Freytag’s pyramid: “A diagram representing the structure of a well-made play, especially a tragedy in five acts,” – The NTC’s Dictionary of Literary Terms

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My Take On Freytag’s Pyramid

Most writers know about this very famous diagram of dramatic structure.

When I look at Freytag’s Pyramid, I also think of Dan Harmon’s Story Circle, which is one of the coolest and simplest ways to explain storytelling.

My favorite aspects of the story circle of the paradoxical nature of life/death, stasis/change, order/chaos, and the conscious/subconscious working together. These are the most important elements so we can see DEVELOPMENT in the characters. When a story is lackluster and unsatisfying, it’s often missing these elements. We’ve seen many stories flop due to a lack of transformation and purpose.

Another thing to point out is the vast difference between Freytag’s Pyramid and Harmon’s Story Circle is the climb versus the cycle. I think Freytag’s pyramid is very pre-modernist and concrete. A situation is presented, choices are made, and those choices lead to an inevitable end or revelation. We’ve structured the pyramid by sequential acts, beginning, middle, and end, but stories being told this way seem to be rigid, half-truths. It’s like these stories are saying “If this happens to you, and you do this, and things will end like that.” It’s a very black-and-white way of defining how we deal with conflicts in life. Harmon’s Story Circle, on the other hand, presents stories as cyclical. The Story Circle is postmodernist, more subjective, and fluid. The cycle of the character’s life do come to a finish, but only to allow a new one to be birthed. There really is no conclusion, yet there is still a revelation along with acknowledging the constancy of change.

So yeah… food for thought for my fellow writers. I’d love to know what you think if you’d like to leave a comment.

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Foregrounding: “Calling attention to something–a word, a rhythm, a character, an idea, a viewpoint–by placing it in the foreground against a background. Taken from painting and the study of visual perspective, the term is used more broadly to mean setting anything off from its context or creating something that stands out from the ordinary…Interpreting a novel as if it were being read by a woman foregrounds the woman’s viewpoint,” – NTC’s Dictionary of Literary Terms (1991)

My Take On Foregrounding

I know this term is basically the writer doing their best to make sure a certain word or statement stands out from the present context, but I’d like to add a quote from The Routledge Dictionary of Literary Terms (2006) by Peter Childs and Roger Fowler:

“In literature, foregrounding may be most readily identified with linguistic deviation: the violation of rules and conventions, by which a poet transcends the normal communicative resources of the language, and awakens the reader, by freeing him from the grooves of cliché expression, to a new perceptivity. Poetic metaphor, a type of semantic deviation, is the most important instance of this type of foregrounding.”

Peter Childs and Roger Fowler – Quote found from thoughtco.com

As I’m studying this term, I feel like I’m overthinking how it’s used. Metaphors are common nowadays and there are other types of linguistic deviations where the writer aims for something to stand out, but I think if you’re going to break certain literary rules, you should make sure there’s solid coherence. In other words, it better be damn good because many audiences are used to this and a poor attempt at foregrounding could either blow the mind of your audience or underwhelm them. Perhaps I’m worrying more about the negative results. I’d hate for my audience to be underwhelmed. I’m not objecting to chaos, surrealism, or randomness in literature, I just think it could go from symbolic to senseless real quick depending on the intention. But whatever…here’s to the rule breakers and those who become icons as a result of their rebellion.

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Why does this literary term give me anxiety in a way where I’m laughing about it to?

You know what? I think it’s because I found a new challenge in my writing. I like it ’cause it terrifies me.

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