Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Word for the Day: Prolepsis

We want to thank everyone who participated in our Why the Novel Matters essay contest. You gave us some wonderful entries to read and judge. Congratulations to our top three winners:

Vila Gingerich ~ winner of the Kindle Touch.

Susie Finkbeiner ~ winner of Sally Stuart's 2012 Christian Writer's Market Guide and our Novel Tips on Rice recipe book.

Cherry Odelberg ~ winner of Sally Stuart's 2012 Christian Writer's Market Guide.

~ ~ ~

After Patti’s excellent, stimulating post on Monday, I have a confession to make. Two confessions, in fact.

One is, that I have not given up ambitions (though circumstances should certainly be leading me in that direction, some might observe.) In fact, Patti’s post caused me to put into words a new ambition. And writing it for everyone to see is the height of self-exposure.

So here it is. I want to be able to successfully write and publish in the way that Joyce Carol Oates does. She writes meaningful fiction and nonfiction. She dares to write in many genres – literary, suspense, gothic, young adult, children; short stories, novellas, essays, books and more. She’s a playwright, poet, literary critic, professor, and editor. She is disciplined and prolific in her writing output. And she takes risks with her writing, and does so with great success. (And she’s 73, which gives me hope for continued productivity.)

My first exposure to her terse style came when I listened to an audiobook presentation of Black Water, a novella that was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. (By the way, a New York times reviewer once said that this was “the best audio book ever recorded.”)

In this book, Oates uses a literary device we’ve all been told to avoid: She uses the same phrase over and over again. (Haven’t you always been told that you should vary your vocabulary so the reader won’t get bored?)

The phrase Oates repeats is this: “. . .as the black water filled her lungs, and she died."

She uses this repetition as prolepsis, which is a word whose root refers to anticipation. In rhetoric, prolepsis involves the anticipation of, and pre-emptive response to, objections that the listener might have.

In literature, and in Black Water, it involves the foreshadowing of an event as if it had already happened. An familiar example of this as metaphor is when a prisoner on his way to execution is called "dead man walking."

By Oates repeating, “as the black water filled her lungs, and she died," the reader knows that the character will drown, and yet Oates fills the narrative with so many details of hope that it is not possible to accept the death, just as the character cannot accept her own coming death, until it is inevitable. The dramatic tension in this novella is excruciating.

Do you know of other authors who have successfully used repetition or prolepsis (or both)?


Megan Sayer said...

Latayne I want to applaud you for your bravery in not giving up ambition, and for speaking it out. Thank you!

I was thinking just this morning how sometimes Novel Matters feels a little like the Mother's Bible Study group I joined when I had my first baby. There were five or six mums, some fifteen small children, and me and my six-week-old baby. I learned A LOT by watching and listening to what they said, how they said it, and what they didn't say. Most of it (the parenting stuff, not the bible study stuff) I didn't understand at the time, but diligently filed it away for future reference, and now I very, very much understand and identify.

So that's where I'm at as a writer. I'm sitting here with my little baby first book that I've just finished, watching all you seasoned "mums" talking about loss and fears and bravery and what it's like in the long-haul-career-stakes, and I feel all your pain and frustration and hope and hopelessness and uncertainty and all that goes with it.
And I've felt a bit foolish because I still believed - just a little bit - in my own dreams and ambitions.

So...thank you. I hope you keep taking risks and keep writing as prolifically as you do, and keep keep challenging the status quo, coz there's a lot of people watching and following after you.

Latayne C Scott said...

Megan, I could just kiss you. You've got what it takes to endure the long haul, and the articulation skills necessary. Keep at it.

Joyce Magnin said...

Hi Latayne, great post. JCO is one of my favorites. She actually employs this technique in many of her novels including the wonderful, THE FALLS in which she repeats several phrases over and over such as "Run, Run." It is quite effective when employed with intention and finesse. There are many types of literary devices that employ repetition. My favorite is anadiplosis, which might sound like a liver disease but is the repeating of the last word in a sentence at the beginning of the next. For example Captain Queeg in the Caine Mutiny says, 'Aboard my ship, excellent performance is standard. Standard performance is sub-standard. Sub-standard performance is not permitted to exist.' - Herman Wouk
And of course scripture is full of repeating phrases, "In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth. The earth, etc." So yes, repetition is a very powerful literary device and one that is great fun to explore and experiment. I love discussing literary devices. Thanks

Latayne C Scott said...

Joyce, were we separated at birth?

Joyce Magnin said...

HA, like minds are a wonderful thing to find. I could yak about this stuff all day.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Wally Lamb.
~ Wendy

Latayne C Scott said...

Got some examples from Lamb, Wendy? (BTW, Patti and I heard him "live" a couple of years ago, right, Patti?)

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Funny thing: I was in the SAME Wally Lamb "live" session. So funny that I didn't even know about NM yet. He was great, wasn't he?

I love the use of prolepsis. It might be the poetry lover in me that is drawn to it. It adds some emphasis and rhythm that I just truly feel when I'm reading (or hearing). That is, when used correctly.

Steinbeck used it beautifully in The Grapes of Wrath.

Megan Sayer also uses the device well. But I'm just one of the lucky ones who knows that. :)

Anonymous said...

Megan, I'm in line right behind Latayne to give you that kiss. Your presence on our blog - and all the faithful followers like you - means so much to all of us. Thank you for being as real with us as we try to be with you.

Patti Hill said...

Our dream for Novel Matters has come true. We're encouraging and stretching and shoving, if necessary, toward using our giftedness well. Next step, a Novel Matters retreat with all of you. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

And I feel like a proud grandma. Susie has signed a book contract! How rare, how wonderful is the talent of the writers who stop by here.

Celeste Green said...

Celeste here...

James Joyce does this in a unique way: He uses repeated sounds of things happening to foreshadow/ emphasize something.

"Jingling", for example (of change in a pocket, or bedposts) suggests infidelity throughout _Ulysses_.

Megan Sayer said...

Patti...a Novel Matters retreat?

Are you SERIOUS????
You know I'm coming, right?

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Aw...thanks, Patti! :) And YES to the retreat! You know that Megan and I will always be in the front row, listening intently...or getting in trouble. Yeah. That's more likely.

And Congrats to Vila Gingerich! I can't wait to read her essay!

Latayne C Scott said...

Celeste, you are so smart I'd adopt you if I could.

And ever' body-- we do keep talking about a retreat.....

Bonnie Grove said...

A retreat??????

Did you say retreat?

I love to retreat!

(how'm I doing, prolepsis wise?)

Seriously? I retreat?

Latayne C Scott said...

Patti said it, Patti said it.

Latayne C Scott said...

Hurray for Susie and her book contract!! Wow!

Kathleen Popa said...

Susie, I'm so pleased for you, and so proud that you are part of Novel Matters. Bravo!!

And bravo to you too, Megan, for finishing your novel. You are now part of a very small subset of hopeful writers who do. I'm very proud of you.

And by the way, it truly is like the stories moms tell you, in that you will hear much about the very real sleepless nights and headaches and diaper days, but no one can adequately prepare you for the joy.

I'm so happy for you both.

Cherry Odelberg said...

What? I won something? Me?

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Yes. The joy. And how overwhelming it all is. And how it is so very, very humbling. I didn't expect that part.

But I am also so very grateful. This contract wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been stalking Lisa Samson's FB page and if I hadn't seen the link to NM that Latayne put there. This is where I met Dina Sleiman. And this is where I met my novel mentors and my Tasmanian cheerleader. God put all this together! And I am so thankful!

Cherry! Congrats! :)

Cherry Odelberg said...

prolepsis: I noticed it when reading Louise Penny's, "A Fatal Grace," last weekend (yes, if it's any of your business, I did read irresponsibly last Saturday night / Sunday morning, which resulted in a reader's hangover on Sunday...); but, I did not know what to call it until your post.
The book begins thus: "Had CC de Poitiers known she was going to be murdered she might have bought her husband, Richard, a Christmas present.... Had she know the end was near..."

I love words.

Latayne C Scott said...

Cheryl, I am thinking of the moment I decided I might try to write a novel. I was reading Mary Higgins Clark's The Cradle Will Fall, which began, "If her mind had not been on the case she had won, Katie might not have taken the curve so fast. . .: (and then goes on to talk about the case, not about the accident that was about to happen.

It's true that it could be straight narrative followed by a long flashback, but those chilling words set up suspense that I liked! An example of prolepsis, do you think?

(I closed the book and told my husband that if I could write suspense that effectively, if I ever COULD write or even think like that, I'd try a novel.)

V. Gingerich said...

I'm sitting here with writers' block- the good kind. Do you have any idea what this means to me, to little Jo March in her garret?

Just spent the week out of town- on the train, in a rather remote Ukrainian village, and backpacking in Kiev- with no email service and came home to such a lovely surprise.

Thank you, Dear Ladies! I've followed your blog for over a year and love it. Megan said it so well in the first comment.

And thanks, Susie. Congrats to you, too, and also to Cherry!

Vila Gingerich

Latayne C Scott said...

Vila, we are so glad to have you in our company! Trudge on, to all those exciting places! I've backpacked the two highest peaks in New Mexico -- nothing like that "high"!