Sunday, November 17, 2019

Let's Talk About The Staff: Meta-Writers

Part of being a creative writer and a teacher is working on process and what makes storytelling and sharing important. From topics like plot, conflict, character building to philosophical constructs and patterns in narratology and heremenutics it is easy to dive into the world of writing and get lost. The two sides are (1) the work and creating it and (2) process and purpose. I think of these two elements as my never dying metaphor of the coffee and the cup. The coffee is writing, stories, books, and output. And the cup is the aesthetic purpose for containing that content. All that being said, let's talk about The Staff. 

In the novel The Staff, there is a lot of brewing in the village society.  Taska is shunned and honored at the same time into taking in a prisoner and keeping him and protecting him all at the same time. This is, of course, the main thread and plot of the story. How will she deal with him and how will the village allow her to deal with him? 

But during the course of the story, Taska is working on these brittle parchments that are stacked on a shelf in the corner of her cottage. This is where the novel gets a little meta in that she is writing the story of how she sees the world (in a novel about a woman and how society see her). She speaks openly to her parents on these pages and eventually she begins to forge something new there. In the oppressive nature of this story, we have the social constructs and the hidden rules that don't make sense in the beginning. Then we start to see how the village operates and who pulls the strings. It is through many of the other characters that we (as readers) start to accumulate some of the treachery around our main character. 

But it is there in Taska's writings that we start to define two possibilities (1) she is totally crazy and that there is a reason for her being isolated and shunned; or (2) that she is rewriting her story, putting it forward and creating hope and vision. This is where we find one character rewriting her story, breaking out and changing the way her narrative appears. 

Meta-stories in fiction can be extreme and can be found in experimental fiction. They can also be more mainstream. But this isn't a case of breaking down the fourth wall (finding the author as a character in the story somewhere), but more a case of a character rewriting the path or the plot. The concept resonated with me that the main character is writing her own story. I didn't plan that but felt she needed a conduit for speaking to her parents and eventually seeing the future. I actually considered early on to have her pray in the church, and her verbal discussions to God would act to deliver the same information. Yet, Taska senses (if she doesn't know) that the church is helping to make the rules that she really doesn't understand. That is why she has the exchange with the reverend about the bells not tolling in the morning. And he mentions that no one can hear them. When she says she can, it doesn't change his mind. She knows they never saw her as a believer, a member of their society. 

What other books or stories have writing or storytelling built right in? I am fascinated by The Arabian Nights because of the different variations of stories and themes, but that is like a collective compilation. Nobel Prize winning Naguib Mahfouz wrote an updated version called Arabian Night and Days which in a novel form is more focused on linked stories. Probably the most effective use of writing in a novel is Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Through this epic story we see Zhivago and his world changing and shifting. And we often see him writing, but we never read the out put. It is suggested and mentioned that he is writing, but we don't read it at the moment of creation. However, at the end of the novel the poetry there. And as you read those poems, it is a brilliant retelling of the story through a poetic lens. It was very emotional for me to read the poetry at the end of the book. 

Keep track of people who write in novels. They may be telling you something, or sending out a lifeline. They may be plotting, sharing, confessing. In some cases, they may be trying to break out of the narrative altogether. -- #



Let's Talk About The Staff is a series of discussion articles based on the novel The Staff by Ron Samul. For more information, check out the novel and read other linked articles. 

#narrative #metafiction #writingcommunity #Coffee&Cup