Styles of Failed Literature

MOVING BEYOND THE PRESENT: A DISTEMPERED ANALYSIS

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FEW individuals involved in the creation and packaging of literature would argue there are any failed styles. After all, the Big Five book conglomerates remain in place, authors still receive six-or-seven-figure advances, and several of their books sell millions of copies. The industry chugs along.

HOWEVER, if the goal is to push the art and industry to new levels– to no longer consider “literature” as a separate phenomenon, but to compare it with other cultural happenings such as sports, movies, music– then as a whole literature is failing, because it’s no longer at the center of culture (as it once was), and is not connecting to large segments of the public in any fashion.

CURRENT OPTIONS

What are several of the current alternatives for writers and readers?

MEDICINE LITERATURE

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This comprises novels and books you’re supposed to read because they’re good for you. They address a cause or societal ill. At times they’re “of the moment” and sell well. Usually though they’re hitting you over the head with a problem you already know about, are poorly written, and deadly dull. They win plaudits and awards, but 999 out 1,000 aren’t going to generate excitement within the culture-at-large, sorry. Life isn’t fair.

“LITERATURE” LITERATURE

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This category includes standard big novels written by the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, as well as short stories by Oates, John Updike, Jonathan Franzen, Alice Munro, ad infinitum. The works are distinguished by Detail Disease, aka word clot. Meaning, they’re a slog to get through. Only the most intrepid young person (or adult) will make the effort. For those who do, it’s all the same tepid insights and weak-tea conclusions. Going to save literature, when it’s been the cause of literature’s downfall? Nope.

ADOLESCENT FANTASY LITERATURE

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An enormous category with a host of big-selling authors cranking out massive volumes of unending sagas. Behind them await tens of thousands of other wannabe-novelists creating their own interminable tomes. Why are these novels not the answer? After all, they do sell.

They’re not the answer because they’re crap. It’s impossible for any serious person beyond the age of seventeen– or twelve– to take any of it seriously. Yes, many do. You see them dressed in bizarre costumes at fantasy or sci-fi conventions. The books are popular. That’s good. There are lessons to be taken from it. It remains silliness, not great art.

On top of that, none of the famed authors has the requisite charismatic persona to upend the culture. George R.R. Martin is not going to.

DYSTOPIAN AND POST-APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE

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Margaret Atwood is the best-known contemporary practitioner of this kind of work. In the Age of Hysteria we’re living through, they add more hysteria. Truth is, there have been two or three, tops, of these kind of authors who’ve been any good, George Orwell among them. Even Brave New World is a terrible novel.

DEPRAVITY LITERATURE

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Maybe horror novels can be grouped in this category (though many belong in fantasy with the vampires and werewolves). This category includes sub-Bukowski Lit, where the author becomes as gross and psychotic as possible in constructing the narrative– and likely, in real life, is. (Incel Lit is a new variation.)

NEOCON LITERATURE

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This category was popularized by Tom Clancy of Hunt for Red October fame, but might be more typified by spy novelists Robert Ludlum, Vince Flynn, and Brad Thor, who each presumably have teams of agents in Langley, Virginia writing their books for them. (They’d have to, because Ludlum and Flynn have moved on from this world.)

My attitude toward these novels might be typified by a review I wrote about one of their number back in 2012 at a now-defunct blog.

CONCLUSION

My informed conclusion is that nothing coming from one of these categories will rescue the literary game. They’re accepted and known.

What will take the literary art to another level?

THAT is what we’re working on. Stay tuned.

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

 

 

Start-Ups and Upstarts

BUSINESS HISTORY AND THE ARTS

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To understand the role start-ups have played in the economy and in reinvigorating the culture, one need only look at the music business. If America had been strictly a rigid tops-down nation, there would never have been the populist explosion of rock n roll, which began in the 1950’s. (And was followed by punk, hip hop, and other variations.)

WHAT if the only people entitled to call themselves musicians were decided by musicologists, requiring academic degrees and proper certificates? The institutional mindset.

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Rock n roll was started by low-rent hustlers like Leonard Chess and Sam Phillips, with upstart little record companies like Chess and Sun Records. Start-ups? Of course! They were nothing but– as was Motown Records, founded by Berry Gordy Jr. with $600 in seed money, “venture capital,” from his sister. (Gordy at the time was working on a Detroit production line.)

Rock n roll music, scorned by intellectuals and critics, was strictly a product of America’s lower classes. The entrepreneurs were two-bit salesman. The artists were from the poorest sections of the country, whether they be Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley– or the Supremes, who were discovered in a Detroit housing project.

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Hundreds of other start-up little record companies failed. Such is the way capitalism works. Enough succeeded to transform American (and world) culture– and in the process multiply the music business many times over, providing pleasure to millions– and opportunity to hundreds of musical artists, who in a rigidly controlled system, managed by apparatchiks and credentialed experts, would never have had opportunity at all.

The irony is the nature of free enterprise capitalism, when turned loose, levels the playing field more than a system which depends on decision-making from above– where selections are made according to a.) standardized testing b.) cronyism and connections c.) how well one conforms to the prevailing ideology imposed from above. It’s the difference between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. Between a dynamic system and a static one. (The dynamism of America, expressed through rock music, infiltrated the Soviet Bloc and contributed to its collapse.)

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Upstarts/start-ups have been with us for at least 200 years– seen in the careers of imaginative individuals like Elias Howe, Cyrus McCormick, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford  — on up to Steven Jobs, Elon Musk and Travis Kalanick. They propelled the United States to quickly becoming the world’s largest economy, creating millions of jobs and many trillions of dollars of wealth in the process. Economic value is the product of the human mind. All of this should go without saying, but in this bizarro upside-down world we live in, it doesn’t.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Love Story Examined: A Writing Template

A VALENTINE’S DAY ANALYSIS

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A WRITER who was far ahead of the curve with his writing style was Erich Segal, best known for his mega- best-selling 1970 novel, Love Story.

By accident or design (the book was based on his yet-unproduced screenplay) Segal keyed into a type of structure, with attached motifs, which made the novel a popular success but also left it as a template for experiments in future literary art.

Several literary projects including ours have decided “literature” in its current accepted form needs to drastically change. We’re analogous to fledgling auto companies fifteen years ago, knowing internal combustion engine technology was obsolete and scrambling to create its replacement.

The question is what the future will look like.

Creating a work with extreme clarity, as Erich Segal did– making it look simple– is more difficult than it appears, because everything is exposed: all flaws in the tale and the telling of it.

There’s nowhere to hide.

love story cover

Segal’s style could be called Hemingway Squared. No excess verbiage to impress and distance the reader. Instead, reliance on aesthetic basics– plot and character, but also form. (The novel opens with the ending, then shows what led up to it.)

Segal sets up a superstructure– a square blank canvas– and fills it in, like a painter adding paint daubs. Tangible details. The clarity of the style helps the “aesthetics” of the novel to stand out:

-The contrast between rich and poor.

-The tense dynamic between authoritarian father and independent son.

The tagline– “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”– is used twice, once right near the end for maximum impact. Dialogue throughout is super-tight. The spare lines used by the characters stand out because they’re not overwhelmed by unnecessary literary verbiage placed around them. They “pop out” of the story. 

That Erich Segal was a screenwriter was an asset. The narrative itself is very tight, and contains another kind of aesthetics– tangible details.

(A James Bond movie, for example, is filled with tangible details– clothes, drinks, accents, cars– which you don’t consciously notice but which impress themselves on your mind.)

One of Segal’s details is the Harvard Club. He doesn’t need to describe it– the reader imagines it. Fills in the blanks.

Everything in and about the novel sets up the ending. 

Manipulative? Sure. But so was Oedipus Rex. Audiences– including audiences of readers– want to be manipulated.

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The novel Love Story is a template– a starting point from which more can be accomplished.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

More About the Multidimensional Story

ANOTHER SAMPLE 3-D STORY

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THOUGH we have several “3-D” multidimensional stories completed or near completion, we decided to release only one other of them, “The Perfect Candidate,” due to its topical nature, this being political caucus and primary season. The story was in fact written and rearranged in a matter of days– a test of speed in creating them.

Our thinking being– once the literary world does catch on to their advantages, and reader demand is created, we’ll need to be able to produce them at a fast rate.

(At some point we’ll commit fully and will run at our main site multidimensional fiction only.)

Speed is everything.

WHY THE 3-D STORY?

Writers write the short story one way– and have for decades if not centuries. Writers automatically fall into the familiar one point-of-view linear story, because that’s how we’ve been trained.

Exceptions to this have always existed– experimenters testing the artistic bounds of the story. Two of them caused me to think about the technique. One: F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s long story “May Day.” Another: Kenneth Fearing‘s classic noir novel The Big Clock

We’re taking the technique a few steps beyond, switching viewpoints at a much faster rate. This may at first be unfamiliar to the reader– then the mind makes an adjustment and reading becomes as natural as the old way. Too natural perhaps, as it doesn’t stand out as much as it could, as we hoped, its effects subtle.

Our focus with the technique is making the narrative faster; expanding the reader’s view of the presented world. Multidimensional writing allows more ways to play with space and time. The goal: improving the reader’s aesthetic experience.

Emphasis on structure, as 3-D writing demands, means bringing more analytical “left brain” thinking into the equation without overintellectualizing things. The narrative becomes fragmented– but they’re fragments which fit. 

CHANGING THE GOLF SWING

As with a revamped golf swing, the first attempts at writing the multidimensional story can look awkward. But if it’s truly a better technique, a better way of writing the story– albeit difficult to master– once the technique is mastered the result should be a spectacular improvement.

It’s to our advantage that no one right now understands what we’re doing– doesn’t see what a breakthrough the technique is. This enables us to further practice and develop its possibilities– and we will.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Creating Personas

THE RIGHT WAY TO USE PSEUDONYMS

ONE THING writers seem congenitally incapable of doing is creating interesting personas for themselves. Turning themselves into imagined characters. Yet in this hyper-noisy society it might be, among a mass of wannabe scribblers, one of the only ways to stand out.

RECALL how easily performers in other fields created entertaining personas for themselves. One of the earliest of them was rock n roll pioneer Screamin Jay Hawkins.

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Similarly, local television hosts created memorable characters for themselves– one broadcast on stations in Cleveland and Detroit known as The Ghoul.

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Radio hosts did likewise– a classic example being Dr. Demento.

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WHY NOT writers? It would make perfect sense for a writer of horror stories to brand himself as “Count” something-or-other and play the part. Or, for the author of romance tales to name herself “Barbara Bodice” and sell sex appeal. Alls fair in love and marketing.

Oh, plenty of young writers use pseudonyms. Too many of them– but their stage names have no visual quality and no flair. Usually the names are obscure pseudo-intellectual references to this philosophical idea or that one– because said writers see themselves not as potential pop stars, but– ridiculously enough– as intellectuals. Steering (even those who have actual writing talent) their work in that direction. Which means strictly limiting its appeal. A fan base consisting of their own circle of overeducated in-debt college grads. The notion of writers as entertainers is anathema to them. They’re “serious.” Which is why the literary art as a relevant cultural form has been sinking faster than the Titanic.

THE OBVIOUS example of course, of the success of created personas, is the wrestling game, particularly the WWE under the stewardship of Vince McMahon, greatest promoter in American culture since P.T. Barnum.

WWE

COULD a literary project produce valid literary works, poetry and fiction, and do it with fun and flair?

This is just one of the challenges we’ve set for ourselves. 

It will take a few hungry new writers eager to become personalities. To be stars.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Reverse Jekyll and Hyde

THE LANA DEL REY STORY

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I’VE BEEN THINKING about the career of pop singer Lana Del Rey after reading a 2012 article about her in The Guardian. About how she was going nowhere under the moniker Lizzy Grant– then changed her name and with it, her musical persona. As the article relates, “She married her music to a mysterious image, self-styled as a ‘gangster Nancy Sinatra,’ that paid homage to 1960s fashions and seedy showbiz glamour.”

A created character, with more confidence. That is, until word got out about her previous self, and the mask dropped when she appeared on Saturday Night Live. “She gave a hesitant, uncertain performance – suddenly more Lizzy Grant than Del Rey–“

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This is straight out of the 1963 Jerry Lewis movie “The Nutty Professor” (remade by Eddie Murphy)– when hyper-confident, hyper-aggressive “Buddy Love” begins to unintentionally transform back into the uncertain professor who created the character.

(For what the off-camera Jerry Lewis was like, read producer Alan Swyer‘s recent NPL  essay on the topic.)

Call it Reverse Jekyll-Hyde. Instead of the mad doctor creating a less attractive alter ego, he creates a more attractive one.

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This is essentially what Hollywood stars Marion Morrison (John Wayne), Archibald Leach (Cary Grant), and Norma Jean Baker (Marilyn Monroe) did.  While there was some connection between the previous individual and the created persona, much was a kind of fantasy projection of who the person wanted to be. Or who Hollywood agents, directors and producers wanted the person to be. Cary Grant/Archie Leach famously said that it took a lifetime of pretending to be Cary Grant until he actually was Cary Grant.

HAVE any writers created alter-egos?

Yes. Ernest Hemingway for one, who followed the philosophy of be your own hero. As several of his biographers make clear, “Ernest Hemingway” was in large part a self-created myth.

A topic to think about when considering ways that what’s known as “Literature” can break out of its tiny cultural box!
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Jack London or Henry James?

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

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AN ARGUMENT FOR VIGOROUS LITERATURE

Populism or elitism? This was the choice American literature faced at the beginning of the 20th century.  Whether to remain on a path of robust fiction and poetry, immersed in the land and nature as embodied in the person and work of Jack London– OR switch paths toward the inward-dwelling, Eurocentric, strictly domesticated digressions of Henry James, for whom the natural world was a frightening and deadly place, full of ghosts (“Turn of the Screw”) and disease (“Daisy Miller”).

The lives of the two authors could not have been more different.

JACK LONDON never met his supposed father. He went to work at age thirteen, educated himself at libraries, studied in saloons, spent time in a penitentiary for vagrancy, hired on as a sailor, and joined the Klondike gold rush in 1897. He didn’t find much gold there but instead, many terrific stories, including his most famous, “The Call of the Wild” about a dog named Buck. To this day probably the best animal story ever written.

HENRY JAMES was the son of an independently wealthy philosopher and the grandson  of a banker. He traveled as much as Jack London did– but to Europe, and on a more comfortable scale. He attended Harvard, became friends with famous authors and future Supreme Court Justices, and in time, himself became a famous writer.

DESPITE the international popularity of populist novelist London, and the success of others of his kind like Rex Beach and Frank Norris, it was an unequal contest, as the critical establishment was based in New York City then, as now, their gaze toward the east, toward England and Europe, seeking approval there and not in the American people themselves.

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Clear-minded-and-active prose of the kind Jack London wrote was devalued– in part because of its universality, its popularity with every kind of reader. Teddy Roosevelt-inspired editors like Owen Wister, advocates of the physically-strenuous life, were few and vanishing. What became valued instead was literary difficulty. Convoluted sentences reflecting solipsistic obsession with febrile thoughts inside a character’s or narrator’s head.

Pushbacks against this by Hemingway, Kerouac, and others– by authors who deliberately pushed themselves into the actual world– have been rearguard actions.

A POSSIBLE CAUSE

televisions

In his groundbreaking 1977 book about electronic media, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Jerry Mander discussed the sensory deprivation of civilization and the modern world, arguing that mankind’s retreat from nature was pushing individuals further into the recesses of their own minds.

When we reduce an aspect of environment from varied and multidimensional to fixed, we also change the human being who lives within it. . . . Researchers have found that when sensory stimuli are suppressed this way, the subject first lives a mental life because mental images are the only stimulation.

In his book, Mander talks about a person’s aura. What techno-nerd writers– those who spend the bulk of their time interacting with electronic media instead of the actual world (via TV, video games, smartphones)– don’t get is the analysis of individuals and the world which takes place when you’re tuned in to the small cues and signals the human animal gives, necessary for assessing and understanding that person, which you’ll never receive off an electronic screen. On the street you quickly learn to size people up in an instant– their eyes revealing aggression or fear, duplicity or defeat, strength or weakness. But you read as well the overall vibe– the “aura”– of a person.
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Henry James was the first solipsistic writer (at least since the ancient Gnostics)– pre-TV, obviously– removing himself from the stimuli of the reality of nature to that of the drawing room; of polite society– and into an obsessive focus on his own thoughts.

I should add that ART is about sensory experience. As writers we need to plunge the reader into that world of sensation. Doing so can only increase literature’s connection to the mass of people, and strengthen its cultural relevance.
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Today, as for the past fifty or sixty years, writing programs as well as literary editors and critics value most refinement, of sensibility and prose.

It’s time to change this.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Destroying the Generic

THE DECLINE of an art form becomes apparent when the art on display has become generic.

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In today’s literary scene we have the generic literary story, produced by the hundreds every year by university MFA programs, all competent, some better than others but all of a type. Most of them interchangeable.

In the underground literary world also the writing is becoming generic. Long masses of unbroken text in the style of Pynchon postmodernism, full of intellectual insights but little structure and negligible plot.
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WHEN has an art form not been generic?

Examples can be found in the music business, such as in the 1950’s when rock n’ roll burst on the scene. Maybe a dozen acts fully “got” it and could plausibly create the explosively fast style– Little Richard, Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino and Carl Perkins among them.

Material to fill out their albums was limited. Few songwriters were creating the new style. Elvis filled out his albums with old country-western tunes, pop standards, and archaic ballads.

Covers were the norm. Here’s an example from a young country duo who turned into rockers, the Everly Brothers, covering a song penned by a penitentiary resident named Albert Collins that was first recorded by Little Richard–

When three rock stars– Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper– died in a 1959 plane crash while on a low-rent tour the talent pool was diminished. Many believed the fledgling genre was over.

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Only when a UK band The Beatles fused the sound of Holly, the Everlys, Little Richard and a handful of others did the genre genuinely take off. Eventually the rock market became saturated with performers and product until rock bands were in every corner of every city and town and no one stood out.
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Is anyone in the literary business creating the non-generic?

YES! We are.

Right now there exists one released “3-D” multidimensional short story. We have several more on the drawing board. NO ONE else is creating the new form.

Will they?

The potential for artistic growth is enormous.

Exciting times are ahead.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Revolutions in Literary Style

IN MANY ARTS there’s a push-pull between simplicity and complexity. It happened in the rock music scene, where what started out as direct and immediate– early rock n’ roll– transformed itself into increasing virtuosity and complexity with the pretentious “prog rock” of Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Pink Floyd, ELO and Company. The reaction to this barrage of bombast came with the in-your-face simplicity and immediacy of punk rock.

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A similar situation occurs in the literary world. Literary revolutionaries like Ernest Hemingway and Jack Kerouac strove to cut the excess detritus from what they saw as a corrupted and decadent art– corrupted by the convolutions of Henry James and similar stuffy esoteric literary icons for whom direct communication with the reader was a secondary consideration.

WHY CLARITY AND DIRECTNESS?

Over the past few decades literature has been beat up badly by rival arts like movies, comic books, even video games, whose advocates place their favorite art on the same level as novels– which those of us who understand all the novel can achieve artistically, emotionally and intellectually view as an absurdity.

What those arts are able to do, and do well, is communicate. They make a direct connection to the individual experiencing them, stressing what have been the strongest parts of literary creations– character and plot. Aspects which elite writers have downgraded as they’ve retreated further into the solipsistic mind and the contortions of their writing styles.

If literature begins once again to compete, it will sweep the field of every rival. After all, comic books have their roots in the Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo— which in itself remains a far greater artistic work than any comic book, any superhero movie, any video game.

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THE SOLUTION

The solution to the dilemma of literature in today’s world will be found in another stylistic revolution which simultaneously cleans up and strengthens the literary art, leaving it more readable and far more exciting.

The 3-D Short Story we’ve been advocating and constructing is only the first step.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

How to Write the New Story

WRITING THE BETTER SHORT STORY

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ONE THING which surprised me after we released to the world the first3-D” multiple viewpoint short story is how not-obvious the technique appears to people. A tribute to how well the tale is put together to maintain momentum and flow, despite there being 82 individual mini-chapters, with continual switching of point-of-view– what had been told to me by esteemed literary writers should never be done by the serious writer.

(When an expert tells you something is impossible, or shouldn’t be done, that’s exactly what you want to work on accomplishing.)

MOST story writers maintain a single viewpoint throughout, whether that of one character, one consciousness, or for the more ambitious, the omniscient narrator, who in a short story still tends to have a narrow focus. Many use first person, which strongly emphasizes the single viewpoint.

A similar narrowing effect is created when writers eliminate quote marks normally used to distinguish when characters are speaking. (See Sally Rooney.) This strengthens the solipsism of the work. Many writers today, focused more on themselves than the reader’s experience, are solipsistic.
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The new 3D fiction writing technique destroys all of this to bring in a multiplicity of viewpoints. Shifting angles, so that characters, events, and the world are viewed multidimensionally. The technique gives a more real depiction of the world, but also makes for a faster-paced story. “Vodka Friday Night” compresses enough plot and number of characters for a short novel into a 7,000-word short story. The overall effect of the piece becomes more concentrated. Intense. Dynamic.

HOW IT WORKS

A few simple tricks are utilized to do this. One is dividing the story into chapters, making sure each one is extremely brief. Separating them in some way, whether by asterisks, titles, or chapter numbers. F. Scott Fitzgerald did this in his long 1920 story “May Day.” Jay McInerney did something like this as well in his 1998 novella, Model Behavior. (I’m sure other authors have done so also.)

How brief of chapters?

I settled on a 240-word limit. Fitzgerald’s “May Day” chapters are way longer– except for the concise conclusion, which comes in at 238 words.

I came to the limit though by having the McInerney book open before me, on a particularly A.D.D.-tired eyes day, and choosing which chapters held my interest at a glance, and which didn’t. The ones at 240 words or less always came out right.

If you notice in the “Vodka” story, I also play with time in it, using a flashback or two, or not putting a few sections in strict chronological order. The idea being that we don’t experience the world in a straight line. Interspersed with the moment may be memories of past happenings, or images of future dreams.

There’s a lot more which can be done in that regard. The idea is to get the short story out of the narrow corridor it’s been trapped in, by playing with both time and space. (Ideally, expanding the number of views, characters, directions, broadens the work.)

THE RESULT

The result is a faster-paced yet more involved story. The reader enters a new world– of hyper-experience.
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I plan on using other tricks in future prototypes. My co-editor Kathleen Marie Crane plans to do so as well. (Her first foray into the idea was when she took the title story from her short story collection, “Aloha from Detroit,” and rewrote the same events from the perspective of another character– which we ran at New Pop Lit as “Aloha from Detroit Revisited.” Reading both stories one after another adds roundedness; depth.)

THERE REMAIN many, many aspects of the short story form which can be played with. It’s time writers began playing with them.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News