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Language of story and language of anecdote

Back on GEnie, we defined a novel as an attack novel if it had an incredible amount of momentum that made it impossible to not write. As you can imagine, this was -- and is -- an incredibly satisfying state to be in when breaking draft.

Cast in Courtlight (and yes, I know the latter isn't a real word, but it's a fantasy), is like that at the moment. Which is good, as it stops me from hovering on the phone and complaining at all hours to my ISP. Which is, once again, down. And has been for several hours. I'm logging in via someone else's connection, and I hate doing that. I'd rather have the television or the telephone die completely than lose my internet connection. Go geeks.

I've been thinking a bit about why this book is different from, say, HOUSE WAR, which is (was; I'm writing to Luna deadline at the moment) progressing at a much slower rate, and wanted to talk about it a bit here -- which means I'm putting off the round-up for another post.

A friend of mine has infrequently used the phrase the language of story. Cutting it down to my interpretation (and he may feel free to expound on his, since there's no guarantee they're the same thing <wry g>), the language of story is a force of Story, like the motion and form and shape -- but it's about the words used, the rhythms, the way the sentences are built; they run in a current that in some way captures a specific and individual tone. There are certain stories, certain books, that I could not tell in any other way -- but I think they're less accessible than, say, my LJ posts because they're written in the language of story.

His language is in every possible way more emeshed in epics and things that are not modern in sensibility. We've talked about ways to change this to make his writing more accessible -- but at base, I'm fairly sure it's not possible; for him, the language of story and the story itself are not separable.

I would say that my West novels are written in what is for me the language of story. I don't labour intellectually to evoke tone; the tone is present and it permeates the whole.

But recently, this friend dropped by the store, having started something entirely different. His intent, he said, was to use the language of anecdote to tell this particular story. This struck me as sensible.

And then it stayed with me, as these things often do, growing roots in odd places. Writing Cast in Courtlight, I realized that what I've done with the Luna books is almost exactly that, but much less consciously: I'm using the language of anecdote in which to convey the story. Letting the language of story take over would alter everything I'm writing about; it would give it a different scope, a totally different tone, and an entirely different texture. The story itself would be the same -- but were I to write in the language of story, and hand some poor alpha-reader both versions, I'm not sure they'd recognize it.

There are some books that are written in what is, to me, the language of anecdote. Some of them, I love, and some I don't. This is also true of the language of story. Let me give a couple of examples, and then someone can tromp on my feet.

Tanya Huff writes in the language of anecdote. Her style is modern, and it almost never invokes the mythic; it's fast-paced and breezy and so utterly witty, often in a black way, it's almost like she's standing right there. Brust is another writer I would classify this way for the Vlad books.

Patricia McKillip writes in the language of story. She evokes the mythic, echoes of old magic, things that were almost lost and are remembered in glimpses of her words.

In both cases, the use of words, the choice of words, the way those words are handled, are above reproach; the stories they tell are different, and the tone is different as well.

I don't think I could write something with a huge scope in the language of anecdote. But I also think that the language of anecdote carries with it more accessibility; the language is closer to spoken asides and verbal cuts, rather than to something that has to be read on the page; you can't speak a single sentence paragraph as if it were, well, spoken.

I'm still mulling over this as I write.

Comments

sartorias
Oct. 14th, 2004 05:17 am (UTC)
I can't seem to quite get my head round two concepts for what I've always seen as one thing...like Janni, I see the voice of story, but voices, like those of people around us, vary not just in timbre and gender but in delivery, choice of vocab, emotional clues, etc.

But it's an interesting idea, that's for sure.
msagara
Oct. 14th, 2004 01:15 pm (UTC)
I can't seem to quite get my head round two concepts for what I've always seen as one thing...like Janni, I see the voice of story, but voices, like those of people around us, vary not just in timbre and gender but in delivery, choice of vocab, emotional clues, etc.

I tried explaining what I meant a bit more clearly (one hopes <wry g>) in response to Janni's post above -- did it make any more sense, or am I still floundering?
(Anonymous)
Oct. 14th, 2004 02:41 pm (UTC)
Perhaps some examples are in order....
[No one messes with Morris Dancers, because they might shake a bladder on a stick at you.]

Oh, that's not to worry.

As the world is swung in the grip of gravity, the days will lengthen and warmth and light will increase, but this need not be, in the hearts of men.

The tendrils of lust and striving can flow out the land, and all folk lose the madness of hope and delight. Nothing to see, or to measure, but the birdsong grows dull and the joy falls out of faces, until life is a burden, dealings hold no kindness, and the sun of summer grow wan.

Gone on long enough, and the memory of delight becomes a pain and a mockery, the delusion of impossible things, and all the company of one's fellows sharp and bitter and sullen.

So as you should be glad to hear the hard, bright sounds of bells and the struck oak, you should sorrow to hear the soft, dull flop of the broke-necked corpse going into the bog with a round stone bound into its belly, to drown in the dark, dead, dragging water all glee and weal.

[That's (one of the) (local to Graydon values of) the language of story, something that relies on evocation -- indication of association -- rather than invocation -- naming of things. Evocation works on what you *already know*; 'whomsoever pulls this sword from this stone is rightwise King born of all England' is a 'huh?' line if you don't know the story.]

Nah, man, don't piss off Morris dancers. That shit works.

No, really; it doesn't matter if they believe it, and it *sure* don't matter if they've been drinking. Even Father Abraham's didn't care if you *believed*, eh? It was doing the ritual right that mattered.

Get up early, prance about, wear the bells, wack the sticks, there's more joy in the world. Some of it sticks to you; some of it sticks to the folks round the dancing, and some of it just sort of skitters about until it finds a place or person to light on.

So if you don't get your share of happy karma, not that big a deal; you can probably make that up. But the *other* ritual works, too, the one where they kill you and all the happiness of the season together.

Even aside from the 'damp and gruesome murder' part, that's no fun.

[That's (about as well as I can approximate it) the language of anecdote; direct invocation of things and the relationships of things. If you can skate the line between these, you can do some neat stuff. The best example of that coming to mind is Zelazny --


"He was running as though the Devil Himself was after him.


And I was."


Not an easy thing to pull off, that, and splendidly simple to do horrid bad.]
zhaneel69
Oct. 14th, 2004 03:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Perhaps some examples are in order....
Loved this. Especially 'cause I know morris dancers.

Zhaneel
sartorias
Oct. 14th, 2004 03:34 pm (UTC)
I see those as different aspects of voice--but then all these categories we use are not exactly stone-carved!