Entertaining literature usually gives the main character a clear goal (catching the responsible for committing a crime, per instance) which is expected to be accomplished by the end. The main character faces adversities but overcomes them, which is satisfying to read. And even if we suspect that the main character will triumph over the challenges and the final test, this does not decrease the excitement of the story because as we relate to him we want him to be successful and we suffer whenever he faces danger. Besides, the mystery of not knowing what his destiny will bring is replaced by the intrigue of knowing how he will win: how will he defeat the seemingly unbeatable villain? How will he decode the seemingly undecipherable mystery? How will he enter the seemingly impregnable fortress?
For this the reason in commercial literature it is desirable for “things to happen”, for the story to move forward towards the accomplishment of the main character’s goal. New events produce mystery and suspense or solve those that were created before. Because of this, the description, the reflection on subjects that do not belong to the plot and the introspection are not so relevant in this kind of literature because they move us away from the emotions we aim to produce through the events in the story. Instead they are important for literature in general because they allow it to accomplish its purpose of inquiring and producing an artistic portrait of human condition.
In contrast with the other types of poetry, melic poetry uses a rich prosody with various musical rhythms.
The metric of melic poetry is unique because it consists of a combination of the quantity and the number of syllables, not in the repetition of the feet.
Melic poetry is divided in two distinct categories:
C.1 Aeolian melic poetry: is a more personal kind of poetry. It is a type of monadic lyric – that is, it is sung by a single person, while the music is played on a baritone (a music instrument derived from the ancient zither, related to the modern guitar).
The most famous Aeolic melic poets are Alcaeus, Sappho and Anacreon, the latter being known for his drinking songs and hymns.
C.2 Doric poetry: mainly built around patriotic topics (songs for the glory of war heroes, songs dedicated to the winners of Olympic games etc.)
This type of poetry was interpreted by choirs and occasionally was accompanied by music and dance. It has its origins in Sparta, from where it spread to other parts of Greece.
The most renowned representatives of this genres are Alcman, Stesichorus and Pindar, famous for their epinikia – poems and songs praising the winners of Olympic games.
The elegy and the iambus were developed in Antiquity. The classical era (5th century A.D.) was dominated by choral poetry, whose main representative was Pindar.
With the demise of the great authors of choral poetry, lyrical poetry virtually disappeared.
During the Hellenistic Age (3rd century A.D.) lyric poetry had already been reduced to the mere imitation of antique genres. It wasn’t the people’s poetry anymore, but it had become a cultivated, academic genre, limited to elite authors.
The most predominant names of this era are Callimachus, author of epigrams and elegies, and Theocritus, composer of the famous Idylls – short poems on pastoral love topics. The works of Theocritus had a great influence on the Spanish literature during the Renaissance, as seen in Garcilaso de la Vega’s Eclogues.
Theatrical text has very distinctive features as it is not a valid text by itself, unlike poetry and novel. It is thought and written as a text for theatrical performance, regardless of it being effectively represented or not. The author vanishes completely, giving up his own voice in favor of its characters, which will be played by actors dressed up in costumes, in a set with lighting, background music, special effects, etc. (following directions as imagined by the author). These aspects are not always considered in dramatic analysis, which many times is constricted to a literary analysis, of the text, without considering other factors that, despite not being strictly literary, are implicit (sometimes explicit) in the text.
The following steps should be followed when performing an analysis of dramatic text:
A.- External structure.
B.- Internal structure.
C.- Literary language
A.- EXTERNAL STRUCTURE.
It consists in separating the textual elements (the words spoken on stage) from the non-textual (these are called stage directions). The stage directions are usually written (between parentheses in italics). It is not always like that. Lights of Bohemia has the stage directions in separate paragraphs, in italics; this play’s stage directions are the most peculiar of them all.
The stage description is usually done at the beginning of each play, frame, act or scene, depending on it changes constantly or remains the same. A special font is not generally used though many editions of dramatic works use italics. Because the text shows before the beginning of dialogue, recognizing it is not problematic.
B.- INTERNAL STRUCTURE
More than an internal structure it is about analyzing those elements that are formally relevant in a dramatic text. They are as follows.
Their objective is to guide the staging of the play. Because of this they should be objective, pointing out the essential elements for the development of the scene. Sometimes, playwrights are so concerned that they almost become stage designers. The precision and attention to detail of some of them (Buero Vallejo, Mihura) contrast with the easiness of others (Lorca, Benavente). At this point the varying level of consideration of stage elements between playwrights can be noticed. Nevertheless, this objectivity is achieved in many stage directions in their respective works.
But it is also very true that the goal and character in many of them is surpassed. They become literary stage directions in which not only those stage notes are present but others, typical of any literary text, are added. Frequently in these situations some of them are forgotten for the benefit of others and vice versa. We should assign stage value to these stage directions based on the possibility or not of representing them. And, immediately afterwards, pointing out their literary values for which applying the characteristics of literary language would be necessary, especially those belonging to narrative description (To see, click here). This approach can be applied to Lights of Bohemia. Its stage directions not only have stage value (usually forgotten) but an undisputable literary value; they go both ways: on one hand they are examples of the finest modern descriptive prose; on the other, they open a new way of expression for grotesque. This would mean, perhaps, the possibility of walking that double way from a scenical point of view.
Between both ends there are stage directions that express subjectivity or at least a certain point of view of the playwright. Some stage directions in Three Top Hats catch the humorous, absurd, and childish character of the play. “El sueño de la razón” shows stage directions that include lexical or grammatical archaisms that would be typical of dialogue.
The following categorization aims to provide ideas on what to write about or read by searching similar books to the ones we like. There are many ways to classify and none of them can be clear or comprehensive enough so this is just another way. Join me in exploring it and looking for others about the genres of your interest because within every genre we have discussed there are many other subgenres that are not mentioned here.
Genres according to the purpose of the work
- Solving a crime (belonging to the popular crime fiction).
The “desk detective” (the detective who solves everything through reason). The adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Connan Doyle, for example.
The modern detective (the detective goes outside and solves the crime or mystery using different strategies). It begins among others with Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon and Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (some might include these works inside the thriller genre).
- Stopping a crime or a threat (crime fiction): Thriller, suspense. Examples: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
- Committing a crime: stories about criminals (caper story). The Dortmunder series by Donald E. Westlake (The Hot Rock, per example).
- Joining two people: romance, romantic novel.
- Reaching a destination while facing challenges: adventure stories. Emilio Salgari’s Sandokán.
Each of these genres shares elements with the others. Per instance, thrillers (suspense – action) in general include a romantic element: the main character starts a relationship while the main story goes by. This adds emotion to the narration. Likewise, romantic novels might share some elements with crime fiction stories.
Two different genres could be completely mixed together. For example in a story in which the main character is after a serial killer he not only has to solve the previous murders but to stop the next ones.
One of literature’s main goals is to entertain. The literature branch devoted to this goal is known as commercial literature or, to give it a better name, entertaining literature. Several genres and subgenres are part of it such as crime fiction, thriller, romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc.
Of course classic literature and literature in general is entertaining but it is not its main goal or is it designed for that purpose. Its main objective is to artistically portrait human condition and research about it in its various times and spaces. Many times entertainment is sacrificed in sake of exploring deep aspects of the human race and portraying a specific view of it and its society, providing a more artistic and intellectual pleasure to its readers.
However it cannot be said that entertaining literature does not inquire about human condition nor artistically depict it. Because it discusses human beings it necessarily does (even when narrating stories about beings from other species, as in fantasy or science fiction, because it anthropomorphizes them or, by contrast, makes us see humans from other angle) if to a lesser extent, giving up that aspect in order to provide entertainment with greater emphasis.
Clearly within this classification some books tend to the ends and others to the middle.
In any case, whenever we write crime fiction, thriller, science fiction, romance, etc. we should constantly remind ourselves that our purpose is to entertain the reader.
Concrete differences between entertaining literature (or commercial literature) and literature in general
The differences I will list in the next post are also differences of scale. This means that a certain difference is not exclusive to entertaining literature but in general it is more important to it though it can also be found in literature in general.
The different types or species of lyrical poetry are differentiated mainly through their form; in other words, they have different styles of prosody, but not different thematic.
Greek lyric literature comprises three main genres: iambic, melic and elegiac poetry.
- a) Elegiac poetry:
This type of compositions was usually sung with the accompaniment of a wood flute.
In time, it lost the accompaniment of music and was simply recited. Moreover, its thematic widened, so that it did not comprise only songs of mourning, but the entire variety of human concerns.
Thus, we can find elegies of war among the works of Callinus and Tyrtaeus, erotic elegies by Mimnermus and Theognis of Megara, political by Solon, festive by Xenophanes of Colophon, gnomic (containing maxims and aphorisms) by Theognis of Megara, commemorative etc.
- b) Iambic poetry
The metric form used by this type of compositions is the iambus.
The iambus is a four-syllable metrical foot; in odd iambuses (the first, third, fifth etc.), the first syllable can be long, but in the even ones (second, fourth etc.) it has to be short, because even iambuses set the rhythm.
These poems have a fast pace. Apparently, they first appeared as songs related to the worship of Demeter and Dionysus, in which humor, satire and eroticism were basic elements.
The thematic of iambic poems included: attacks on the politicians, the literati and the customs of the age. It also included burlesque and erotic elements.
Originally, iambic poems were sung, but in time the music was reduced to a simple instrument that was played to accompany the recitation.
Among the most famous iambic poets, we name Archilochus, Semonides of Amorgos and Hipponax.
Avoid “slow motion”
If you detail every space, every corner, every gesture; then the important events will become less meaningful in the novel, even getting lost in between pages and pages of irrelevance. We have to choose carefully what is going to get carefully described, that is which is important in the story.
Don’t describe things ‘going around’ the characters and events. Remember to involve the actor and the action in the description. The reader doesn’t want to know what’s in the background, he wants to know everything at the same time: Who does what, where and why… and if he can guess what the consequences are.
Keep in mind what you wrote before and why. Know the scenario well before communicating it to the readers. Remember they’ll discover immediately the slightest inconsistency and that destroys the rest of the story’s credibility.
Avoid the boring bits
A description must be necessary because the moment your readers find paragraphs where the story doesn’t seem to change they will jump ahead. If it is unnecessary for the complete understanding of the character, avoid stopping to describe:
Drinking coffee, making coffee, any inner-monologue about coffee and its derivatives from the Starbucks’ menu. I love coffee, but this is already way too overused.
It seems ordinary for your character to eat out if he’s between the ages of 21 and 35. Always. Every day. I’m guessing it has something to do with American sitcoms like Friends and Sex and the City. Don’t go that way. Your characters can become regulars of other places like parks, museums, vegetarian shops… even camping, outdoor cinemas or even the moon, if you’d like. There are no restrictions; you can pick any place you want as long as it’s interesting.
It has become a classic to stop specifically to describe the prep the character makes in order to go to work or go out, how he grooms, how he dresses. It tends to become boring if it’s not indispensable.
Travel in general
If the character’s movement doesn’t involve some sort of relevant conflict, delete if from the story.
To sum up
Be specific, original, concrete, as short as possible and consistent. If you can also amaze with an imaginative prose and express the correct emotions, you have an unsurpassable description in your hands.
While it refers to the things that surround the scene, it has much more to do with the characters that with the scenario. The atmosphere’s aim is to give us the emotional frame of the scene. It is achieved with a deliberately intentional description, involving only aspects that, as writers, we are interested that the reader knows thus leaving out anything that interferes.
An atmosphere can’t be created without descriptions, but you don’t require many paragraphs to create it: a few lines showing the most important things are enough. The atmosphere is a usual ally in creating a specific mood. A day with a glorious sun calls for positivism and joy, while rain is always sad and melancholic.
There are some points to take into account to connect with the reader in order for him to receive what we’re communicating in a description.
Be specific. It’s not a good idea to add extra frills or beat around the bush reducing the possibility of the message being clear to the receiver. You can use poetic language, of course, but aim to reach the goal of communicating the emotions your story needs without tiring or confusing the reader.
Avoid clichés. All of these phrases have a negative effect on the reader and in reality don’t describe a scene the way you want it to be: unique and different. Paragraphs full of platitudes convey very little effort in the creation and make the text seem very similar to many others.
Don’t base yourself in appearances. This tends to disappoint, we all know that. While each place tends to be a certain and determined way, try to make your version of the scenarios a little bit different and original. Unlike the movies, literature has a lot of more weapons to accomplish an astounding description, metaphors, meaningful words, grammatical resources, similes, rhythms, musicality, etc.
Everything surrounding the characters in novels is usually seen as the scenario, where the action develops, where the scenes happen. But not all is the same. The same location can be seen in many different ways depending on the intention you – as a writer – put into describing it. Since literary descriptions are far from being informative photographs and resemble more at paintings that color and shape the space to suit it to the needs of the scene.
Everything is in the emotions that the writer wants to surround the protagonists. After all, the literary scenario is more about emotions than things.
Sometimes we stumble with long and detailed scenery descriptions, which are okay as long as they make sense in the argument, contribute something to the plot or define the characters in a clear way, if they fail to do this, they are excessive. Little does the reader cares if the door of protagonist’s house is “red, with small beveled window squares in the top and a remarkable work of cabinetry panels in the panels that divide the door in six different but harmonious parts, which makes it look like a work of art worthy of being admired” if this doesn’t help identify the house some other scene thanks to its singularity.
The writer must try to provide the necessary framework (and no more) for the scene in the descriptions that set the characters (and the reader) in the place where the action is happening. For this, there are some concepts to have in mind to do this well:
Setting In a story it’s everything surrounding the plot itself, the general framework. The physical location is only a small part of it; it also includes the historical period, the political situation, the cultural level, the social framework; in short: any information that’s useful as a starting point so that – when the moment comes to get into detail – the reader already have a basic idea of where to build the concrete scenario. The first few chapters of the novel build up the setting and it is useful if the reader has it clear preventing him feeling lost and involving him in the story.