Saturday, January 21, 2012

Abstract from concrete

Was watching the waves collide and crash today. (Yes, at beach. Lovely.) And I remembered how mathematicians and physicists extrapolated all sorts of complex stuff from ocean waves. They looked at the concrete, real, or natural, and came up with something abstract.

That made me think about-- yes, even on a beach, I am thinking about things to blog :)-- how in fiction, the abstract also grows out of the real.  I'm thinking of motivation and conflict here.  We start with something concrete and external, and then as the story goes on and we get to know the character, the abstract is revealed. But the external/concrete is a clue to the internal/abstract.

This is one thing, I think, that distinguishes popular fiction-- the external plot is a way to manifest the internal problem. Example-- Well, let's say I'm thinking of this protagonist and I know that his major internal motivation is a fear of failure.  That's abstract-- it's real in that it exists, but it's not obvious and probably not something he would be able to articulate.  "I have an outsized fear of failure:" no, he probably wouldn't say that.

But we can show something real like the ocean wave, crashing into his life and making him act. So maybe he's got some big job promotion coming up, and he suddenly quits the job so he never gets promoted. The question the reader will have is "why? Why quit just when you're about to achieve so much?" The answer is more abstract and will be revealed later-- he is afraid (if only subconsciously) that the promotion will launch him into a job he can't do, and will fail at. His act of quitting was an early, concrete representation of his fear of failure.

So... try that. Real/concrete/external early. Manifests the  internal/abstract which is revealed later.


Heather Day Gilbert said...

Very interesting thoughts--external shows internal. I like it! Enjoy your blog!

Joan Leacott said...

Interesting about the wave pattern. I have a theory that I call The Ripple Effect. An action is tossed into life and even though it may disappear from the surface, the ripples keep affecting things. Works for real life as well as fiction.

Edittorrent said...

Joan, Heather, yes, I'm working on a mystery now, and mysteries kind of depend on that "disappearing ripple" effect-- have to have something happen early that might not be noticed but is a clue or an instigation for action.