caper_est: The grey wolf in the red gloaming. (golden kate)
Until I started this comb-through of Lord of the Rings, I'd forgotten just how much of this Tolkien manages to pack in. You can hardly turn around at any point in the first book without falling into another bout of it. The fact that this impression never particularly lingered until I went looking for it, suggests that it's very well integrated indeed.

If exposition by loremaster routes large numbers of secondary stories through a single master-node, peer-to-peer exposition distributes them widely amongst whichever nonspecialized characters are appropriate. The technique can be as direct as having characters walk offstage, and return with a more or less condensed description of what happened while the reader was following the main story; or as devious as having them tell a secondary tale which is only relevant at a slant, at just the point where the reader needs to hear it. Sometimes the story might be more important for what its matter or its manner says about the character, or about a way of looking at the world, than for any content of its own. Sometimes, though not in Tolkien, it affords a convenient way of lying to the reader without making the actual narration unreliable.

Peer-to-peer exposition in Tolkien, and its several subtleties. )

Reflections on p2p, with its uses and absences, in my first draft and going forward. )

General thought. Peer-to-peer exposition seems naturally best suited to broad-canvas stories with large, strongly-differentiated casts and well-distributed character agency. This certainly describes Lord of the Rings. Three Katherines is deliberately a far more parochial tale, but the landscape is deliberately denser; and Killer-Kate has that feeling of broadness to me in a way that Katy Elflocks doesn't, because its threads diverge and rejoin so much. Does anybody else find this connection between the feel of the story and the method of the exposition a natural one?
caper_est: The grey wolf in the red gloaming. (golden kate)
"Last night you began to tell me strange things about my ring, Gandalf," said Frodo. "And then you stopped, because you said that it was getting late, and we still had another sixteen pages to go..."


Well, nearly!

Tolkien loves this technique, as well he might, being no little of a loremaster himself. Lord of the Rings is full of the beggars. Gandalf, Elrond, Tom Bombadil, Aragorn, Galadriel, Treebeard - and Faramir and Bilbo and Merry and Frodo himself, on a lesser scale - all serve this function at some point or another. Loremaster exposition is one of the opposed methods to maid-and-butler dialogue/As You Know, Bob: it allows one character, who knows huge dollops of stuff almost nobody else knows, to helpfully inform the reader in the process of reasonably informing the character.

For my present purposes, the main use of a loremaster is to tell a story, or the selected highlights of a story, which neither their real nor his fictional audience could otherwise be expected to know. Because they are so lore-wise, they potentially have a lot of such stories at their fingertips.

Loremasterly exposition in Tolkien, and its higher mode's aspirations to cover current and future narratives. )

On re-reading Chapter 2, The Shadow of the Past, I find whole new levels of craft in the way Tolkien breaks down this massive infodump, sets it to a compelling rhythm, and controls its tone for fascination, tension, oppression, and release. The only reason I'm not going to analyse it right here and now is a practical one - it's not very close to what I'm trying to achieve. It would be truer to say, in fact, that several features of Three Katherines are a reaction against what it represents. Let's turn now to what I hope to get out of this.

Survey of loremaster exposition opportunities in Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland. )

So I don't get to do much exposition of secondary stories by loremaster at all in Three Katherines - and what I do, is not likely to come from the mouths I expected. My takeaway is to focus on Elegant Elder Sister where that needs doing, and to a lesser and highly specialized extent on: Shiny Lurker, Hero-Father, and Mostly Okay Genius. Hm-m-m!
caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)
In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien has so many intricately detailed secondary stories which require exposition, that he uses just about every single expository technique on Earth, and several in some pretty exotic orbits. I think this variety is one of his strengths, because of all narrative techniques, exposition is one of those which get oldest fastest. And the richness of this particular story demands a lot of it.

What is exposition? Back to basics:

...most complex compositions fall into the intermediate zones, where only part of the imaginary tale is actually made explicit - just as much, in fact, as serves a proper reading of the real one. The methods of achieving this partial telling are what I mean by exposition.
By imaginary stories, to recap, I mean stories which are not exactly told as stories at all, except in the limit as they approach reality and are glommed onto the 'real' story whole. But they are intended, essential to the overall composition, and actually presented in some clear sense, or else we don't care about them. In the next few posts I'm dealing with the expository techniques of making them somehow explicit and localized, as opposed to the incluing techniques of implicitly spreading them throughout the text.

The crudest and simplest method of exposition is just this: the narrator dumps on the reader exactly what they need to know of the exposited story, when they need to know it, by Word of God, or at least Word of Phil the Fibber whom it is pleasing the reader to stand the drinks.

Example of direct narrative exposition. )

Narrative exposition in Tolkien. )

So. What does this mean for my own project?

What it means. )

Next up, a Tolkien favourite and now a big-time genre trope in its own right: Exposition by Loremaster.

caper_est: The grey wolf in the red gloaming. (three katherines of allingdale)
First off, I'm killing that extended metaphor of complex composition as mapping its real and untold 'imaginary' stories to the mathematical complex plane. Nice provocation but useless visualization. I'll keep the term 'complex' for the use of untold or very partially told implicit stories as critical elements of a whole tale, until I've a better. This done...

I don't think like Tolkien and, enormously as I admire his work, I have no desire whatsoever to write like him. That job has already been done once, and by a master. But when looking for a masterclass in really complex composition, who I gonna call? Who else?

In Lord of the Rings, Tolkien uses just about every possible technique and level of story composition. Around the central narrative of The Downfall of the Lord of the Rings and the Return of the King - which does exactly what it says on the tin - he works huge amounts of other matter, much of which one would not expect to work in a month of Sundays, to produce a whole enormously greater than the sum of its parts. Some of this is told directly, which does not so much concern me just here, and some of it is... not. His most audacious trick of all, the wrapping of that great story around the almost wholly hollow core of The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, makes a positive virtue of not telling a tale which suits neither his Muse nor the novel he is writing. To this I shall recur anon.

Here I want to look at the really weird things Tolkien does in the framing material.

Historical treatment of Tolkien's world, its identification with our own, and the implicit story arising when one tells a fantastic tale from within its own setting. )


Next: Tolkien's use of reduction and exposition. "Alas!" said Gandalf...


caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)

How can anybody tell a tale without telling it?

The main techniques I know for telling the implicit imaginary tales, without which the explicit real tale is incomplete, are as follows: incluing, exposition, reduction, and re-ordering. This post is for identifying them and their functions in complex composition. Virtues, pitfalls, and examples will be examined anon.

The perfect limit of an imaginary tale is one which is told in effective silence - it is implied wholly in the context of the tale that is told, and no part of it is ever told for itself. Probably nobody ever pulls this off, but it might in any case be extremely difficult to notice when it was achieved. The technique which chiefly drives a composition in this direction, is to convey the matter of the imaginary parts by incluing. This excellent term of Jo Walton's describes worldbuilding by telling implication:

the process of scattering information seamlessly through the text, as opposed to stopping the story to impart the information.
- and here I'm considering its application to suggesting another story all of its own.  The linked posting discusses some of the benefits and limitations of this technique in general, and I'd say they apply doubly or triply when the inclued matter has the character of a tale.

The degenerate far end of the same spectrum is: the imaginary tale which is rotated completely into reality by telling it. Even considered purely of itself, this is not wholly a silly paradox. The distinction between the main tale and this shadow-crafting once admitted, the suggestion arises of telling the secondary tale in a different mode - as a nested tale, or in a different voice, or even in a different literary form interspersed with the main matter. But most complex compositions fall into the intermediate zones, where only part of the imaginary tale is actually made explicit - just as much, in fact, as serves a proper reading of the real one. The methods of achieving this partial telling are what I mean by exposition. Between exposition and incluing, all the imaginary components of the desired tale must be delivered.

Reduction is a multi-level process. At the first level, it is normal editing - the removal of all matter which is not, in fact, part of any of the real or the imaginary tale(s), nor yet of their coupling. But in complex composition, it has a second level - the distillation of the imaginary tale into two fractions, one which needs to be integrated into the real tale by exposition, and the other of which may only be implied by incluing. Finally, there is the issue that the real tale is the one which will receive by far the most scrutiny by the reader. A lot of the deep structure and rationale of the imaginary tale will be, necessarily, inaccessible. Therefore, though it must be retained by the author as construction lines until final publication, and is in this sense really part of the story, a much larger portion of it must eventually disappear into the Silence of the Story than is true for the real tale, to be interpreted by the reader according to their own lights. I call this the occulted portion of the tale, and the shadowiness of imaginary tales no doubt depends very much upon it.

Re-ordering here means not just telling the imaginary story out of chronological order - a technique equally applicable to the real story. It means revealing it in an order not governed by its own internal logic, but ordering the revelations along the narrative line of the real story, according to the logic of the overall complex composition. One of the effects of doing this is severely to disrupt the flow of the imaginary story considered as story, and to replace it with a current of the real story in which the imaginary one is being revealed. To the extent that this is successfully pulled off, I'd expect it to improve the flow and apparent unity of the overall tale.

I think I've learned a good bit by setting out my thoughts thus explicitly. This may explain why this issue of complexity is taking up more posts than I'd expected. Any other perspectives on the telling (and hearing) of explicit tales, would be most timely, and warmly welcomed at this point. There's a lot I still plainly have to get my head around.

Next stop: The Lord of the Rings, a masterpiece abounding in every kind of complex compositional technique - not all of which I wish to emulate.

caper_est: The grey wolf in the red gloaming. (golden kate)
How can I tell a tale without telling it?

In my last revision post, I laid out my notion of real composition as the bringing together of multiple told tales to make a single greater tale; and complex composition as a similar exercise, but including some tales that are untold or imaginary.  All the component tales of the work are necessary (or they should not be present), but not all necessarily explicit.  The real component is told explicitly with words; the imaginary component, implied in the silences between them.

This is the way I'm presently putting together Three Katherines of Allingdale, with two explicit top-level tales - Katy Elflocks and Killer-Kate - and a great thirty-year hole between, into which I need to cast the shadow of the events that led from one to the other: Kit's missing tale, Crown of Foxfires. 

My big structural challenge - the 'Kitty Clause' - is twofold.  Firstly, Foxfires if actually told would be approximately as long as both of the others put together.  That's an awful lot of implication to fit into the negative space of the tale.  Secondly, Kate almost certainly makes insufficient sense to a reader who doesn't pick up the story of Foxfires in the process of reading it.  So the job is a difficult one, but also most needful. 

To this master shadow-tale must be added several lesser ones set in the subsequent twenty years: Kate's ruin; Luke's deeds in other guises in the far south, centred around the indomitably quixotic hero called El Alegroso, 'the best man he ever knew';  Katy's adventures in fields both strange and familiar, and the settlement of her mysterious 'Sugar-Loaf Country'; and the viciously futile Rock Candy Rising which convulsed Lower Alland in her name, not so many years before my real tale resumes.  Where these are not simple in nature, they are at least full of matter which can be left out altogether, or briefly alluded to for texture and plot pointing.  Even so, this is more imaginary load for the back of my real tale to carry. 

Foxfires isn't simple or supposed to be simple.  What the hell became of Kit? needs to be conveyed in sufficient of its twisty detail to suggest a wealth of thoughts about What the hell are our protagonists supposed to do about something like that? - and to make the final resolution of the total, complex tale as satisfying to the reader as it is to me. 

This is threatening to be a real monster of a post, so I'll pause briefly with this setting forth of how I view the problem, and move very shortly onto the concrete techniques which map imaginary tales onto real ones.

How can anybody tell a tale without telling it...?


caper_est: The grey wolf in the red gloaming. (golden kate)
In my last revision post, I discussed various ways of adding multiple complete or partial tales together, to compose a single work.  Along these lines, I sketched out the peculiar real structure of Three Katherines of Allingdale: a short subverted fairy-tale, The Deed of Katy Elflocks, whose themes are redeveloped and resolved in a long enchanted low fantasy, Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland.  The latter takes place in the twilight of its four great characters: Katy Elflocks, Kit Fox, Prince Lucas the Proud, and Golden Kate Alland.  Specifically, Kate takes place almost exactly thirty years after the events of Katy - at least, in the reference frame shared by Kate and Luke and the Wide World, which is the one that rules the overall story.

Yes, that is an enormous gap.  Moreover, it's not just a gap of time.  At the end of Katy, we had what looked like happy endings all round.  The start of Kate is one of the blackest wildest passages I've written: nobody knows what became of Katy (small surprise there), and all the other chief characters have lost practically everything, including in common opinion their lives.  This is not a normal story transition.  I could call it a deliberate inversion, pivoting on the legend of Katy, but that would be a dirty great lie.  The truth is, there is a huge hole in the middle years, because the story of them simply blew up on me.  This is not remotely the tale I set out to write.

When I decided to extend Katy Elflocks to novel length, the characters and situations it had left me with practically did the job for me.  The Grand Arc sprang up fully-formed inside a bare couple of weeks.  The structure was at that time so simple: three sequential movements, of roughly equal length with a bit extra in the middle, which I called and thought of as a triptych.  First Katy's song of a summer, short and sweet and fierce, the statement; then ten years after, Kit's story of a fall, expansive and wickedly farcical until it knotted into grand tragedy, the development; then twenty years on yet, Kate's winter's tale, of middle length and bitterest edge and dearest redemption, the resolution.  (I did not then think of it as music.)  This would have been a slightly unusual structure, yet simple enough, and little concerned with matters outside itself.  The tale really told would have been more or less the whole tale.  This, like everything I've discussed up to this point, I call a real composition.

It didn't really happen.

The Story of the Fall proved pure trouble from the word go.  The first problem to arise was multiplicity.  Kit's disaster has never been, and still is not, a single story to me.  It's an utterly Kittish thing: a mess, a thing of shreds and patches, a villainous juggling-act by a perverse genius trying really hard to leave all her stupid villainous shit behind her, and constantly tripping over the great big clown jackboots of her stupid heroic entitled husband, whom she has doomed herself to love beyond restraint or reason.  I've tried more times than I can think of to make the Kingdom side of this circus into one story, and it really isn't.  Kit just makes brilliant shit up at random, iterates, and deals with the ever-escalating consequences until her equally brilliant antagonist - Claire the Crafty, Luke's arch-diplomat elder sister - returns out of the blue, to smash her regime like a rotten pumpkin from every direction at once.  This is the way they and Luke are, and that is the only way it can possibly be.  It has every quality of a great story, except for being structured as one. 

So I moved quickly on to the other perspective on the story: that of cool, devious Claire, who is not herself a particularly good person, but who for the sake of the realm has attached herself unshakeably to somebody both good and useful.  Claire, The Rescuer of Realms, does have a proper story, and then some  - the tale of how she retook the Kingdom for its widowed queen and her unborn son, which necessarily involved playing a lot of hands of adventurer's poker without initially having any cards at all.  It's a rollicking, riotous story.  I set to it at once.  It fell very promptly to pieces, because it is a story around Kit and Luke that doesn't have Kit and Luke in it, which fills it with fifteen infodumps and sucks the life out of it like sixteen lampreys.  Mark how the issue of a story with a big doughnut hole in it has been dogging me from an early date!

Okay.  This is Three Katherines of Allingdale, after all!

I then reasoned that what I needed to do was to intertwine the two separate tales, telling both around each other, so that they filled each other's deficiencies and made one story.  This is still a story which might be told.  I call it Crown of Foxfires.  It is big.  It is sprawling and ramifying.  It is most definitely a stout novel all by itself.  And as I got some way into it, I began to see with sinking heart that there was another problem with it.  It was no longer any part of the same story as Katy and Kate at all.  It was just something that happened in between them.

Katy and Kate are about the clash between nobles and peasants on the wild hungry marges of Elfland.  Foxfires is about high politics among the courts of the powerful, even though Claire and Kit both 'cheat' by seeking strength amongst certain of the disenfranchised and despised, wherever it works for them.  The common-born queen is New Money, not Old Toil.  The tone is different, the interest is different, and so is the texture.  Perhaps the three Katherines' tales could still be made into one monster doorstop that would work, but I don't here  see how.  So - how to tell end and end, without in the interval telling the middle?

My answer here is simply to make a unity of end and end, and indeed not to tell the anomalous middle at all - at least, not as part of the same story.  The relation of the two ends, I've already described.  But their relation to the untold yet necessarily present story between, the imaginary story between those really told, is another thing again.  It holds dangers and requires techniques of its own.  I'm calling the technique of integrating a critical untold story into a told one complex composition, echoing the way in which complex numbers are built of both real and imaginary components.

The greatest exponent of this technique I know is Tolkien, and I'll be looking critically at his approach to it in my next posting, as I work on my own.  I should be more than grateful for any other examples, either of admirable success or painful failure, that come to anybody's mind.


caper_est: The grey wolf in the red gloaming. (golden kate)
Is the tale one thing, or is it many? If it's many, how do they add up to one tale after all, and what does that mean for it?

Some stories are seamless - Terry Pratchett's later Discworld books are mostly like this: they charge right in, and don't stop until they come out the other side. Further along, covering the vast majority of books to some degree or other, we get stories that are articulated out of parts, each being a thing in itself with a certain degree of closure, and often a name. Lord of the Rings has several levels of this - and so, most brilliantly and beautifully down to a fine level of structure, does John Crowley's Little, Big.

Considering the top level of Little, Big, we arrive at something a bit different - still a single flowing tale, but divided now into movements which may be set years apart and have very different flavours. This is a thought we are going to need shortly.

Finally, we get to tales that are essentially fix-ups of loosely-related sub-tales into one grander narrative arc. Tanith Lee's Night's Master is a fix-up of the closed kind, whose arc definitely concludes; Ryk E Spoor's Digital Knight offers the loosest kind of all, a simple serial fix-up whose tales progress but do not particularly conclude, the line of the arc passing over the book's horizon. Beyond there lie things that are not exactly tales at all, like Jack Vance's Dying Earth - a self-anthology united only by setting, whose order is a thing of theme and mood only. Here ends my survey. Where is my book?

At the lower level, suffice for now to note that it's like most of my stuff: articulated into chapters strongly defined and significantly named. This may be something to consider later. For now, I want to consider the top level. This is where Three Katherines starts to get peculiar. I don't have anything to which I can compare its structure directly, so I'll have to reason by feel and analogy.

My sense of 'musical movement' from Little, Big is the closest thing I have to work with, here. Overtly, Three Katherines has two 'movements', and they are neither equal nor of the same kind. Here is my immediate attempt to describe what I think is going on, written in my other blog just after completion of the first draft:

... asymmetrically divided treatment, the enchantment-shot realistic fantasy of Killer-Kate developing and resolving the themes propounded in the grounded fairy-tale of Katy Elflocks.

Katy Elflocks is about a 40,000 word novella, which I expect to expand slightly in the course of the revision.  Killer-Kate is about a 180,000 word novel, which I expect to contract significantly, but not to anything remotely near parity.  The important thing for me to hold in mind here seems to be this: they are not just separate movements, they are movements that are doing different kinds of things.  Katy's summer song - sharp, bright, finding its way to fairy-tellable happy endings by some elvish grace almost despite itself - gives way to Kate's winter's tale, of old age and old happy endings long come to catastrophe, and a revisiting and invocation of the one happy ending that was right and true. 

But Katy is about individual triumph and salvation: in Kate there is no longer any individual escape possible, and the feudal oppressions that bred the injustices of Katy must be overthrown for whole populations, or triumph over all and sink into a dreamless blood-glutted slumber.  It turns out to be a thoroughly political work, albeit of its own time and place - and fairy-tale solutions to political problems are not the kind of lies I like to breathe, even through silver. 

Then again, Katy is about going forth in the morning, and Kate is about coming home in the evening, to fulfil a long day's tale of promises before being free to lie down with one's lover at last.  The second movement differs greatly in tone, complexity, and purpose from the first; and this I have as much to bear in mind in the revision, as the fact that they are two movements of a single music which must sound out complete.

This is the tale talking now.  This is not at all what I meant in the first  place, when I was putting it together.  The collapse of my originally intended structure  has left a very definite shadow - if I prove unlucky or unskilful, an actual and devouring void - close to the heart of my composition.  To this problem, which in my previous post I flippantly dubbed the Kitty Clause, I must next turn.


caper_est: The grey wolf in the red gloaming. (golden kate)

"Little book, what are you?"

Three Katherines of Allingdale is my book - a single work, a unity, one made thing in itself. But, looking at and listening to it, my first question is: what kind of single thing is that?

In the simplest possible sense, the answer would be: this is a story, and there is nothing outside the story, and now the story is done, a glorious solitaire. William Morris's The Well at the World's End - a tale to which I shall return later - is such a story.

Way over towards the other end of the scale, we have: this is a story, and it is a segment of a greater story, though it may be complete in itself and for now. Diane Duane's The Door into Fire is an example on the self-contained end - it would still have been a good story if none of the rest of The Tale of the Five had been written. Its two sequels are less self-contained, in that each depends for effect on familiarity with what has gone previously - but each has an ending of its own, and an ending of a greater arc that includes its predecessors. Since the concluding story has now been on ice for thirty years or so, we see that this level of unity is sometimes a very good thing for the reader, indeed.

Going out beyond that point, we reach works which have less unity yet. First, the pure instalments of a larger story, in which each book is only one chunk of a serial which has certain convenient stopping-points. The three volumes of The Lord of the Rings are an example (and the six books could each have been). Lastly in the most degenerate case, we see a few things on the shelves which are not even serials, but only manageable slicings of one single tale or serial instalment. Tad Williams's To Green Angel Tower, vols 1 and 2, will serve us here.

What sort of unity has Three Katherines?

It created its setting and all the tales in it - it depends on no other work.  It closes, with one important reservation which I shall call the Kitty Clause, all the narrative arcs I wanted to close - it demands, and probably ought to have, no direct sequel.  So it must stand as a book, and a tale unto itself.

Is it a true solitaire?  No, and for two reasons.  Firstly, it's a story with an expansive setting, like Middle-Earth or Earthsea.  The 'Kateverse' (which its people call simply 'Earth' or 'the world') deliberately has lots of implications and characters spilling over the edges of the tale, and strongly invites the telling of associated stories which share a setting and a timeline with Three Katherines.  Whether these get written or not is largely beside the point: the point is that the world is not hermetically sealed off for the book's use.  I'll explore the direct implications of this anon.

Secondly, it's a composite of two sequentially told stories, and bears a peculiar relation to an untold one.  This strongly constrains what I can do with the structure, and points to one major potential pitfall - the Kitty Clause again.  To this highest level of structure, and what it means for the telling, I shall turn next.

Any other insights how books can be more or less self-complete, that I seem to have missed here?

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