Monday, February 09, 2009

fables

In college, creative writing instructors usually gravitate toward modern styles of fiction. Students are trained to write like 20th-century libertines, which is to say form is more strictly controlled than guts. Modern readers, we're taught, like subjectivity in their fiction; there are a hundred accurate interpretations for any given story. But modern readers don't like subjectivity in description. Every character must be painted to the finest detail, every motion and action described in documentary fashion.

This is a sadly limited approach to fiction. It's equivalent to suggesting that jazz is how music is done, while folk tunes and rock ballads are something primitive that sophisticated songwriters now ignore.

Fables are a form of storytelling which is commonly perceived as crude and antiquated. They rarely linger on physical description, focusing on ideals/forms rather than specific shapes and actualities. The author uses broad strokes to convey a very specific message. If there's a plot, and there often is not, the action is relatively subdued in its service to the theme; and the story might be punctuated by many small themes.

If you glance over the short story I posted on my fiction blog last week, you'll see some examples of what I'm talking about; and perhaps get a sense of how fables can be told in modern language and culture. Notice that the physical appearances of the characters are not described. Note how much direct telling there is. Fables usually involve commentary on the story's events, though the commentary is often masked in riddles and imagery.

Anyway, so why am I talking about fables? It is indeed a primitive storytelling method, but it's a good one. And I'm wondering how fables can look in game form.

Visual media play by different rules than literature. The film 300 is an example of a visual fable. Appearances are often meant to be representative and idealistic. The story is painted in broad strokes, skimming over details to keep theme front-and-center. Action scenes are filled with purpose, emphasizing the primary theme (courage and resilience). A fable-game can have all the same elements as other games, but the emphasis is different.

One last point: fables aim at truth. To say that they focus on ideals and representations is not to say they disregard reality. They are aimed at reality, but reveal it in a fundamentally different way. If plain, straightforward language was enough to illuminate our world, we would have no need of art. Fables use bare caricatures to communicate the essences which mathematical descriptions miss.


Sorry if this post feels incomplete. I'm a bit distracted today.

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