Monday, October 24, 2016

Matters Fictional

     Good morning, Gentle Readers. There’s no news worth commenting on just now, so I thought I’d spend a few words on storytelling and related matters. Those of you lucky enough to be unacquainted with my fiction can feel free to skip this piece. As for the rest...I hear there’s a twelve-step program for dealing with the malady, though I have no idea whether it effects a complete cure or merely alleviates the symptoms.


     The telling of stories has its roots in the oral histories by which human tribes educated children and new additions to their numbers. Therefore, as fiction became a part of human culture, the events of a story were always narrated as having occurred in the past. Thus, “fictional past” has remained the overwhelmingly most common mode of narration of stories today.

     The use of fictional past implies certain things about the story’s context. The storyteller is presumed to know all the relevant details. If there’s a first-person narrator, he too is regarded as being fully informed. Also, any consequences of the story’s events are the narrator’s “property:” he can elect to mention them to the reader, whether emphatically or in passing, or withhold them under the assumption that “you already know about that.”

     The use of fictional present, a fairly recent trend, often arises from a dislike of those implied conditions. (For those unfamiliar with the terminology, where a fictional-past writer would write “He stood,” a fictional-present writer would put “He stands.”) This has the effect of heightening the story’s immediacy; after all, the story’s events are happening right now. They could be having momentous consequences as we read of them. While there are more difficulties (and not a few gotchas) in telling a fictional-present story than in fictional-past, nevertheless there’s been a trend toward it in recent years.

     I always write in fictional past. As a reader, I dislike fictional present. There’s something about it that jars me. A writer who employs it must be exceptionally compelling to hold my interest. How does it affect you?


     Readers of my fiction will be aware that I sometimes employ an “interlocutory frame” – a narration that envelops the “actual events” of the story – as a storytelling vehicle. In effect, it wraps one story within another. The technique can provide certain expository advantages to the storyteller. For example, if the “outer” story is constructed as a conversation, the characters conversing can make observations about the “inner” story that would otherwise be frowned upon. It tends to work best when the “outer” and “inner” stories share a protagonist.

     The frame I employed helped me greatly in structuring and pacing Love In The Time Of Cinema. As seventy-year-old Jana recounted the key events of her much younger life to the unnamed entertainment journalist, she was able to mention events that, had I lacked the frame, I would have had to insert in the “inner” story. In some cases – especially the sexual ones – those events had to be conveyed discreetly. Also, the frame provided an extra emotional dimension to Jana’s tale, owing to her perspective as a relatively recent widow who missed her late husband terribly.

     I’ve made use of a similar frame in Statesman. One of my test readers has already commented on it somewhat negatively as “distancing.” I’ll be extremely interested in the balance of readers’ opinions, once the book is made available for purchase.


     Finally for this morning, an announcement that will please some while it appalls others: Statesman is the last novel in the Realm of Essences family. It’s time for me to move on to other vistas. A writer who harps repeatedly on one theme, motif, or central character must be exceptionally creative in other ways to remain worth reading, and I don’t think I qualify. So as fond as I am of Louis, Christine, and Stephen Graham Sumner, I think we’ve visited with them for the last time...though there will be at least one more novel set in Onteora County, New York.

     There are other novels coming, of course:

  • A fourth (and final) Spooner Federation novel;
  • A novel based on the characters and setting in my novelette “The Warm Lands;”
  • Powers Of The Air, a contemporary fantasy, inspired by the works of C. S. Lewis, about an evil plot founded on necromancy;
  • Innocents, a book about which I can’t say anything at all without committing a “self-spoiler.” Suffice it to say that it will raise a few eyebrows.

     That’s all I have for you at present. Be well.

“Life is too short to read lousy books.” – “Oregon Muse” at Ace of Spades HQ

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