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Narrative Tension and Drama for the Always Online

March 7, 2021 at 1:00 pm EST

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Fellow Interintellect Timothy Wilcox invites you to rethink the paces of reading and writing for the texting generation.

Come talk about narrative structure, texting, and social drama. What can we learn about ourselves through thinking what it means to have characters be always online? And how might we rethink the stories we tell, both creative and practical?

Our interest in stories often emerges from points of narrative tension concerning how events will play out for a character. We are, further, excited by dramatic entanglements between characters. A core concept for readers to learn is dramatic irony: the dynamic where they know something a character does not. That sort of gap in knowledge drives the story, which is often guided by how and when different characters are told things.

For a classic example: Toby Litt explains (https://granta.com/The-Reader-and-Technology/) how The Odyssey depends on separation by distance, as well as a technological inability to communicate across that distance. As Litt presents it comically, “the Odyssey doesn’t exist if Odysseus can catch an easyJet flight home, or text Penelope’s Blackberry.” The tension there is Penelope is all the while fighting off suitors. Looking at novels and the marriage plot, we can see more broadly this sort of dynamic: a character is making a choice based on outdated facts, and then so much happens in the days or weeks it takes an update to reach her.

Not all contemporary novels are set in the present, and not all novels set in the present focus on characters who use current technology at average rates. In theory, though, the possibilities of rapid, global communication upend these old story beats and impose new ones. What do narrative tension and drama look like for the always online?

In this salon, we will talk widely and also look at some examples of newly hypersocial storytelling. We might also consider how much we are truly “always online” and how much of that is shaped through cultural expectations. What do things like away messages offer us in real life, and what do they offer in narrative? Do shifts in the rate at which communications platform move shape our capacity for stories as much as they shape our day-to-day lives?

Come contemplate these sorts of questions – and offer up your own – with some intellectually curious peers.



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March 7, 2021
1:00 pm EST
Salon Category:




Timothy Wilcox
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