- General discussion of development of literary voice – seems like “free indirect style” is a reasonable default choice.
- Point about the blending of character and authorial voice in narrative; often a single word is effective at utilising one or the other in context.
Quoting a series of useful aphorisms:
- “Good prose favours the telling and brilliant detail.”
- “Good prose privileges a high degree of visual noticing.”
- “Good prose maintains an unsentimental composure.”
- “Good prose knows how to withdraw, like a good valet, from superfluous commentary.”
- “Good prose judges good and bad neutrally.”
- “Good prose seeks out the truth, even at the cost of repelling us.”
More general notes:
- It’s all about Flaubert, apparently.
- Notice mixing of temporal lengths – “time signatures” instants mingled with longer activities can make for effective description.
- Selection of detail – life itself is not literary because there is no concern about how to get detail on to the page. Reminiscent of thoughts about simulations of ever finer detail.
- “Our memories are aesthetically untalented.”
- Virtuous cycle of noticing: life ⇄ noticing ⇄ literature
- Concept of fictional “thisness”, in substance and specificity
- Potential aphorism along the lines of “richness of detail, not of style”
- “Let that frown alone” – don’t over-explain details; let readers invent their own interpretation
- Leave the reader free to assume.
On to characterisation:
- “apprentice novels” have a tendency to “describe photographs” – describing motion is better.
- “few brushstrokes” can depict a character in motion vividly enough
- harsh disagreement with idea that characters should be likeable (I agree – ban totally likeable characters!)
- lengthy, unhelpful philosophical pondering
- useful disagreement with forster about flat vs round characters
- transparent vs opaque or even better mysterious might be a better spectrum
- surprise could be a good single quality to assess quality of characterisation
- interesting analysis of story of David in the Old Testament (meta-surprise in analysis of surprise in characterisation)
Development of characterisation:
- key development is presentation of psychological motivation
- potential elevation of characterisation over plot (yet it seems the majority of readers prioritise latter over former?)
- difficulty for author of creating “free characters”, i.e. plot never seems truly driven by characterisation
- “explore characterological relativity”
- Interesting point about how earlier novels featured revelation and surprise in plot; revelation and surprise in character is a feature of later novels
- This leads to less chronological narrative in novels
- Point that non-chronological characterisation is how we experience characterisation in real life
Sympathy, point of view
- Discussion about relationship between function or value of fiction, sympathy and sympathy within fiction.
- More examples of effectiveness of free indirect style in Atonement.
- Novels need not provide answers, only ask the right questions (except to the Dramatic Question, presumably – but this point is about philosophy).
- Observations on effective style, “cannot be improved”
- One small idea to make metaphors more effective – re-attach the linked list of the metaphor on to a new target, e.g. “the crops wave” -> “the day waves”
- “In the morning he did nothing, and in the afternoon he wrote up what he did in the morning” – seems there’s a consistent structure of joke here that is self-referential in a destructive way like an ouroboros (an ouroboros joke I guess). “Two brain cells, one’s lost and the other’s looking for it” is similar. “He had two beers, one to build up to the second and the second to take the edge off the first.” as a crappy off-the-top-of-my-head example.
- Was reminded to include scent and fragrance in place descriptions.
- Good style can articulate for the reader / make the reader more articulate about a recognised experience
- Point that more sophisticated writing may make use of multiple registers (“the highish ‘Father’ and the lower ‘Pop’”), whereas “slick genre fiction” tends to stick with one.
- Commonly an inappropriately high register can be used to mock pompous or silly characters.
- Mixed metaphors are underrated.
- Principle of effective metaphor is extremes of the elements – combine distant concepts for an effective metaphor
Truth, Convention, Realism
The machinery of realism:
- Wonderful passage from Cyril Connolly in 1935 excoriating unbearable cliches in fiction that must be “slaughtered”
- Realism as a literary grammar of bourgeois reading
- “Commcercial realism” and “reassuring realism”