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"Story" as a model [Jan. 29th, 2005|05:54 pm]
I don't know if I ever expressed this before, but having seen a recent entry in kightp's journal, I figured I'd throw this in to the mix.

It took me a long time, especially in my writing, to understand the notion of a story.

A story is not what happened. A story is a *representation* of what happened, in a way that the reader/listener/watcher *understands* the story.

Watch an action movie. Ask yourself how many times a single wrong move, a single wrong guess, a single moment's hesitation, or a single momement's lack of hesitation would have ended the movie.

Well, those are all ways of saying "It was scary, at that moment" or "it was a difficult situation to get out of, but the protagonist(s) got out of it".

I later imagined a real-life version of the character Indiana Jones (i.e.: pretend Indy really lived, and Harrison Ford was playing a biographical role) seeing the "Temple of Doom" movie, and saying "And you know that mine car scene? We were actually in the mine car for a much shorter time. And, we didn't jump a large gap in the tracks; we just hit a really bad section of rail, and it's a miracle that we didn't derail; I swear we actually were airborne for a moment. But, while it's a little overblown, it's a darn good way of expressing how it *felt*."

I don't know if it's weird or not, but realizing this really improved my enjoyment of fiction. I mean, it's *fiction*, right? But the lack of certain bits of realism annoyed me sometimes, until I realized I could look at it as a model, a representation, of what "really" happened in the fictional world.

In other words, I could enjoy fiction by pretending it was fiction about fiction.

Herm. Maybe I should skip the part about "I don't know if it's weird" :-)

From: kightp
2005-01-29 06:22 pm (UTC)
I find that having worked in live theater for so long has really heightened my appreciation for the difference between story-telling and life-as-it's lived. In theater, you have to tell the story in a finite amount of time (that may or may not be equivalent to the time the story would have taken to live), you have to keep it unfolding in a way that makes people want to keep watching, and you have to not only tell it, but show it.

And it's not about pretending. It's about having honest, truthful reactions to what are essentially lies, in order to make the experience not just true-to-life, but truer. Even if you're acting out historical events, or the lives of people who really lived, you're not imitating reality, you're selecting and refining and highlighting it to create something that's more than life, even though it contains fewer moments and actions and occurrences.

Good fiction does the same thing. It selects and heightens and focuses in ways that most of us don't do in our daily lives, and if it does it well, we don't just understand the story, we believe it.
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[User Picture]From: karenkay
2005-02-12 03:54 am (UTC)
Good fiction does the same thing. It selects and heightens and focuses in ways that most of us don't do in our daily lives, and if it does it well, we don't just understand the story, we believe it.

This is exactly the point you made about answering the phone happy when you are getting sad news and vice versa.
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[User Picture]From: jenny_evergreen
2005-01-30 07:49 am (UTC)
Makes perfect sense to me, but, you know. *points to self* Weird.
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[User Picture]From: ljgeoff
2005-01-30 09:06 am (UTC)
Poetry, too -- you can take a single moment, say, walking in the woods, and the evergreens and earth are so pungent that you can taste it on your tongue, and then with well chosen words, make that moment real and alive to someone who's never walked in such a forest. I'm not very good at poetry, but I admire it greatly.
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From: kightp
2005-01-30 01:38 pm (UTC)
Oooh, oooh! poetry-geeking opportunity:

"A poem should not mean
But be."
-- Archibald Macleish, Ars Poetica
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2005-01-30 01:43 pm (UTC)
Chuckle; shades of my one line about "for many things, "believe" is five letters too long."

Interesting thought, too, because "be instead of belief", "be instead of mean", "make the audience live the story, rather than read the story" all come from reaching deeply into the idea/concept/whatever, and making it much more than the words, or the sum of the words.

Maybe there's a grand unification theory? :-)
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From: kightp
2005-01-30 01:45 pm (UTC)
*grin* A fitting subject for your next book?
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[User Picture]From: karenkay
2005-02-12 03:55 am (UTC)
I don't think it's weird. (But I am a Friend of Pat.)

In any case, thanks so much for this post.
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