The Short Story As Pop Song

ANALYZING THE SHORT STORY FORM

OUR CURRENT feature story, “True Survivor” by Greg Jenkins, is a good example of how a short story can be artistically successful by following– unintentionally or not– techniques used to find success in the music business.

Foremost among them is the story’s opening, which does two things done by the famed British pop group the Beatles and others in order to stand out from the musical crowd.

1.) THE ATTENTION-GETTER

First, the attention-getting first note. First done by Ludwig van Beethoven to open his Third Symphony. A more recent example is the opening chord to “A Hard Day’s Night,” the title song to the Beatles’ first film. Think of how it must’ve sounded coming from large speakers in a movie theater, accompanied on a giant screen by an image of the four young musicians being chased down a Liverpool street. Attention: caught.

Greg Jenkins does the same thing with his story’s opening sentence, consisting of a single word, each letter capitalized: “SULLIVAN!”

2.) START WITH THE CHORUS

The second technique used by the Beatles was to in effect start the story with the chorus. Or, if it were fiction, in the middle of the narrative. Like opening in the middle of a song.

A famous example of this is one of the rock group’s first hits, “She Loves You.”

Which ensures opening with a bang. The Beatles did this again at least one other time, with similar success, with “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

What’s the goal? To grab the listener– or reader– by the collar, lift the person out of his or her chair and not let go until the artistic experience is over. Part of the creation of Beatlemania involved hitting the record buyer with immediate energy.

With a different art form, Greg Jenkins starts his story in the middle of the action, then goes back to explain what led to the conflict. (Jack London does the same thing with his classic short story, “Lost Face.”)

MORE POP

The most extreme musical example of this technique came a bit later in the frenzied history of the so-called British Invasion of America, in 1965, when Herman’s Hermits had a Number One hit by eliminating a song’s verses altogether– to a 1911 music hall ditty, “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am”– and singing only the chorus, repeated three times. The result was not exactly artistic, but it was effective with the intended audience.

Could this be done with the short story– taking technique one step beyond? Stripping down a tale to its barest essentials and depending upon pure pop energy and enthusiasm to carry it?

We don’t know, but in our New Pop Lit LABS we’re not above trying every trick possible in our quest to reinvent literary forms, and in so doing enliven literature itself.

We also look for writers, like Greg Jenkins, who use innovative techniques. Know any others? Send them our way!

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Editor’s Podcast Appearance

NEW POP LIT‘S Editor Karl Wenclas made a recent appearance on the estimable Contra Mundum Media podcast, which is dedicated to exploring new ideas in the culture and the arts. The host of the podcast is Christopher Laurence.

Take a listen:

Mid-Century Modern Movies

DESIGN VIBES

I’ve identified four movies which epitomize the apex of mid-century modern thought and design. They are:

1.) Forbidden Planet (1956).

2.) North by Northwest (1959).

3.) Bye Bye Birdie (1963).

4.) Point Blank (1967).

The important point is that all of these films are visually designed to be ultra-modern, so the design itself enhances– or really, expresses– the story or the theme of the story, which are themselves ultra-modern.

1.) THEME: The future is us. ALTERNATE THEME: The future as nightmare.

2.) THEME: Ad man as quintessential American hero. SUB-THEME: Discovery and rescue of the soul mate.

3.) THEME: Pop culture as American Dream.

4.) THEME: The modern world as duplicitous hellscape.

Design is the quintessential American art. All four of these movies can be watched for their styles, clothing, colors, and designs.

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Prototypes

MAKING CREATIVE CHANGE PART V

ONE OF the first steps in creating the New is development of a prototype. That which can hint at innovations to come. As Henry Ford did with his first prototype, an automobile constructed largely from bicycle parts.

A prototype is a demonstration model intended to serve two purposes:

1.) To show potentials of the design or concept.

2.) To reveal flaws when ideas become reality.

By definition a prototype is not a finished product, or the ultimate expression of the intended product. But it should point a direction– a new path for creators to follow.

Prototype of first Tesla Roadster c/o Tesla Motors.

We’ve developed prototypes of new kinds of literary journals (see them here). But we’re also working on what we call the multidimensional or “3-D” short story.

One of the simpler ones we’ve released to date is “The Perfect Candidate.” Note how the opening is intentionally disorienting– the idea to disorient readers then quickly reorient them. (“Where am I? Who’s speaking?”) The narrative in this one is linear– but the changing viewpoints allows the writer to hint at what he wants, obscure what he wants, and reveal what he wants.

The story is designed-– as designed as a modernist skyscraper or the layout of a glossy New York magazine. The goal: a more rounded version of reality. The idea behind this story, this prototype, is to point to the endless possibilities of the well-designed story.

THE NEXT STEP is looking upon the short story– or the nonfiction essay– as part of an entire aesthetic.

THE CHALLENGE

The objective is to put the literary world into a state of flux, where change becomes constant– the only way to diminish the built-in advantages of an institutionalized, monopolistic status quo. Then– to stand out among the innovators.

Timing is key, as it was for Henry Ford. No one remembers the other tinkerers and pioneer automobile innovators, the other hundred-or-so fledgling car companies in the first couple decades of the Twentieth Century.

No one will remember this project unless we achieve artistic breakthrough.

Our First Contest Winner

WE’RE HAPPY to announce the winner of our first contest, Tom Ray, for the story “What He Thought Was Right.”

The original Announcement.

The winner:

The prize ($$$) is on its way to Mr. Ray.

The winning story will be published some time during the month of April. We’ll briefly discuss then why it’s an excellent story which incorporates multidimensional viewpoints. OR: You’ll be able to read the story and see for yourself!

REMINDER: This is just the first of several contests with monetary prizes. Soon: one involving our Open Mic feature.

DON’T MISS ANY OF IT!

The Board

NEW POP LIT ANNOUNCES ADVISORY BOARD

DO WE have all the answers? Not at all! As we move forward, we’ve decided to enlist observers for advice and input, laying the groundwork for improvement and growth. Therefore: an Advisory Board.

We start with five individuals who’ve all been published at our site or/and our publications and are supportive of what we’re doing. They represent a range of ages, writing styles, thought patterns, experiences and viewpoints. The idea is to have this project looked at three-dimensionally, while maintaining an overall positive vibe, which is critical for the success of any endeavor– especially one as ambitious as ours.

(We intend to add more names to the Advisory Board, as this project moves ahead.)

The five are:

NICK GALLUP: Accomplished short story writer. Among his several feature stories for us was “Just Another Silly Love Song.”

CHRISTOPHER LANDRUM: Literary historian, essayist, and theorist. His feature story for us was “The Age of Insomnia.”

TOM PREISLER: Talented musician and poet. Tom’s poetry feature for us was “Love Poetry/Prose from Tom Preisler.”

CHRISSI SEPE: Novelist, story writer, and memoirist. Chrissi has written for our zeens ZEENITH and Literary Fan Magazine. Her online story feature for NPL was “We Love to Watch Zee Cockroaches.”

FRANK D. WALSH: Long-time Philadelphia poetry icon. Frank’s poem “Spectre of the Rose” was excerpted in Extreme Zeen #1, and also here at our site.

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(Again, we’ll be adding a few more names– more input, more viewpoints on what we’re doing.)

Teardowns and Literature

MAKING CREATIVE CHANGE PART IV

There are 20 possible opening moves in chess. How many ways are there to write the short story? There should be hundreds. In practice, there are maybe ten– and some of those, like Poe’s, are no longer done.

HOW?

How does one create a new short story form– or a new anything? One way is the concept of returning to First Principles, which is outlined here.

The first question: What’s essential? The sentence. Basic grammar. The alphabet. Words. All else is up for grabs. The idea to recreate from the ground up.

I’ve asked the question: Why do people read?

FOR: Mystery, character, adventure, ideas, knowledge, sensation, emotion, passion, entertainment, escape, understanding, wisdom, experience. What else?

The idea should be to construct a narrative, and adopt a writing style, which can best present these attributes. Or, as many of them as possible.

Our first step has been to break away from the strictly linear, single-viewpoint mode of operating. My first attempts relied too heavily on precise structure conceived in advance. KMC’s, not as much. In the future we’ll move away from that. My belief is that with further attempts we’ll find the non-linear format gives the writer more creative freedom, not less.

TEARDOWNS

The electric vehicle crowd has been big on tearing down automobiles of all kinds to find out what makes them work, then re-engineering them. The most prominent teardown engineer is Sandy Munro, a former Ford engineer who’s put out dozens of videos depicting his analysis of various vehicles.

c/o munrolive.com

For the New Pop Lit project, I’ve taken apart short stories of all kinds to discover what makes them work– from Edgar Allan Poe’s, which rely heavily on exposition and invariably lead to a strong or explosive conclusion conceived in advance– such as this one— to romantic adventure stories from Robert Louis Stevenson, to Jack London’s brutally surprising “Lost Face,” to tales by D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce, to Ernest Hemingway’s famous and subtly complex “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” As well as more recent work, such as stories by Mary Gaitskill. There’s much to learn in all of them.

PROTOTYPES

The next step, after many teardowns, is constructing an all-new prototype utilizing what’s been learned. A topic I’ll cover in a later installment of this series on creative change and how to make it.

K.W.

Three Kinds of Revolution

MAKING CREATIVE CHANGE PART III

1.

TRADITIONAL REVOLUTION. Thorough and swift destruction and replacement designed to demolish existing institutions and the System itself and replace them with all-new everything. See Robespierre and Lenin.

2.

GRADUAL REVOLUTION. Change within existing institutions and hierarchies, designed to capture them. Theodore Adorno and the Frankfurt School might exemplify this mode of thinking. Or were precursors of it, along with Antonio Gramsci.

3.

COMPETITIVE REVOLUTION. Competing with existing institutions using smaller, faster, more mobile and vastly more creative new organizations. Elon Musk’s various projects, as well as many popular DIY podcasts, fit this category.

CHANGE AGENTS

Currently we live in a world where Revolution Style #3 has pushed its way to the forefront. Upstarts everyplace. New ways of thinking pushed by what could be called change agents. The active molecules mentioned in Part I of this series.

Musk due to his penchant for publicity is at the forefront of such energized entities. Elon Musk has always been a huckster, combined with an arrogance unleavened by humility. (He’s yet to be knocked down hard by life.) His real strength lies in his ability to see weakness in established institutions, whether they be Boeing in aerospace, or General Motors and other legacy giants in the auto industry. The ability to observe “the best” and realize they can be taken down.

Elon Musk carries the ethos of the upstart– eager to topple complacent established kings and set himself up as new one.

In this quest, he relies on the doctrine of First Principles, which we’ll look at in the next installment of this series on change and how to make it.

-K.W.

Teaching Gatsby

MAKING CREATIVE CHANGE PART II

MOST WRITERS are the product of the stale way literature is taught.

Much emphasis on themes and sentences. A great example of this is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, a favorite of high school teachers and freshman-level college American lit profs. Along with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the most over-taught American novel ever.

Yet none of the instructors approaches what Fitzgerald was doing with it that gives the story and the main character their sense of mystery. What’s taught instead are its themes: “The American Dream”– striving after “the green light” blah blah– along with the book’s lyricism. Fitzgerald’s beautiful passages, particularly the opening and closing. “The well-written sentence.” What’s missing?

For starters, Fitzgerald combines pop elements with the literary. Gatsby, after all, is a gangster. The lyricism is used carefully– much of the story is propelled by simple declarative sentences. Like a baseball fastball following a series of off-speed pitches, the occasional lyrical sentence stands out.

Most important though and seldom examined is the book’s structure. The serious writer, when confronting the novel, needs to approach it like an engineer. How does it really work?

Take the book apart and you find it has a complex structure– the story of Jay Gatsby put together using the narrator Nick Carraway’s own impressions combined with rumor, speculation, and hearsay. Beyond this, the narrative doesn’t stick strictly to the present, but gives the reader, in segments, a great deal of backstory. Jumps into glimpses of the past.

Examining the thematic instead of the technical is fine if you’re an English professor, but writers looking to reinvent the art need to seek all possible examples of structural innovation, which can be utilized, refreshed, or merged, toward the goal of creating a more exciting product.

Which will be discussed in future parts of this impromptu series intended to explain a little of what we’re up to in the New Pop Lit development studio.

-K.W.

Making Creative Change

PART I: WHAT WE’RE NOT TAUGHT

Few people see the world as it really is, because we’re not taught to see it that way: As conflict between the dynamic and the static. The active agent, and the acted upon.

Count Leo Tolstoy discussed this in his massive masterpiece novel War and Peace. Is history the product of great men– or of the movement of massive unseen forces? Or a combination of both?

In his discussion of Napoleon and the invasion of Russia, Tolstoy saw the great man as merely along for the ride, accompanying a wave of economic and social forces. Yet change as often as not, even in the instance cited, is a matter of the willful individual pushing and driving the merely passive: the static. The inertia of movement pushing the inertia of the unmoving. Force upon molecules. One dynamic individual disturbing all around itself, like a cue ball upsetting a rack of balls in a pool hall.

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CHANGE should be especially true in the arts, which are intended to be dynamic. In constant flux.

The question for writers is: Which side of the equation are you on?

If you’re not published by one of the Big Four Manhattan publishers, or a professor at a university, it makes little sense to be on the side of the static. Of the aesthetic status quo. (Unless you write and publish as a hobby, to impress relatives and friends. But if you want more– ?)

NEXT: “Teaching Gatsby.”