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Contemporary Writing for the Contemporary Mind

on Fri, 10/21/2016 - 18:22

Have you ever wondered what novelists do today that is different than what they did in the past? In order to answer this question, we must ask another question. What realities do we face today that we were not necessarily facing as much in the past (and then putting into writing)?

We live in a world plagued by worries over the past and the future without any concern for the present. Now, writers are capturing the insecurities in regards to the future and how it impacts present life decisions, and writers are capturing the guilt in regards to the past and how it also impacts present life decisions.

Previously, events in stories were told in a linear progression, with earlier events occurring before later ones. The advantage is that audiences can easily follow the narrative and understand the plot without needing to reread the text to grasp why an event is told adjacent to another seemingly misplaced event. As an example, this article is written with a linear progression, but the ideas for specific points were not thought of in this seemingly organized fashion (I thought of this sentence later on in the article and felt it needed to be placed here, for instance).

Realistically speaking, individuals do not think in a linear progression.

Our complex minds recall traumatic events that occurred in childhood, and these memories cause our behaviors to respond to that event some ten, twenty, or even fifty years later. This is most easily explained by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. One of the most common causes of PTSD in individuals is sexual assault. If a sexual assault victim experiences something that triggers a memory from that event, they are likely to act as if they were reliving it. For example, if the assailant had a loud, booming voice, the victim may flinch and cower if they hear a family memory speak in the same manner.

The reason for this, quite simply, is that we live in the past and those past events heavily influence behaviors today.

The same can be said of the future. The same individual with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder could be wary of future events for fear that they may happen in the future. This can cause the individual to avoid people and certain places like the plague.

The uncertainties of the future influence how we act today.

While English classes are busy dissecting the reasons behind the actions of characters – which directly stems from this non-linear pattern of thought – authors are changing how they write to reflect the true nature of human thought processes and how these thoughts impact the actions of every individual and those around them.

This contemporary mode of thinking and writing has been met with some criticism because of how scattered the language seems, but is it really that complicated to understand if realistically we think in the same way? Or do we, the audience, truly need our authors to dumb down the writing?

Authors certainly do not need to dumb down their writing. This “contemporary” form of writing is significantly more thought provoking than the previous linear narrative style. So what can writers do to improve the comprehensibility of their writing? One author, Jennifer Egan, separated her events in A Visit from the Goon Squad by chapters so there were definite breaks in writing for her audience to understand the end of a particular event. She also ensures that her novel doesn’t start or end with the earliest and most recent time periods to exemplify that her novel will not be traditional from the very beginning. The back-and-forth motion of time is relatable in this sense for Egan’s readers; however, while it may be relatable, it can seem overwhelmingly discontinuous if it were not for her brilliant placement of chapters.

Because the contemporary non-linear structure of writing is extremely new, it will likely be difficult to master, which is why writers must be patient and play around with their structure, characters, and plot to determine what works best for them and their writing style. If you are looking to write something that isn’t traditional and sure to excite, this narrative style is an excellent option to explore!

Jordan Gambale is a student at Southern New Hampshire University. She is working as a Literary Editor and Youth Outreach Coordinator for the New Hampshire Writers' Project.