Saturday, February 23, 2008

objective correlative

I've paused work on my novel in order to write a short story. (Does this sound like cheating? Interspersing marriage with an affair?) Whenever I indulge the need to dive into the snake pit of the idea-driven, differently-scoped world of short fiction, I am reminded of how challenging the form is. How one must be both ruthless and discriminating in the selection process. Words have to be fitter in the short story, more muscular, flexible and chiseled. The elements of plot, while not as front-and-center, exist in the backdrop as supporting perspective to the small turns in consciousness of the story's main character.

I am writing with objective correlative. I want to tell a certain story, so I'm telling a different story in order to reveal what I want to say. Place is a character. The history of a certain place. The tendencies of a culture in defining that place. So, in order to tell that story, I'm telling a love story. A dark love story, of course.

One of my favorite short stories is "Demonology" by Rick Moody. He is attempting to tell the story of the death of his sister, but he has to tell a different story to particularize the heartbreak of the event. He writes about his niece and nephew trick-or-treating the night his sister dies. Through chronicling some of the specifics of a childhood event, he sets up the emotional landscape of his love for his sister. There is event next to event. Back-story, scene, a bit of seemingly unrelated internal monologue, scene…like that. He builds up to an event through tiny moments set side-by-each. Momentum builds this way—sneakily.

This technique works so well in short fiction, but might overwhelm in a novel, where the striding of plot gives the reader a break from the density of poetics. It's the sprint versus marathon, to invoke yet another metaphor. So. Off to the races!

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