Sunday, February 19, 2012

Palimpsest and other Hidden Things

It sounds worse than it is, I promise.

Palimpsest (derived from the Latin palimpsēstus,--which sounds even worse*--a term we get from Ancient Greece, is the basic idea of scraping and using again)  was first introduced to me in a lecture from the beautiful and talented Martine Leavitt, author of Keturah and Lord Death.

I have toyed with this idea for years now and it fascinates me. It is kin to what Heather Forest, author of Wonder Tales, lectured on many years ago as part of a Timpanogos Storytelling Festival event, on getting to the bones of a story. Wherein you take one story, folktale, opera, etc. and either re-write it back up from the basics, or hang your own story on it's frame. In the Heather Forest model, the end work was a re-telling, in your own way, of a traditional tale. In the Martine Leavittt version, it's taking a tale like The Magic Flute and masterfully weaving it into your own unrelated story. Heather's retelling of Aesop's Contest Between the Sun and the Wind and Martine's Tom Finder are the resulting works demonstrating these principles.

 In my own way I have been practicing these ideas. My YA novel is firmly based on the tale of King Midas. Although, I have no over-reaching 'Gods' that reverse the curse and save the King and his daughter. Too much a literal deus ex machina for my tastes.

More recently, in the Throwing Up Words Project Writeway contest I challenged myself to throw in my own hidden set of words, a bit like what Martine did in naming her characters in Tom Finder. I did not go so far as to hang my story on any story bones, after all, I only had the 400 words in which to do my piece.

It came about innocently enough, I just happened to notice that I was using some weaving terms. Fabric came to mind. Looms and Tension. It being a historical piece (and I must say I am NOT big into historical voice, I probably failed miserably in that aspect) I immediately thought that inserting weaving and looms and fabric terms would be an interesting challenge. The key part being that I had to make these words feel natural and not like they were shoved in there. Not unlike the 200 word entries we did a few weeks ago where we were given a list of words to use.

I did not stop there.

Being that I am also fresh out of the latest Cracking the Story Code workshop, I added another challenge. Not only did I want to make my piece more than a slice of historical life, but a 400 word story in and of itself. And, more closely, a certain TYPE of story. In particular a story that mirrors the dynamic found on Snow White.

Let me explain:
In Snow White, ask yourself- who is the System (who is setting the rules?)
   the Queen
Ask- who is the Primary Actor in this world? (who is coloring the story)
    It isn't Snow White, think of the dark and dangerous forest... you got it
    the Queen again
Now ask- who is creating the noise and chaos?
   bingo- the Queen strikes again!

Look at that dynamic: She controls the world. She colors the world. She actually comes down and performs the acts of chaos herself. How can Snow break out of this dynamic? Simple answer. She cannot. She is too innocent and too naive. The only way Snow can be saved is if some other force (or person) comes in and intervenes! The dwarfs find her twice and bring her back. But it takes the Prince in the end to pull Snow beyond the machinations and out from under the Queen's power.

(Off-shoot here: Think of the coloring in Star Wars - On Luke's home planet, he is PA - he and his world reflect each other, but, when he goes into space, we get a very different color dynamic. Whose world are we in now? Who is the PA in this movement? No wonder we went back and got Episodes 1-3 and the story of Anakin. And even more interesting, note the color changes in those episodes, more than a hint at what forces were taking over our Primary Actor)

Now, apply this to a 400 word historical piece. Oh, the challenge!!!!!!!! I love love love it!
In the end, I don't know that I managed to color the piece strong enough to firmly embody the System and the Primary Actor as the dog. I tried. The rabid dog does control Sal's world in the piece. And I tried to have the unseasonal hot day reflect the feverish heat of the sickened animal. It's up to greater minds than mine (or uncluttered, fresh-to-the-piece analysts) to determine if I succeeded. But it certainly made for an entertaining exercise in writing!

(Link to the Project Writeway link, to read the week 4 submissions)

* Been reading Superfreakonomics by Levitt again (...Political Prostitutes etc.) - that's my feeble attempt at explaining where my brain is making connections... Palimpsestus...haha, not a word that sounds nice in casual conversation DESPITE it's real meaning.

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