Sunday, April 29, 2007

linearly speaking

Apparently the form of a western story is a line while the form of an eastern story is a spiral. Perhaps this is what played into Tokyopop's (silly) decision to reorder the stories in Kino no Tabi, Kino's Journey. Originally they didn't start at the beginning as defined by the order of happening. The anime, which did not exist first but was in English first, keeps a non-linear order though has some reordering in the name of rendering the book stories into episodes.

In the original and in the anime, we jump right in and meet the characters as they are and as they will be in most stories. There is Kino and there is Hermes and they are traveling through a world not much unlike our own. This is what is most important for us to know in the setup of the stories so this is what we learn first. Later we find out who the traveler is and how she got there. The requirements of English to place a noun in each sentence does tend to make one part of that less of a surprise while the anime could get away with it.

Someday I'll have to write about how absolutely brilliant Kino no Tabi is, but now my goal is actually the shape of story telling.

Once in English class we were told to write a story in class. It was to be set in the school and when we were done, each story would be handed around the class for our classmates to write comments. Being who I am, absurd and cat crazed, I wrote about a cat abandoned on the north field learning to fend for herself. But that wasn't the important part of the story. The important part was that my character was confused and lost and needing to learn quickly or die so that's what I started with. Around the third paragraph I mentioned she was a cat.

It was a very conscious decision to describe the character's confusion before her species. I wanted my poor captive readers to know what the character was feeling before deciding that, well, actually, they're dog people and just can't relate to a cat or whatever else might hinder just knowing the character.

The class was pretty evenly divided about the story. Half of them hated it. They had no idea what was happening, many of them had missed the sentence starting the third paragraph "To a cat like Marcy...". They didn't know the character was a cat. Some even expressed anger at the way I had chosen to tell my story. The other half thought it was grand and creative and a nice break from the rest of the stories. Though some of those mentioned that I should tell my reader that the character is a cat right at the start.

But that was the whole point. Firmly throw the reader into the shoes, or rather paws, of someone entirely different from themselves. Later I would let them know it, but first just feel it. It may not be linear, but it is what was required. This was the one thing I would not change about the story even though it was the one thing others most thought needed changed.

The linear progression does not always serve the story. The chronological ordering of facts may not reveal them in good story order. Story elements should be ordered in a way that serves the story, not in a way that serves the time line. Tokyopop should not have gone and reordered the stories in Kino no Tabi either. That reordering does not serve the story.

I've forgotten now what my partner/rival in crime did with his story. After I declared I would write mine about a cat he said his would be a dog. It was probably a demon dog romping through our open hallways. This is someone who had tapes of all the songs of some local band whose biggest song was something gruesome about puppies that played very well on Doctor Demento. He also felt road rage shootings should be legal, an assertion that was undaunted by the fact that he'd be one of the first victims. No, he wasn't suicidal, just enjoying high school. High school really was a lot of fun.

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