Experiments in Story

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Both White Dwarf and The Rabbit, Part 2, the latest stories in the 100 Days Project, at least on the story side of things, are narrative experiments.

Given the material that’s developed, my intention has changed to some extent. Over the last couple of years, I’ve focused on examining images by way of “compressed language,” which is an attempt to pack as much concrete detail or energy into as few rhetorical parts as possible. But what about plot? How much suggestion or narrative net can be gained with the application of compressed language.

In The Rabbit, Part 2, for example, the woman protagonist follows Pelgram.

He leaned to a cab at a line. She had to time this one well, better than she’d had to other days. “Can you follow that one?” she asked the cabbie, who said, “Yup.”

Here lots of things happen. Pelgram goes to a line of cabs and is driven away. The woman goes to the line, too, enters a cab, asks the driver if he can follow Pelgram’s, and he agrees. But it’s a small part of the narrative, which would include circumstance, reasoning, sequencing, and, most critically, closure. Several points of player action are excluded from the above, because “timing,” “speed,” and “tension” are keys.

Likewise, in White Dwarf, conflict is “suggested” or “restricted” by dialogue, the source of which the reader can infer.

“Look how the water explodes from the sole’s of his sneakers after he walks through puddles on stormy days. They needed four grown men to pull him from the concrete he stepped into. The ferry rides low, you know the work day’s done.”

In this section, I was trying to get a large amount of data to the reader with as little narrative insulation as possible, using dialogue as the sole device of carrier of conflict, character, and time.

Almost every paragraph in White Dwarf expresses closure or attempts to. This is not, however, true of The Rabbit series, which I can already see as developing into a sequence of linked stories. In White Dwarf “setting” is conveyed through dialogue and through response to environment. I don’t know how many paragraphs I had to write to find the first paragraph, but I went back to it a lot.

They said he was a strange volume, scariest in flight. “My god, you’re torturing this boarding ramp,” a large woman in a business suit said.

I remember the first go, which I wrote after the plane was already over Chicago. It was

They said he was a strange volume.

I added the boarding ramp object and business woman because I wanted to suggest the protagonist’s problem “in action,” not as a narrative description, with something like: “On the boarding ramp, a woman looked at him and said . . . ” The story did not want to “show” the protagonist as a described agent, as this would have revealed “too little.” Revealing “too little” has become one technique to explore further in future stories, but not in all of them. The concept driving this I think has to do with the look and feel of short Chinese and Japanese poetic forms or landscape design, where curve or color may be drawn by interrelations and not necessarily by a single object in space, much as in hypertext.

In this, I’m also learning from sound and image being produced by other members of the project, as I’ve coming back to the stories via different senses and different focal points.

One response to “Experiments in Story”

  1. gibb says:

    White Dwarf was a particularly tough act to follow. Now I see more what you were aiming for in the writing style; even as I sought the meaning or theme as one of perceptions, transparencies, opacity, compromise.