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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

msagara
Oct. 14th, 2004 01:10 pm (UTC)
What you're calling "the language of story" and "the language of anecdote".... do you think this mostly applies to the fantasy genre? For example, I read a lot of historical mysteries, and I don't see either mythic or anecdotal approaches in my favourites

Not really. Or rather, there are SF approaches that I would consider language of story. You know what? Star Trek is, to me, entirely anecdotal; it's here and now. It's how we speak to each other. It's short hand with bad science that's meant purely to entertain.

Historical fiction (I don't know if this takes mystery into account or not) for my tastes -- which means I'm trying not to generalize -- is best served when, in fact, very little about the -language- is here and now, because the language is anchored to the time; the way people thought a hundred years ago and the way they think now are different. I couldn't write anecdotal history unless the history were entirely window-dressing to the plot. In which case, I'm not sure why I'd go into all that detail and research, if that makes sense.

mmarques
Oct. 15th, 2004 05:31 am (UTC)
So, is what you are calling "the language of anecdote" is speaking in a contemporary voice and a story filled with short entertaining episodes?

What do you mean by "the language of story"? Is it language that expresses a place clearly in another place and/or time (not as seen through contemporary eyes)?

What about a story clearly set in another place and/or time, but the book is clearly filled with many short entertaining anecdotes? For example, the Jasper Fforde novels.
msagara
Oct. 15th, 2004 05:57 am (UTC)
What about a story clearly set in another place and/or time, but the book is clearly filled with many short entertaining anecdotes? For example, the Jasper Fforde novels.

That, oddly enough, would be the language of anecdote for me -- it doesn't have the gravitas, or really, the serious extrapolation of a true secondary world, but I really enjoyed it. And the toasters, even if they were overkill <g>.