“If someone tells you writing is easy, he is either lying or I hate him.” —Farley Mowat

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"'This is a title for a post on Metafiction,' Title-man said, calling attention to the mechanics of writing," she cleverly entitled this post on Metafiction.

Once upon a time there was a blogpost which began, "once upon a time there was a blogpost which began by speaking about metafiction," Gary Barwin, the author of this blogpost wrote on this blog seeking to demonstrate some metafictional strategies in the very discussion of metafiction. "Clever, eh?" he thought. "Yes," Gary said. "Very." Internet readers everywhere rolled their eyes. One at a time. A wave of single eyes rolling, like R's, across the entire world. Now, Jorge Luis Borges appears. Non-sequiturially like in a Donald Bartheleme story.


This is a famous metafictional children's story. No, not this. The this below. Down there.

The Monster at the End of this Book

This is also another one which uses a whole meta-ton of metafictional techniques and is also very funny. The Stinky Cheese Man and other stories.

And now, the dialogue begins:

"Some metafictional strategies to try," she said. "Since I seem to be here as if I am a real character speaking in real dialogue. Oh look at the font I speak in. It's classic. BTW, what happens to me when you stop reading? When I stop talking? When you click to another webpage? When the sun explodes? When I decide to only THINK these thoughts and not have them written down for me?"

"Ok. So she's gone. So, Dear Reader, (Yeah, your webcam is active. Surprise!) Write using one ore more of the following metafictional strategies," No-one said. Ever.

a. Reverse traditional narrative processes. Reverse the expected order of cause and effect. Or Make a story unfold via a non-normative structure. Footnotes. A list. A collection of artifacts (e.g. Jon Paul Fiorentino's The Report Cards of Leslie Mackie, a story made out of report cards.) Or model a story after a dictionary. (Milorad Pavić's The Dictionary of the Khazars.) Or comprised of footnotes (e.g. Nabokov's Pale Fire which purports to be a long poem with scholarly annotations but is really the story of the author and the footnoter told from the very biased perspective of the man writing the footnotes.)

b. Make a list of punning/allusive names that telegraph a character's traits
and purpose in a story. Use them in fun combinations, allowing the names
to dictate the story's shape. Generally use destabilizing or self-conscious names, some kind of obvious organization. Cf. Black, Blue, etc. in Paul Auster’s Ghosts. Or all the same letter, or alphabetical. Maybe objects or places in the story are organized by letter, or some other quality which makes the reader aware of their formal or arbitrary nature.

c. Pepper a story with a symbol that means many things, or nothing. Or one 
incongruous thing, like a dove that symbolizes violence, or a paper kite
that symbolizes imprisonment.

Experiment with point of view (rewrite a famous story—real or fictional, from the perspective of a different character than the normative one. The POV character could even be a non-human or inanimate object Be self- reflexive and have the character comment on the process of writing. Feel free to insert the author as a POV character.
eg. The Titanic story from the Iceberg’s perspective (cf. Billy Bragg’s great song which does this) or Beowulf from Grendel’s POV (in John Gardner’s Grendel,) Wizard of Oz from the witch’s POV (Gregory Maguire’s Wicked.)

d. Include anachronisms. Old things in the modern day. Vice versa. Future things.

e. Dialogue: dialogue with no statements or with no questions, or using surprising or unexpected tone, language, etc.

f. Break the fourth wall. Address the reader.  Make yourself (as yourself or in the role of the writer) a character. Be self conscious about the “fictiveness” or “storyness” of the story and its components. (eg. Six Characters in Search of an Author, Slaughterhouse Five.) Make the story or book a character. Or refer to it in the story or book. (E.g. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller.) Also:

g. The characters know they are in a story. The story refers to itself. The story is a story within a story. (Cf. Hamlet, Rosenkrantz  & Guidenstern are Dead, Don Quixote, Slaughterhouse Five.)

h. Retell a well known story or historical fact in a different way. Counterfiction: i.e. What if such and such didn’t or did happen. Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policemen’s Union,  bpNichol's The True Eventual Story of Billy the Kid. 

Thomas King retells stories from an indigenous perspective (e.g. A Coyote Columbus Story--this is from one of his short story collections.) Here's a nice presentation about it. There's an illustrated picturebook version, too.

What if there was something different about a historical character. They are gay. Their gender is switched.  They have a secret. Or…?

i. Frame story fun: he told me this story that once upon a time there was a boy who wrote a story about a boy who cried wolf.
Write a story within a story. Within a story.

WHY do all of this? 
Gnatola ma no kpon sia, eyenabe adelan to kpo mi sena. (Ewe-mina) 

Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story. (English)

Satire. Humour.  Critical analysis of received wisdom or knowledge. A “looking under the hood,” or a revealing of the strings and puppetmaster in the puppet act. A examination of how we are manipulated or how we respond to elements in story.

A reframing of the current perspective taking into account different perspectives. (Indigenous, queer, feminist, alternate political perspectives, etc. )

Are we are fictional constructs, perhaps created by the narrative of our situation, language, culture, etc. How can we see through this?

Is truth/story/received knowledge reliable, true, or even knowable? Is truth quantum and is changed by our attempts at its observation or articulation? Can we trust language and normative language structures?

Appropriation or plundering or stealing is another useful technique. And the author of this post, Goldilocks Threebears, has done that too, taking many of these exercises in some form or other from here but none from here or here.

BTW did you see that strange formating on the possessive appostrophe S in Pavic's name? So destabilizing, it makes you wonder if all language is just made up. Like, I mean, how come all those kids in France are so good at speaking French? It's taken me years just to be able to sprachen de French even a little bit. Eh, Wittgenstein? Stop pretending to be so dead and answer me.

And this. Write a metafiction incorporating this gif.