neoclassicism: The dominant literary movement in England during the late seventeenth century and the eighteenth century, which sought to revive the artistic ideals of classical Greece and Rome. Neoclassicism was characterized by emotional restraint, order, logic, technical precision, balance, elegance of diction, an emphasis on form over content, clarity, dignity and decorum. Its appeals were to the intellect rather than to the emotions, and it prized wit over imagination. As a result, satire and didactic literature flourished, as did the essay, the parody, and the burlesque. In poetry, the heroic couplet was the most popular verse form…Neoclassicism survives in the twentieth century in works that exhibit the styles, forms, and attitudes of classical antiquity and that emphasize the importance of universality, objectivity, impersonality, and careful craftsmanship.
Popular writers from this period: John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Joseph Addison, Samuel Johnson.
So, I would say that if you’re a fan of the fiction/mystery subgenre dark academia, then you’re already into neoclassicism. Wit over imagination surely meets the dark academia standard; knowledge and how you use it will always supersede fantasies unless that act of escapism tickles us intellectually with faint crack of a character’s psyche. I am and always will be a proud aesthete, but as an essayist and student of literary criticism, I’m naturally akin to this movement because it’s naturally noble and disciplined. Especially when I write a research article, objectivity is crucial. I do admire this movement though the more I think about it, the more paradoxical it seems. Technique, balance, and elegance are all good and well, but chaos and all its messes are beautiful too. I think those immersed in this movement knew that, thus the satire, parody, and burlesque.
rhetoric: “The art of persuasion, in speaking or writing…The rhetorical process included five stages–invention (discovering the logical, ethical, and emotional arguments), arrangement (organizing the arguments), style (choosing words and figures in which to express the arguments), memory, and delivery.”
When you decide to become an English major or have to take an English 101 class for Gen Ed, rhetoric gets beaten into you. As repetitive as it gets, I would say it benefits you in the end. There are so many writers out there, fiction and nonfiction, who don’t have substantial rhetoric, meaning their attempt to write something believable fails. Frankly, it happens to all of us. I’m not saying that everyone should stick to the decrees of rhetoric coined by the almighty Aristotle and his wonderful pathos, logos, and ethos formula, but for writing to become a personal art, you need that foundation that often comes from our studies on rhetoric. It’s more for the sake of sharpening your style rather than limiting you. Especially in our current time, if someone is writing or speaking to us without logic, without credibility, and without heart, they won’t pull us in. We’ll sniff out bulls**t instantly. Of course, we’ve taken in fantastical, illogical events and enjoyed them, we found interest in those who lost their credibility in some manner, and we have learned from those who have a blackhole instead of a heart. Persuasion is an art and like any art, it can’t be bound, but the study of rhetoric surely gives you something to start with.
aestheticism: Reverence for beauty; for “art for art’s sake.” …Also refers to nineteenth-century movement in art and literature that held that beautiful form is more to be valued than morally instructive content, and even that morality is irrelevant to art…In part a reaction against the ugliness and mere usefulness of the products of industrialization, the movement reached its peak in the 1890s and is usually associated with Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, and Aubrey Beardsle, who aspired to live their very lives as art, to live lives of beauty and intensity and brilliance rather than lives of goodness or usefulness.
aesthetics: the philosophy of art; the study of the nature of beauty in literature and the arts, and the development of criteria for judging beauty.
I don’t know what else to say on this topic other than…this is the fucking dream. It’s the dream because subjectivity rules and understanding what is beautiful and what is “ugly” rules. Aestheticism is a paradoxical chaos in itself and that is why it is intense, brilliant, and philosophical. As a writer, this is certainly how the worlds and stories in my head form. It’s all chaos I try to organize, but the momentum isn’t tamed in the slightest. That’s what makes being a creative spirit absolutely thrilling. The criteria for judging this kind of art, though I’ll never believe it’s set in stone, must be just as Wilde says, “…a search for the secret of life.” That’s exactly what I live for. It’s what I’ll die for.
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.
Antihero: “A central character, or protagonist, who lacks traditional heroic qualities and virtues (such as idealism, courage, and steadfastness). An antihero may be comic, antisocial, inept, or even pathetic, while retaining the sympathy of the reader. Antiheroes are typically in conflict with a world they cannot control or whose values they reject,” – The NTC’s Dictionary of Literary Terms
My Take on The Antihero
Honestly, this is my favorite type of character. They fall under other archetypes like tricksters, desperados, lone wolf, and the like. Ostracized, brooding, angsty, mischievous, chaotic, and neutral only when they want to be. These characters are near and dear to my heart probably because I’m the antihero of my own life. As I write my novel, I have several characters that fit this mold. I just love them.
I think what’s most important about this definition is the very last sentence: “Antiheroes are typically in conflict with a world they cannot control or whose values they reject.” The most prominent attribute of the antihero is conflict. This comes from their ambiguous alignment (not always lawful, chaotic, good, or evil), their “many shades of gray” point of view, and their autonomy. They conflict with many elements of the story because of their independence and resourcefulness. It’s them against the world, no matter if they have a few allies or not. Although these traits can be admirable, there is a lot of stress that comes with it, which is probably why they gain sympathy from the audience. Freedom isn’t free and you always have to watch your back. Antihero’s often come off as hardened, distant, or mistrusting. The conflicting circumstances they run into simultaneously reinforce the skills they have sharpened from their independent nature and challenge the morale they have for their lifestyle with ethical questions. I love watching a character who does their best to be neutral struggle with their ethics because it really is relatable; it’s how you establish your own personal philosophy.
Have you designed an antihero before, fellow writers? Do you favor this archetype more than others?
Some flowery writing is going to scratch you where you itch and some is going to bore you to death. Either way, I don’t think any of us want to get in the habit of using flowery language to describe a simple setting, character design, scene, or anything else. That’s what editing is for, right? Well, I also don’t want to be negligent of those who are picky with their diction. Sometimes we know that elaboration for something that could be described simply is necessary like the narrator’s tone, for example, or for characterization. Where’s the happy medium?
While researching this topic, I ran into a wonderful YouTube channel called Reedsy, a London-based, “…award-winning community of over 100,000 book publishing professionals,” according to LinkedIn. After watching this very helpful video on purple prose, I immediately added them to the list of resources to tap into later.
Learning about purple prose helped me think about how our mentality shifts when we’re writing in different forms of storytelling. I wanted to finally work on my short story last weekend and it was really hard to pull my mind away from fantasy novel writing. The first 900 words weren’t even elaborate. My narrator was info-dumping due to my insecurities–”it’s a fantasy short story, so I need to worldbuild and tell you the details about every culture involved”– yeah, no. A novel is more of a journey, from a stroll through unfamiliar woods to cautiously crossing a battleground; a short story is a quick trip across town, but the trip was far from ordinary or expected. You don’t want to go purple when you’re writing either. Purple prose is more unwanted projection than progress (excuse the alliteration). Being elaborate and emotive doesn’t require dumping extra adjectives and adverbs. This clicked when I thought about writing poetry or music.
I compared short story writing to writing a song or a poem because I get very picky with word choice and composition when I’m songwriting. Poetry has a bit more of a flow, but editing poems makes me particular. So in my experience, I’m not necessarily saying that short story writing or avoiding purple prose means make your narration robotic and bland; I’m saying consider if your story and your audience will favor your “dark and stormy” tendencies at certain places. Audiences don’t really like repetition or extravagance without meaning. For example, the chorus of a song is repeated 2-3 times during a performance and we don’t mind it if it’s harmonized with the melody, connects the verses and the bridge well, and ends the song in a satisfactory way. The person in the Tumblr post argued there was nothing wrong with “dark and stormy” because it gave you setting and tone; for that reader “dark and stormy” harmonized with the descriptions given later. This is what Shaylynn addressed in the video: “Dense or elaborate language doesn’t have to be purple if it’s substantial and adds to the story.” We’ve had elaborate writers for centuries, but the ones who stand out are the ones with masterful diction in their storytelling.
Time for an ungoth confession…I used to think Edgar Allan Poe was in the purple prose realm when I was a younger, less critical-thinking reader. After reading some analyses of his writing in college, my perspective changed. Poe was actually quite meticulous. Lovecraft is the same. So, if you break down someone else’s writing or your own writing and find descriptions, DIALOGUE (this is a big one), or anything else that isn’t contributing to the plot and theme of your work, you’re going purple. Get rid of it.
Hope this helps anyone who needs it and be sure to check out Reedsy because they seem pretty reliable.
Epistolary novel: “From epistle, or “letter.” A novel written in the form of a correspondence between characters. A popular alternative to first-person fiction that rose in the 18th century, though it shares different points of view.” – The NTC’s Dictionary of Literary Terms
My Take On The Epistolary Novel and Study Recommendations
Currently, I’m halfway through Dracula by Bram Stoker. It’s a wonderful epistolary horror novel and probably the first one I’ve been seriously interested in. Third-person narration is my preferred reading and writing perspective because I like omnipotence. An epistolary novel, however, presents the story in first-person and even though this perspective is more limited, you’re forced inside every character’s personal world. Many writers like first-person narrative for the sake of more apparent character development and intimacy. Epistolary writing shows there’s nothing more intimate than a character writing a letter to a loved one or sending an urgent telegram for a medical emergency. Additionally, there’s an interesting world-building element to this style of writing. It’s a given to make sure that your writing in any point of view makes the setting is clear. With an epistolary novel, you don’t have to only have letters where your characters mention certain places or events. Stoker used newspaper articles, interviews, and journal entries. Imagine writing an epistolary work your character’s Twitter fed or Facebook post. Movies have already done this, but it’d be really impressive to see this in a novel. Many RPGs I’ve played definitely use more than letters. Here are some classic epistolary novels you should look into if you’re studying the style.