Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Storytelling


As I’m about to begin the momentous task of starting my final-year dissertation, I decided to browse Amazon for some potential sources of good ideas. Fantasy literature was always going to be my topic of choice: it’s the genre I read the most and have a never-ending passion for, and I want to write about books I actually like! After skimming through The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature (I was extremely pleased to find this: it gives me hope that someday the prejudice against fantasy in academia may be lifted, and the genre will gain the respect it deserves!), I decided to take a psychoanalytical approach (much as I disagree with pretty much anything Freud says!), looking at fantasy stories as examinations of the human condition and of our need to narrate the triumph of good over evil - or alternatively, as morally ambivalent, with different characters reflecting attributes of others (like Frodo and Gollum as doubles in LOTR, and Harry and Voldemort in the Harry Potter books). Of course, I'm not just going to do the obvious texts, but the most popular fantasy novels of the past decade seem like a good place to start! Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea is also on my list, as are the books of Diana Wynne Jones. This isn't just an excuse to reread my favourite books (well, maybe it is a little...) but a chance to unearth new meanings beneath them - which is what the study of literature is really about.

But in my opinion studying literature is also the study of the human mind (hence the psychoanalytical approach). I want to look at why we keep coming back to classic stories, and the best book I found for this is Christopher Booker's The Seven Basic Plots - subtitled Why we tell stories. I love the idea of fantasy stories as being rooted in myths which are effectively timeless, and have existed since the dawn of civilisation. So when I happened to find Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots- which was mentioned in a couple of lectures- I decided to buy a copy.

The basic argument is that there are seven fundamental plots (hence the title), which all follow the same basic pattern, a pattern that lies at the centre of every story ever told. My verdict? Every writer should own a copy. True, some people might not like the idea that ultimately there is only one plot, but this doesn’t compromise individuality. The purpose of the book is to analyse WHY we read stories in the first place, that there are certain things we come to expect from stories which is ultimately the reason why we find them so satisfying. What better way for an author to discern whether their own story will appeal to their readers in the way its predecessors do? I’m fairly certain I’ll find it a useful resource when I encounter difficulties in plotting my own stories. If I ever lose the plot, I’ll be sure to consult this wonderful 700-page volume!

In other news, I’m currently waiting impatiently for next Friday, when I will finally, after nearly 21 years, become a published author! How long I’ve dreamed of that day…

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