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.
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.
All right, so the first page [Literary Terms A-Z] is the page where you click on the letter your literary term starts with so you can find it easily. At the moment, there are only four terms, so there are very few letters. It will develop in time. It’s a shame the page is so plain at the moment, but sometimes less is more. I want it to be user friendly more than anything.
Poetic Justice: “Rewarding the good and punishing the bad. The term was first used by Thomas Rhymer in 1678 to express the idea that in literature, if not always in life, rewards and punishments should be carefully distributed so that readers may be inspired to goodness and discouraged from evil.” – NTC’s Dictionary of Literary Terms
My View On Poetic Justice
After reading the definition, I immediately thought about how often this technique was done in old films. There are audiences that still find it satisfying probably because it satisfies the dualistic status quo our cultures often reinforce: goodness is praised, evil is punished. But things aren’t always that black and white are they? Especially when you’re developing a plot or character, you need to mix things up.
In fact, I’ve seen poetic justice used quite sarcastically or ironically to address that the way we want a clear cut picture of good and bad doesn’t always exist. But poetic justice, I feel, isn’t just about defining a dualistic morality. It’s satisfying when the character the audience roots for reaches success and when the character they can’t stand deals with struggle or suffers. The foundation of poetic justice is ethical satisfaction, confirmation in the legitimacy of the status quo, even in fictional worlds. It’s a great tool to help audiences attach to the story. Personally, I find that art has its greatest impact when it’s a moral challenge and encourages ethical relativity rather than be purely pleasing, but that’s just me.