Genre prejudice

Roger Burton West roger at firedrake.org
Wed Jul 16 12:38:21 EDT 2003


On Wed, Jul 16, 2003 at 05:16:33PM +0100, Charles Butler wrote:

>This distinction between the order of the events being described and the
>order in which they are related is often offered as the distinction between
>'plot' and 'story', isn't it? Or it could be the other way round: I have a
>blind spot about that - but it is a useful distinction all the same, and I
>suspect it underlies this disagreement.

I don't know the definitions. That was one of _Altered Carbon_'s flaws,
though: the scenes of sex and torture (being fair to the author, not
intermingled) seemed necessary to the story that he had set up (i.e.
"yes, these characters in that situation would plausibly do those
things") but not to the plot (the whodunnit) that he was trying to
narrate.

>Either way, narrative flow is the important thing, to be sure. Flashbacks,
>nested narratives, narratives begun in media res, and flashforwards, all
>seem to me quite legit if they are used to serve the narrative rather than
>to interrupt it pointlessly.

I have often felt that Iain Banks has said to himself "right, which
narrative sequencing trick shall I use in _this_ book". It's very easy
to overdo things like that, and I think they can be used to cover up
failings elsewhere in the work.

>DWJ often uses effects of this kind - not just
>in Hexwood, but in Archer's Goon, say, or Time of the Ghost, and in F&H,
>which is mostly told in flashback (in imitation of the Odyssey, yes? And
>that Homer was no storytelling slouch...)

I think the "flashback" aspect of F&H is arguable; certainly we shift
from "now" to "earlier" right at the beginning, but apart from that
introductory section (and occasional comments) it is mostly in
chronological order. But yes, I agree that they're legitimate tools,
though susceptible to overuse.

Roger
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