personally, in my own writing, I find it necessary to make the same distinction, though I go about it differently.

So that’s one, admittedly outmoded way of portraying thoughts.  I can see why it wouldn’t work today, but the idea behind it–the organization of the various thought levels–is nice, I think.  As the article sums up, “[Faulkner] creates multifaceted portraits of humans in all their flaws and subjective bias—people whose perceptions of the world are often blurred by prejudice, misinterpretation, self-delusion, and deep and blinding personal need.”  And I love that.  I love writing about complex characters, ones that feel more like actual people, and I love the idea that something  as complex as the contents of a person’s mind can be shared in an elegant, simple yet varied way.

So that’s one old-school approach, but what are people saying about showing thoughts (both internal and external) today?

The Modern-Day Approach

Here is a Suite101 article written by Vickie Britton on “Handling Internal Dialogue in Fiction.”  I think it sums up the “modern” approach nicely.  It presents you with acceptable options and lets you decide which to use.  However, it also discourages mixing these methods together; it basically just tells you to pick one and stick with it.

I don’t get that; why are writers today required to streamline everything in their novels down just so it can be super easily digestible?  Personally, I feel this is almost too modern an approach to writing.

I like to think that combining this more modern approach along with Faulkner’s would allow for the most nuance in portraying characters’ thoughts in storytelling–if that’s what you’re going for.  (Yeah, if your story’s writing style is more streamlined because it calls for simplicity, then I can understand why you’d want to stick with only one method.  If not, then you are being unfairly limited in accomplishing your storytelling goals.  So long as you have a good reason for mixing methods, then I don’t see why it should be a problem.)

Faulkner’s Approach + Modern-Day Approach = A Modern-Day Faulkner-Like Approach

Okay, I just made that up, but you get the idea.  (Or rather, I hope you will by the time I’m through!)

Like Faulkner, I prefer to distinguish between three different levels of thought processes.  I may not use them all in one paragraph, but I certainly like to use all three throughout an entire story.  (I should point out that this is for a third-person POV, as is my preferred perspective.)  Though, here’s how I go about about showing them:

  1. (external) as direct speech, indicated by “quotation marks”: After he left the room, Lara said to herself, “I hate it when he does that.”
  2. (internal) unspoken, though deliberately voiced in the character’s mind; indicated by italics: Lara balled her fists and squinted at him.  You just try that again.
  3. (internal) as part of the character’s deep, unconscious inner workings, voiced instead by the narrator without quotation marks or italics: His wounded pride was the last thing on Lara’s mind.

#1 is straightforward and easy to identify; it’s useful when the character wants her thoughts to be heard.  #2 can be used in a sneaky fashion, to show thoughts that a character may or may not feel comfortable or see need to voice out loud, or perhaps if they are in a situation where they can’t say something out loud (say, if they’re underwater).  And #3 is nice when you want to get a point across in a situation where it may not necessarily make sense to have your character say or think something directly–like perhaps at a point where a character is overwhelmed with too many thoughts and emotions to precisely communicate anything at all; instead, the author can then step in and choose what to show through narration.

I’m sure there are many other reasons to use any of these methods; these are just a few.

One reason why I like to use all three in the same story is that it simply mixes things up.  You’re not limited to any one method; you use what you feel is necessary when you feel it is necessary.  It also allows you to play with subtext and context or sometimes say more with less–say one thing while meaning another (without having to lay it all out for the reader in a self-evident way)…that kind of thing.

As the Suite101 article mentioned, though, publishers may have specific guidelines as to how they want things done.  Not that I have any clue as to what those guidelines are….

So what method(s) do you tend to use for showing character thoughts?

Do you tend to use just one, or do you have several?  Also, do have any idea what most publishers would find acceptable these days?

Conscious Writing, Channeling & The Magic of Editing

22 Jun

I know that some people hate the process of editing, but as for me…

I’m liking it!

It isn’t easy, though.  Nope, nope.  In any case, I think it’s teaching me different ways to approach writing.

“Channeling” vs. “Conscious Writing”

As I’m going through rewrites now I feel I can write more consciously than I could in earlier drafts.  Because I’ve been through so many ideas and different ways of presenting them on the page that this time around I know exactly what I need and want to say; now I just have to decide how I want to say these things before I put it on the page rather than trying to channel the muse, putting down whatever happens to come to me and sorting it out later.  I couldn’t always do that on the earlier draft (…or, for that matter, earlier draftsss).

This is what I mean by “conscious writing” versus “channeling,” and I’m thinking that maybe it takes a lot of practice to learn not only how to write in each of these modes but also when to write in them and also how to switch between them.  I think conscious writing is good for later and/or final drafts, though not the first.  I’m not sure I could be an entirely conscious writer the first time through a new story.

The Magic of Editing Comes From Rewriting

How often during your first draft were/are you excited about the quality of what you’ve actually managed to put on the page?  Sometimes I felt that way about my writing, but on a whole I did not.  I was more excited by the ideas I’d generated and the developing of connections between them than my execution.

However, now that I’m going through and refashioning my manuscript so that it’s consistent and told in what I hope are more effective uses of tone and voice, according to the themes of the story (something I reflected heavily on for a while before diving into rewrites), I am no longer preoccupied with “getting the (right) story on the page” and am free to consider its more artistic side; things like tone, style and voice become important.

I feel that now I am really telling the story I’ve been meaning to tell.  I can feel the magic in every scene, the kind of magic I hear in the soundtracks I listen to for inspiration as I’m writing.  Last week I talked about not taking writing too seriously (except when writing something serious), and this has really helped me.  I realized there was a tone of whimsy and fantasy in some of what I’d written in the previous draft that I didn’t allow to come through as often as I should have, and I think this was because it was tempered by a fear of not “getting it right.”

After starting the revision process, though, it gets me excited to read what’s on the page, sometimes even scared, but in one way or another emotionally involved.  I’m convinced that if I don’t feel this way about every single moment of my story, then I’m not doing my job as a writer because it is my hope that all of the finished product will provide the same experience to readers.  I know it’ll take some time and intense focus to make this happen on every page, requiring that I be a conscious storyteller in every moment spent writing.

I’ve much work left ahead of me yet to get the manuscript to the level I want it to be at, but for once I can actually see myself getting there.

Do You Have “Modes” of Writing?

If so, what do you call them?  When do you think is the best time to use them?

(Speaking of editing…haha, I wrote this in a hurry before an eye exam.  Spiffed it up a bit now. :D)

THE AVENGERS ARE COMING!

7 May

Okay, so tonight I just saw Thor.

It was pretty cool–funny, entertaining, action-y with a bit o’ romance (and explosions)…all the things you could possibly want from a movie (though, sorry, minus the classic car chase scene)–but I felt the ending was expected from the very beginning.  I never really got the sense that Thor was ever in that much danger.

But that’s just me.  (And I never read the comic books, so it’s not like I had any foresight into his character to begin with.  My dad, however, was a big comic book reader, so I have him to inform me of all the little ways the movies alters from the original stories or hits them spot-on–because he’s nitpicky like that.  So yes, Dad was the one who wanted to see the movie the most out of the family.)

And since I’m not really one to write full movie reviews…that’s pretty much all I have to say about Thor.

What I am excited to talk about is another upcoming movie with yet another classic comic hero who was featured during the previews: Captain America.

Okay–Confession Time

Again, I say I never read these comic books, folks.  It just wasn’t part of my life.  (If my dad still has his old comics books, he’s never shared them with me. So I blame it on him!)  My closest experience with Captain America was in the early Nintendo games.  I was really young then, and all I could ever manage to do in the one title I owned was throw his shield around and jump all over the place.

I think I had a better time with Kirby, to be honest.  (He was big, round and pink, and he incessantly puffed his enemies away.  *shrugs* What can I say?  He had that rare kind of appeal.)

Nevertheless, I’m still entirely excited to see Captain America.

Why?

Well, remember when we were talking about dieselpunk, and I was kind of whining about how nothing cool and set during that era (1920s to 1950s) was being produced in film or fiction?  (At least not that I know of; I’d love some updates if there are.) *ehem*

NEWSFLASH: TIYANA CAN COMPLAIN LESS NOW.

At least temporarily.

Because folks, the upcoming film Captain America is totally dieselpunk.  Check this, if you haven’t already:

(Okay, I just totally went all ecstatic inside while watching that, even though I’ve seen it several times before.)

Now, if I have to explain why this is dieselpunk, then you clearly do not understand what this movement is all about.  (All right, maybe I’m just being mean now.)

One of the coolest things, imo, that this movie has going for it–and I’m coming from the perspective of someone who has no attachment to the original comics–is the use of technology.  They’re using it to engineer a super soldier to fight Hitler and his Nazis, for one.

How cool is that?

And have you seen the automobiles?  They practically scream dieselpunk.  Not to mention the brief shot of that sleek-looking aircraft flying in.  And those costume designs…

Basically everything about this movie says dieselpunk.  (And holy moly!  I just learned Joss Whedon is contributing to the script.  Now I absolutely have to see this movie.)

So maybe my reasons for wanting to see this film are more stylistic than because I’m actually a hardcore fan of the character (which I’m not).  I’m a stylist at heart.  Though, don’t get me wrong: I appreciate substance just as much as the next gal.

With that said, I hope that when Captain America does hit the theatres it delivers on all levels.

What Do You Think?

Have you seen Thor?  What was your reaction to it?  Also, is anyone else looking forward to seeing Captain America, as well?

Chiaroscuro: What Edward Hopper, Film Noir & Interwar American Literature Have in Common

5 May

Nighthawks.  Edward Hopper, 1942.

Gee, I’m just on an art kick this week!  (Sorry, no post yesterday.  Busy day.)

I’ve been looking at some more art and remembered an American artist I learned about in school a few years ago: Edward Hopper.  And then a million thoughts started floating around in my head, which happens a lot when I’m browsing the internet.  Though, a couple of words and phrases kept popping up: black and white, stark, depression, momentary blindness, and chiaroscuro.

In order for me to make sense of the word soups my brain sometimes generates I either have to (a) talk myself through it, or (b) write myself through it.

Today, I feel like I’ve got to write my way through it.  Let’s see if I can’t make sense of this.

First, let’s define a term that may or may not be widely understood.

Chiaroscuro

Etymology: From Italian, from chiaro (clear, light) + oscuro (obscure, dark).  From Answers.com.

Chiaroscuro is an artistic technique in which the artist uses a stark contrast of bright lighting effects in combination with areas of deep shades.  It makes for an interestingly bold effect and lends itself well to both photography and cinematography (B&W especially) and other mediums, to be sure.  Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange is famous for her “stark” photographs (though not necessarily chiaroscuro):

 Here’s a famous example of chiaroscuro in a B&W film:

I think Edward Hopper used it fairly often in his work, as well–like in Nighthawks above.  Here are some other examples:

 Okay, now on to why I’m writing about any of this. Stark Opposition: Understanding the World through a “Black & White Lens”…So to Speak The world is clearly not black and white, but I find it difficult to understand without at first filtering it through this approach.  I think of the story of Adam and Eve and have wondered what it might have been like to never known sin, or that which was not deemed “good.” Complete innocence and ignorance.  (In their case, ignorance was bliss…until they sought out knowledge, right?) To understand the value and meaning of good, you must first be exposed to that which is not, and I don’t think Adam or Eve understood this so clearly as the moment they ate from the Tree. It moments like this that are so stark in the human experience, so clear in one’s memory, that they forever define the way a person looks at the world. You are almost blinded by the contrast between what you once knew and what you know now.  They are particularly powerful experiences. In a flash of a bright light you are momentarily blinded; it is impossible to perceive shades of grey during that time. I think this is what chiaroscuro is all about: capturing moments of stark (first) impressions–truths in their most naked forms.  Only, as a viewer, when you experience it in a painting as opposed to real-time media you actually get a still snapshot of the moment and therefore have ample time to really process it and consider any “grey” aspects in the artwork, as with Hopper’s Nighthawks (why does it seem so empty there?)–though, you do still experience that “momentary blindness” at first sight because you can’t take everything in all at once (and this is true with any complex, multi-layered piece). I happened to write most of these thoughts up to this point in a moment of “stark impressions,” but as it settles in (and as I edit this) I find I want to explore those shades of grey as it pertains to fiction. Can Chiaroscuro Be Achieved in Literature? I think so. The Great Depression (or even just depressing themes) made an excellent backdrop for the practice of chiaroscuro in literature, thematically especially.  Two novels that inevitably come to mind, here, are The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath.  At one moment in The Great Gatsby Nick Carraway was looking forward to life in the big city; look how that turned out.  (Edit: I should acknowledge that this book wasn’t set during the Great Depression, but you still got this feeling of something rotten and corrupt happening in the city, a feeling of ruin and grit with references to ash, etc.  It was depressing, in a way.)  Similarly, in The Grapes of Wrath it started out as, “We’re going to California–yahoo!”  Though, that excitement soon dissipated once they arrived and took in the reality of the “opportunities” out west. Blind, or perhaps just innocent, optimism (chiaro), met with stark reality (oscuro)…followed by disillusionment (grey–or grigio, as it is in Italian, according to Wiktionary, haha). I think another way to apply “chiaroscuro” in literature is using foils.  What better way to show the difference between good and evil than to have characters which personify both in complementary ways?  You can also have a chiaroscuro of setting versus context, where the setting reflects an opposite atmosphere or mood to what is actually happening in the story (a happy couple out on the town, having a pleasant stroll when two violent thugs come out of nowhere–an experience they’ll always remember afterwards); or a chiaroscuro of character (an ongoing internal struggle between two desires met with a moment in which the character is forced out of their “grey” understanding and expected to take a decisive stand). Of course, it could be executed literally, narrating how certain objects or persons are in shade and how others are illuminated in bright or harsh light.  (A nefarious interrogation room, anyone?)  It could also be accomplished with the clashing of themes: life versus death, hope versus despair, sanity versus insanity, truth versus lies… In the end, it’s about dichotomies: exploring the relationship between opposites and their effects on everything they touch.  It’s just one way to look at conflicts in stories. In any case, I do think chiaroscuro works best when darker, more serious themes are being used, but it doesn’t necessarily have to end on a negative note.  You could have a story that focuses mostly on despair and ends on an up-note, for example.  Switch things around. Why I’m Drawn to These Things As I mentioned, sometimes I have trouble understanding certain things unless I can compare them to their exact opposites.  “This is a boy; this is a girl.” Ah…” Not that I’ve ever had trouble understanding the difference there, though if I were, say, a sexless alien I might have trouble grasping this simple concept until I saw it with my own eyes. I think as children we learn a lot this way.  “This is good; this is bad.”  Only difference is now that I’m older I don’t always say “okay” but sometimes, “Why?” *sighs* Yeah.  Life was much simpler as a kid.  There wasn’t a whole lot of room for greys.  Though, I’m pretty sure life would be boring if it were all black and white. So anyways… No writing prompt.  Not sure what I’d ask, to be honest.  Comments are still welcome, though, if you have any.

Style in Literary & Genre Fiction

23 Mar

For the love of brevity, why can’t I ever blog about something that can be addressed in under 500 words?  Maybe I should just blog about comic books and YouTube videos, heh.

In any case, I think today’s post was partly inspired by one of T.S. Bazelli’s.

Literary Technique & Snobbery

I’d like some perspective on this because I think it directly affects my work and has been on my mind recently.

I have this notion in my head that literary fiction is still somewhat regarded as “snob” fiction today, and also that the use of literary techniques such as metaphor, allusion, alliteration, etc. is something that’s paid more attention to in literary fiction than it is in genre.

Is this true?

Admittedly, I don’t read a whole lot of literary fiction these days.  I still cherish certain classics I had to read in high school and have come to appreciate them way more than I could have at that age, but really I haven’t read much more of that stuff since then.  Though, I distinctly recall that the literary techniques used in those novels were a distinguishing feature in what made them so special (along with their characters’ stories).  But maybe this is only because that’s what we focused on in class!

It’s strange…ever since it’s been suggested to me that I’m working on a character-driven story, I’ve been thinking more about what, exactly, makes literary fiction literary (and genre fiction genre).  I’ve been wondering if my own perception of it is skewed.  I’ve also wondered whether I’m writing something that straddles the border between genre and literary because character-driven stories and literary fiction are so often linked together, and plot also gets some prominent stage time in my WIP, mostly in the second half.

Didn’t you just write a couple of posts on the difference between genre and literary fiction when you talked about plot- and character-driven stories?  I thought we’ve been over this before.

Yes, I have, but I still feel the need to contemplate on this.  I originally wrote those posts because I wasn’t sure which one I was writing.  To be honest, I feel like I may be writing both.  (Of course, it’s hard for someone else gauge these things if you’ve only shown your work to one person, heh.)  I like to focus on character and use literary techniques–not because it’s been ingrained in our brains in school to look out for these things but because that is naturally what I do.  The more I edit and get past plot inconsistencies, the more I seem to pay attention to my writing style.

At first, it was all about getting the story right–the plot and characters and whatnot; now, I feel it’s more about getting the execution of that story right aesthetically–paying attention to things like rhythm and cadence (sometimes I will switch out a word simply because it doesn’t fit the “rhythm” of a line as I hear it in my head).

Anyway, all of this makes me wonder whether my developing writing style is more fitting to genre or literary fiction.

What does it matter whether your work is more “genre-ish” or “literary?”

It doesn’t really, per se; I’m just not sure where I stand.

Naturally, I don’t like to pigeonhole myself into categories, but you kind of have to know how to explain your work to other people if you plan on selling it eventually, right?  If you tell people you’re writing fantasy and you give them something that reads like The Puttermesser Papers (not comparing myself here, just pulling out a crazy example), then is “fantasy” really an appropriate genre description?  (The same goes for the flip side, too.)

Essentially, I’m writing fantasy because there’s a fantastical element.  I just wonder why it seems like mostly literary fiction uses literary devices more prominently than genre fiction does.  I’m not saying this is good or bad, but when I read something like Grimspace by Ann Aguirre, or Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder, the use of literary techniques doesn’t exactly pop out at me.  They may be in there every now and then, but they don’t really stand out (which, to me, seems is what happens in literary fiction).  I don’t remember these books because of their literary style but rather the plot/adventure and worldbuilding.

Which is fine.

I guess I just want to learn to write fiction that has both sides to it–memorable worlds and adventures as well as a distinctive style (and memorable characters.)  Maybe that’s why it’s taking me longer to finish my WIP?  Heh.

I know there’s more and more crossover fiction being written these days that traverses genre and literary, and I really should read more of them.  I think this would give me a better idea of what I’m trying to explore/understand.  (I suspect Neil Gaiman fits this bill, though I haven’t read him yet–don’t stone me!–and I’m currently reading Susanna Clarke now.  After reading Windup Girl, I think Paolo Bacigalupi might fit into this category, too, but I’m not all that sure.)

Am I making any sense today?

I find all of this hard to sort out and express clearly.  I just feel like there’s a lot of greyness in my understanding of these things.  (And maybe that writer’s/blogger’s “identity crisis”  I mentioned the other day has something to do with this.)

So…am I asking a question here?  Hm, I don’t know.  Let me see…

All right, so here’s my question to you: What do you make of the role of style in genre and literary fiction?  Does that matter to you?  Also, would you say your style seems to be a better fit for genre or literary fiction?  How come?

I’ve read plenty of articles on the old genre vs. literary fiction debate, but really I’m more interested in the general public’s perception of this issue.  I wonder how well that perception lines up with everything that’s been written about it.  Sometimes, I wonder why the distinction is even necessary, and if people even care.  (And by the way, I don’t want to seem like I’m getting overly caught-up on this stuff.  I’m just trying to get some perspective.)

Okay, break time’s over for me.  Back to work. ~