Saturday, July 28, 2007

On Becoming Re-illiterate

So I read a book. High five! I have yet to return to a book store / library / .com superstore to pick up another one to read.

And so it was, I returned to my skimming ways. I read the entire Harry Potter series on Wikipedia. Speaking of seven-book series, I "read" Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series...on Wikipedia. It was a great "read" great, that I wish Anthony can find a publisher for the eighth book, Under a Velvet Cloak, so I can read the summary on Wikipedia.

If you're in the middle of an actual book, and it's a particularly good book, the formula seems invisible. When you read summary-upon-summary on Wikipedia, then story formula is clear. It reinforces the pattern of formula that has permeated throughout our history as storytellers.

This is not to say formula is inherently bad. To be formulaic is bad, because it reduces literature (or cinema or music) to a paint-by-numbers scheme. There's something about using classical "stock" characters or age-old storylines - tastefully, of course - that seems to work, to resonate within our (for the most part) collective humanity.

Think about it. A lot of great stories has the elder mentor (a stock character) sacrifice himself/herself (age-old storyline) for the protagonist (another stock character), or for the greater good (age-old storyline) - often for both. You fill in the blanks in terms of song, literature, or cinema. If done well, that cliched plot point works.

Otherwise, if a storyteller really wants to be "innovative," it would be theoretically effective to take something familiar and turn it on its seriously as possible. A little satire might work, but outright parody probably won't last the ages as high art (but could make some money, if that's your M.O.).

But then again, this is a re-illiterate's opinion, so it might not hold that much weight.

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