Sunday, March 17, 2013

The underlying pattern

I'm pretty averse to Rules for Writing (OK, I know there are basic rules, but I hate the way they get fetishised and lead to the samey-ness that often dominates lit mags and short story prize lists and the kind of literary tyranny that results), but I like, as I think most writers will, this article on story archetypes by John Yorke, from his book on the subject which comes out next month. It's descriptive rather than rule-making, with a nice eye on both the excitement of subverting the archetype he describes and the endless mutability of the underlying pattern:
It seems impossible to understand how, with only eight notes in an octave, we don't simply run out of music. But just as tones give rise to semi-tones and time signatures, tempo and style alter content, so we start to see that a simple pattern contains within it the possibility of endless permutations. Feed in a different kind of flaw; reward or punish the characters in a variety of ways; and you create a different kind of story.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How close are we to androgyny?

Interviewed about the newly announced longlist for the Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize), Natasha Walter, one of the judges, says that she was struck by the number of women writing from male viewpoints. Like Telegraph writer Sameer Rahim noting a similarity in the Costa winners, she sees this as possible evidence of a move towards the fulfilment of Virginia Woolf's wish for women writers to be seen as androgynous rather than as women. Others, however, including me (see this post), suspect a different implication. Kira Cochrane writes:
If a woman adopts a male perspective, it seems their story is still more likely to be respected, and read as universal. The author Naomi Alderman is well aware of this bias, and notes that the women who have won the Booker include: "Hilary Mantel writing about a strong man [Thomas Cromwell]. Pat Barker writing about the first world war and men's experiences. AS Byatt, yes there's a woman in it, but actually a lot of Possession is first-person writing as a man. Let's look at their names: Hilary, Pat and AS. These are names a man can read on the train and you don't necessarily immediately know that they're reading [a book by] a woman."