Thursday, August 07, 2008

"In a well-crafted book there would be a plot."

John C. Wright, writes about "The Golden Compass that points no where". Wright gives an interesting analysis of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials - contending that the books are neither good stories or really atheist. I think Wright makes some interesting observations about the plot and the lack of atheism...

What I find more interesting today is Wright's analysis of the nature of stories and storytelling.

(It should be said I'm probably out of my league in writing about story and I'm a bit way about any claims to define the formula of what a story should be. I dropped English Literature after GCSE, which I regret. I enjoy reading. The last fiction book I read was Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, which I found to be a deeply engaging and moving story. I'm still ploughing through Dostoevsky's vast The Brothers Karamazov, and on a rainy morning last week I read Dan Brown's Digital Fortress, because there was a copy where we were staying... Could three books be more different?)

Wright writes:
"In telling a tale, a narrator is trying to cast a spell, to deceive the reader (with the reader's cooperation, or course) into the illusion that the events being portrayed are unfolding before his eyes. The basic ingredient of the magician's cauldron, is, of course, verisimilitude. The events need not be real, or even realistic. They can be larger than life or smaller than life or true to life. They do not need to follow the logic of real life cause-and-effect. But they must follow the story-logic of make-believe. The author can say what happens: but he cannot say, like a child playing a game, that it only happens because of his say-so. If the events or plot elements appear out of nowhere and vanish with no consequence trailing after them, it is too much unlike life. The event seem to be inauthentic, inorganic, unnatural, and each thing that happens does not seem to be happening because of what the story requires, but merely because of what the author wants. If your plot has events and elements that don't fit into the rest of the plot, if the plot is arbitrary, the spell is broken, artistic integrity flies out the window, and the reader is betrayed."
My wife is reading The Book of Esther and I'm enjoying talking about it with her. I love the book not just because it's in The Bible, but because it seems to me to be an outstanding piece of writing, where characters and events are brilliantly set up, the plot progresses and resolves.

For example, the inescapable peril of the Jews is setup in the first chapter. We meet the King who rules the whole world - no escape. We meet the King whose laws cannot be revoked - no way out of his laws. Suspense is maintained because we don't know why those details matter until the end of the first act (chapter 3). In chapter 2 the presence of a secret Jew is established and the writing of Mordecai's heroices in Ahasuerus' Chronicles. Both are essential details in the second act of the story though again during the first act we don't know why we should know these things, but we know them... The other reason I love the book is that without making a single explicit reference to God sits perfectly among the other 65 books it's packaged with. The story makes sense in it's Biblical context, picking up details recorded much earlier in the Biblical plot (chiefly concerning the genealogies of the main characters - which are provided in the text), and is a story of salvation, much like the bigger story in which it sits. Esther as part of the Bible coheres. The story works.

On screen The Dark Knight is good seems to work well as a story too. Important details are slipped in along the way that we'll need later - such as Ramirez mother being in hospital, the sonar phone. Themes continue from the first film. Story arcs resolve. And it cries out for a third part, setting the stage for that without giving away what that'll look like. Mark Kermode says there are things that could be removed - and to be fair 153mins is a long film - could they? If so, what...

God gave us stories. The best stories. The best told stories of all.
Stories full of meaning - with characters and propositions and events and consequences. No surprise that the people he made have always loved good stories.

1 comment:

  1. Amen.
    The stories given by God in The Bible are class - unfortunately we neglect them so much for lesser tales