Reading is a linear process. You can only read it one word at a time… you have the subject, then the verb, and then what I call the hangers of objects and subclauses in their various forms. The reader has to absorb ideas one after another. I know it. You know it.
So writers try to make things as linear in terms of not only the words, but how the ideas and things they portray happen time wise. The writing goes from point A to point C through point B. The writing (when done properly) is like travelling along a line that you can’t get off.
Films get round this. You can absorb multiple scenes on the same screen at the same time. The only limit is the eyesight capability and how quickly a human brain can absorb and process what it perceives. So it’s no wonder a lot of written work is superseded by films and the like.
Not everything can be transferred to the scene. Yes, a lot certainly can, but not everything. Abstract concepts are difficult to put into pictures. Nor can aromas come across the screen (though future technology might allow this). Inner thoughts used be expressed as an aside ever since at least Shakespearean plays, but even here programmes have introduced lines being written (this was noticeable in the recent five series of Sherlock by Steve Moffatt). So I would expect in due course technology to make inroads into those areas that can still only be conveyed by written works. For not, novels, short stories and even poetry have a plan win our world.
So how can written works fight back against the disadvantage of having to be linear in terms of word construction?
Literary fiction has to a large extent played with two story threads being portray in intermingled and even in some cases alternative chapters in a novel. This way you have the echo of another viewpoint thread in you mind when you are reading the current chapter. To a certain extent the success of this depends on the reader. This intertwining is now considered a standard technique in science fiction writers’ arsenal of techniques to use.
Another way of doing ‘two viewpoints’ is the unreliable narrator. This entails the narrator giving the reader a view, but gradually the reader starts to realise ‘the truth’ is different because of inconsistencies in the story line. So in effect you get the global truth and the narrator’s biased and distorted view of the truth.
Both these techniques take time to build up their duality or multiplicity of viewpoint. And unless the plot line and characters lend themselves to it, certainly would not appear in flash fiction or short stories.
There is what I call a micro-technique of duality that can be used in a single sentence, but is extremely rare due to limitations of the language. This is the use of word ambiguity. For example, take the sentence: he goes. This could mean he works. Or it could mean he leaves. There could be a context when both is meant at the same time. However, unless a story points out that it is playing with ambiguity at the start, readers are unlikely to pick up on it.
Another micro-technique that comes close to duality is the dear old oxymoron. Basically this is putting two words next to each other that seem like a blatant contradiction. The example often quoted is ‘military intelligence’.
One place where various non-linearities can be described is mathematical equations (don’t worry, I’m not about to bamboozle you with obscure symbols scrawling along a line). It can using symbols describe non-linear forces and their effects. Fluid dynamics has to deal with the non-linear force of viscosity that produces the the sea waves we all know and love, and helps produce the vortex patterns in the planetary atmospheres such as those we see on the Jupiter or Saturn (below is a picture of Jupiter).
I know from experience it takes a whole paragraph to describe the apparent constructed turmoil we see in such pictures. But what if there was a single word to describe it? Wouldn’t it make the writer’s life so much easier?
Not really. Such words would be rarely used and most of the readers are unlikely to know what the author is on about, which of course is a failure in the author’s purpose.
There is a but to this. Scientists quickly get fed up of having to describe things in many words. So they invent phrases of words to describe frequently discussed phenomena in their small circle of interested friends and colleagues. And yes, similar things have happened in science fiction e.g. warp drive. These kinds of shorthand words only develop when the concept has become familiar in several stories, which of course can only be done over time.
I just have this feeling that it is time for science fiction to experiment with new writing techniques that would somehow condense the ideas and concepts away from a linear set of words to begin able to get a duality and, in some cases, a multiplicity of them to come across to the reader simultaneously.
True, a lot of them will not work, but that is the nature of experimentation. It only takes one spectacular success to make the hard work of trial and error all worth it.
Science fiction, because it is progressive in so many ways, is more likely to succeed at this than other genres or even literary fiction. I would further suggest, that science fiction could overtake the avant garde aspect of literary fiction.
Now, it’s back to some experimentation for me…