Jan 12, 2010

Dear Journal:

Froom what I can tell, keeping a journal is pretty much the most important thing an individual can do in the face of an oppressive regime. 1984, We, Camp Concentration, Anthem, Kallocain, Level 7 - whether the frightened citizen hiding his notebook under the bed or the prisoner writing at his captors' request, dystopian authors just love their diaries.

Seriously, though, is this just lazy writing, an easy way to get in plenty of explanation without having to come up with realistic dialogue? Is it the echos of an older style? Classic works having their patterns borrowed through the decades?

To me, I guess it's like anything else. I like it when it's done well (Kallocain, We), but after I've seen it over and over it just serves to remove me from the action. Your feelings?

10 comments:

Jennifer said...

I think writing in a journal can convey information to readers in a way that dialog cannot, especially in dystopian novels where the material is heady. Tough, philosophical conversations aren't that common in daily life. In a novel, a journal entry gives readers a glimpse into the mind of the character, letting them see what deep ideas are being pondered.

But I also agree that a technique can become stale if it is overused, even by different authors.

downtown guy said...

There is that, and there is also the fact that a journal style lets an author write in first person, even if he kills off or changes that character by the end of the book.

Jennifer said...

Also, in a dystopian novel the characters usually can't risk talking about their dreams for a better world; their governments don't take kindly to such things. A journal might the only place such thoughts can be expressed so the reader can access them.

downtown guy said...

True.. But it's fairly easy for novels written journal style or reliant on some journal entries to get bogged down in the philosophical side of things and miss out on a lot of action, too.

white rabbit said...

It's an odd thing - I've never thought of writing in the first person - whether by way of diary or otherwise until very recently when for the first time ever I started on a comic novel. I instinctively - there was no conscious thought involved in it - I started writing in the first person.

downtown guy said...

Any idea why that felt like the right way to go with it?

JRSM said...

I wonder, too, how many writers have been inspired to do this by the pretty amazing real diaries kept by people under such regimes in the past--there's a real emotional kick when you read a secret diary kept hidden from the Nazis or Stalin's psychos or whomever.

downtown guy said...

I hadn't thought about that, but you're right. Speaking of, any links to such things online?

facelift said...

is there not also perhaps an anxiety on the part of authors in presenting the apparent neutrality of the third-person, external viewpoint in such a society? maybe the form in these novels is what lessens the anxiety that either the novelist or reader could identify themselves with the totalitarian society portrayed.

downtown guy said...

Maybe, but then you have something like the Turner Diaries, which is set up the same way and nothing but racist propaganda.