Friday, September 16, 2011

Shifting from Present Reality into Fantasy and Dreams

Recently, I had an opportunity to read and review Nate Rocks the World (2011) by Karen Pokras Toz, and this is what I posted about the book for Amazon:

            Nathan Rockledge is in the fourth grade. He likes books more than kickball, eating out more than eating his mother’s cooking . . . , and drawing more than anything else. He lives for the next holiday and would like to skip his big sister’s next phase. Most of all, Nate wants to rock the world as a hero who saves the day. Karen Pokras Toz’s telling of Nate’s story will make you hope that Nate’s dream to become a hero will come true. Readers will see the world through Nate’s eyes and will grow to like him as much as I do.

One of the successes of Toz's novel is seamless shifts between Nate's reality and his dream world. In fact, the novel opens in the present, we think, as Nate hits the home run that wins the World Series for the Phillies. Teammates cheer Nate’s achievement, chanting his name three times—“Nate! Nate! Nate!” Then a fourth speaker says, “Nathan!,” a more formal name, most likely the name his parents chose for him, and what follows “Nathan!” is “For the fourth time—dinner is ready!” Readers realize that the novel actually opens in Nate’s dream world. He is not the Phillies' MVP but a boy being called to dinner. Author Toz has invented a device to separate Nate’s fantastic ambitions from Nathan’s ordinary life as a little brother, friend, son, and student: when Nathan escapes his reality into his dreams, he is Nate.

C. S. Lewis employs a different device to signal a shift from a dreary reality into the magical realm of Narnia. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the children, safely removed to the country while the world is at war, step into an impossibly deep closet (the wardrobe) where the far, back wall falls away into an icy winter; there fauns and beavers speak. Thus, shifts in setting are the clues that divide reality from fantasy.

On stage, Arthur Miller created devices that help audiences slide from a wretched present in which salesman Willy Loman wishes to die and a promising past in which Willy and his boys believe in their own success. These devices include lighting, music, and costuming. For example, as the lighting changes, scrims become visible, focusing audience attention on rooms and characters unseen until then. In addition, music guides the audience; e. g., a flute plays for the old, broken Willy. Also, characters add and subtract small pieces to their costumes—a headband for young Linda; caps, letter-sweaters, and school books signal the young Biff, Happy, and Bernard.

These three literary examples demonstrate what authors must do in order to carry their readers or viewers with them: Authors must carefully invent and consistently use signals and devices so that the story’s development and the big ideas therein are clearly and effectively conveyed.

Reading Challenge:

Read Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller or “read” a filmed version of the play. Pay close attention to details, including stage directions in the printed text.

Reading is essential if you wish to write. As Stephen King has said, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."

Writing Challenge:

Write a story or poem in which the speaker or characters shift from the real, tangible world into a paranormal one or a fantasy. Choose device(s) that will allow your reader to follow the shift without confusion.

GUM: More Commonly Confused Words

I am loath to admit that I loathe the current trend in horror films. I feel somewhat disloyal because I enjoy horror fiction, especially that of Stephen King or Peter Straub, but so many horror films seem salacious and depraved to me. The directors and producers seem to believe that audiences enjoy being witness to torture and unimaginable human suffering. The truth is that neither of these interests me nor inspires me to avoid the sins that bring these characters to such sorrowful ends.

Loath, without a final e, means unwilling or reluctant. Loathe, with a final e, means to despise or detest.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.