Thursday, October 16, 2014

Things That I Like: Lesser-known plots and archetypes

There are a lot of interesting genres, archetypes, & storytelling devices out there, some of which aren’t very well-known. Here and there, one week and then another, I’d like to describe some of the ones that I’ve grown very fond of, but which don’t seem to be well-known. Hopefully they’ll be new to you, and maybe even spark an idea.
Girls Underground
An archetype was first described by Kate Winter. It is a particular kind of Heroine’s Journey (which we’ll tackle in another week altogether) which has its origins in mythology but has really come into its own only in modern times.
Kate Winter’s website does such an excellent job of describing the archetype that I’ll just direct you to the info page on her blog rather than copy-paste it here. Fly, my readers!
The Maiden’s Tragedy
Kate Winter mentions at the end of that page another kind of story, described by Walter Burkett in Creation of the Sacred. While the previous link will bring you his book, which discusses the Maiden’s Tragedy at great length and in much detail, in summary the story contains the following “motifemes”
  • “A sudden break in a young girl’s life, when some outside force makes her leave home, separating her from childhood, parents, and family life”
  • “A period of seclusion, often elaborated as an idyllic though abnormal stage of life, in a house or temple, or instead of being enclosed in a house, she may be romancing through the wilderness out of reach of normal human settlements”
  • “The catastrophe that upsets the idyll, normally caused by the intrusion of a male, in most cases a special male, a demon, hero, or god who violates the girl and leaves her pregnant”
  • “A period of tribulation, suffering, and punishments, wanderings, or imprisonment”
  • “She is rescued and there is a happy ending after all”
  • “The ending is directly or indirectly related to the birth of children, most often a son”
  • “The tale often serves as an introduction to the heroic quest of the son”
Künstlerroman
Meaning “artist-novel,” a type of bildungsroman that is specifically about an artist, whether painter, musician, poet, or another kind of creator. Usually the artist is on the threshold of or presently in the process of becoming proficient, depicting “the course of an artist undergoing an evolution from nascent stirrings to full artistic voice,” but may also depict established artists in their later years.
There is much movement, both metaphorical/ideal and physical. Usually this is to a state/place of greater freedom. Their success comes, but only at a price. A single work of art may be the focus of the story.
The story is typically aware of class conflict and will set the character at odds with the values of society, especially those possessed by the powerful. It has a tone of rebellion and ends with “arrogant rejection of the commonplace life.”
Within the subgenre there is a further group, following the fall rather than the rise of an artist.
From eNotes, we learn the following:
“The künstlerroman form has become a popular method of disseminating an author’s own concerns about finding themselves as both artist and human being… If an author choose to do a künstlerroman, it oftentimes comes early in their literary career, perhaps as a result of their recent struggles to succeed as writers… Künstlerromane generally reflect the moral battle of writers questioning their appropriate standing as objective artist.”
The page goes on to further elaborate on how a künstlerroman often serves as a mirror or proxy of the creator and zir concerns, even more so than is usual for a work, ending thus: “In essence, the künstlerroman is often a therapeutic exercise in self-exploration for a writer: Who am I, how did I come to be here, and finally, was the result worth what I’ve given to achieve it? Not necessarily written with the intent for concrete answers, the künstlerroman still seeks a better understanding of the value and suffering inherent in the eternal struggle to create.”
Quantum Fiction
Oh man. Where to start? I feel like the Wikipedia article says it all, but it’s my job to crunch it down into a nutshell. Quantum fiction is an attempt to create, not quite new plots, but a new way of telling those plots. A new way of storytelling, predicated on quantum mechanics.
But what does that mean in practice? Quoting liberally from the article, let’s distill quantum fiction into some bullet points.
  • “The author’s use of quantum mechanics… make possible supernatural, paranormal, or fantastic elements of a story in which reality appears to defy the laws of mechanical physics.”
  • “A character as a consciously influencing observer of reality.”
  • “The scientific recognition of an unquantified animating force of matter measured by Observer effect (physics), posited as consciousness or spirit.”
  • “A theme, character, or events of a story existing per an element explainable as reality according to quantum theory.”
  • “Adventures involving synchronicity, multiple dimension reality, interactive metaverses, parallel worlds or life as a multiverse.”
  • “Consciousness (a character or a reader) as an interactive influence in the creation and perception of reality and plot line.”
  • “Reality behaving unpredictably as per subatomic particles.”
  • “It acknowledges the observer (in this case, the reader) as an active participant.”
  • “The storytelling itself, e.g., treatment of plot (time), characters (observers), location (multiple worlds, parallel selves), is unconventional.”
  • “Can also hinge on theoretical physics as a subject element of a story.”
  • “Deals in possibility and probability.”
  • “The whole cosmos is involved, and that cosmos will leave its trace, its spontaneous quantum of knowing and recognizing, on even the smallest, shortest-lived thing.”
  • “Aims to provide a framework of production and reception to the contemporary processes of industrialization and diversification of fiction.”
  • “The author perceives and creates characters who experience reality with a surreal or nonlinear view of things that does not correspond with the way the physical senses generally experience life and the world, and that behaves in ways posited by quantum theory.”
  • “A narrative structure that is multiple and flexible.”
As the list demonstrates, quantum fiction is defined less by what it is about than the way in which the “about” is told.
It’s… a strange thing. And I encourage you to read the article if you haven’t done so already. It’s a lengthy read but it’s worth it. Is quantum fiction the future? I’m not sure. But can it have things to say, that can’t be said in a traditional format? I think so.
Your turn: What are some other genres, &C that aren’t as well-known as you feel they should be?
R. Donald James Gauvreau maintains a blog at www.whitemarbleblock.blogspot.com, where he regularly posts story ideas, free fiction, and other goodies, including a free guide to comparative mythology that was written specifically with worldbuilding in mind.
He is probably not a spider.

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