Allegorical vs. Real Characters in Fiction

Now I’m writing a third novel, Smoke.

My son said my fictional characters are formed too heavily upon allegorical concepts instead of real people. I think his assessment is correct. What am I going to do about it? That is the question.

As if that wasn’t enough, my dentist was drilling away on my novel bridgework as well. A few weeks ago, he remarked that the first novel had “a lot of characters.” That’s true. I’m all over the place with these imaginary people, which renders my novel narratives, it seems, too complicated, or scattered, opaque, and therefore not easily accessible to mainstream readers.  All true, as I am discovering. I probably knew it all along, to tell the truth, just too stubborn to do anything about it.

But hey, what about the wild-penned luminaries of the past who were venerated, yeah I say unto thee, even catapulted to bookish success, for their obscure story-telling style? I’m talking about Faulkner, Joyce, and. . . well you know the type. Novelists who would cloak all their rambling opi-opuses in arcane symbolism, subtle literary allusions, and stream of consciousness genius run-on sentences which, when read  aloud by contemporary poets, always end each phrase with a rising voice intonation as if the speaker had just declared or questioned the most profound literary utterances ever laid out bare and naked for all the world to read and all the New York editors to puzzle over to their hearts’ content.

Not to mention their protagonists, who are really dysfunctional savants whose character developments reflect societal manifestations of every misfit’s compulsion to prove to the world that the deepest desire of modern men and women is simply to go crazy, flinging off the envelopes and tethers of slavish conformity/morality, and then post the video on Utube.

Speaking of which, video images are taking over the world of communication. Text is dead, unless you want to be one of the elite who actually think. I suppose this very rant is evidence of our literary degeneracy. I’m a drowning man here.

But I digress. Need to get back to the heart of the matter.  I need to make my fictional characters more like real people, less like allegorical constructs. I’m working on it.

And good story-telling–I need to work on that too, which is why I just read Robert Louis Stevenson’sTreasure Island–a great story by a master storyteller.  Its a book that steadily intensifies suspense from beginning to end while cultivating reader involvement all along the voyage.

I have learned something valuable from Mr. Stevenson.  Maybe now the Europe-crushing clash of 1930ish big ideas (as my son calls them) that I’ve taken on in the new novel, Smoke, can artfully fade into back story support; then Philip, Nathan, and Tabitha will navigate, in a very believable tale, the perils of a world  hung upon the edge of communo-fascist disaster in 1937.

We’ll  see if I can sail this ship back into the trade winds of reader accessibility. Have a nice day.

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2 Responses to “Allegorical vs. Real Characters in Fiction”

  1. garden2day Says:

    I wonder if you are not comparing the masters of the ages to what people of today seem to want and that is masters of the moment. It is a real dilemma. I wonder if man is his own undoing with “progress.” Just thinking… Good luck!

    • careyrowland Says:

      “masters of the moment”…I think you’ve hit on something important there, garden. Things are happening so fast, at the speed of light all over the world, that the essence of effective communication seems to be devolving into sound bites, or video flashes, or poetry bits, or imagery snatches. I’m thinking maybe that a good novel, these days, could be defined as an expressive collection of story bits strung together with a theme to unite them.
      As for man being “his own undoing,” . . .yes. And there’s the rub.
      Thanks for your thoughts.

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