Sunday, April 17, 2016

Opera for the Novelist?

Don’t enjoy listening to it? That’s fine. It’s an acquired taste—like blue cheese or the musty Indian spice Asafoetida. And yet regardless of your genre, goals, or commitment to gravitas, a taste of operatic idiosyncrasy might zestfully season your fiction. And you needn’t endure a single high-pitched note to apply these possibilities.

~ Passion.

Not just with a capital “P.” Rather, an entire word that’s capitalized in boldface. Consider Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux. The Queen loves Essex (Devereux), who’s madly in love with his dearest friend’s wife. It can’t end well. Spoiler: it doesn’t. And this has to do with contemporary fiction because…
…the higher the stakes, then the better. Build Concept. Corner your characters.  Want your audience to feel passion? Escalate the tension. Escalate it even more.

~ Motif.

Many of the loveliest operas revisit musical themes. But exploring themes radically differs from merely repeating them. This concept functions the way a poet plays off the six central worlds that build the sestina form: each encounter differs at least slightly. Same with the scarlet letter in Hawthorne’s novel: always similar, never identical. That familiar yet new variation amplifies tension, resonance, and complexity.  Chillingworth, Pearl, Dimmesdale, and Hester all view that letter differently—and thus readers do, as well. This is relevant to you because…
…the best fiction has texture. Layers of meaning emerge from words and symbols echoing off each other. And recurrent variations let the audience intimately connect your world with their own—the way years of varied encounters cement a friendship.

~ Climax.

People who adore opera rarely notice how long it takes the protagonist to die, while that’s the first thing people who dislike opera mock. Why must it take so long? Because a lot has gone into this ending. Why rush questions like who lives, rules the kingdom, gets revenge, and wins true love (usually no one). This relates to contemporary fiction because…
…big stories need big resolution. Consider proportion. If your scenario is low key, as many good ones are, then hurry up. But if you’ve posed huge dramatic questions, give your audience enough time to savor, wind down, exhale.

~ Theme.

It’s likely a good thing that we no longer fuss much about honor. But the ageless questions of morality, betrayal, hope, irony, and sacrifice matter to you because you’re a contemporary novelist. Those questions will be the crux of story—forever.

Tip: Fiction comes not only from the imagination, but the world. The more of the world you put in, then the more your readers will get out of the fictional world you create.

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