Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Alienation Effect

I'm sat here at my desk, having completed my 40 page Screenplay and my 2 page season/episode guide - I've decided to stick to 8 episodes in total and match that against the 3 Act Structure, just as I did with my screenplay itself as a way of matching the rise and fall of plot points, action and tension - and now's the time to look at the essay I've got to write on the analysis of dramatic structure in relation to the paradigms I've looked at on the module.

Dramatic Structure led me to Freytag (who coined the 5 Act structure), but we'd not covered him on the course, and he's fairly obsolete:

So, I looked again, coming up with this article on Bertolt Brecht. Which, in itself, isn't really what I'm looking for, but then, it gave me pause to think. In the article I came across Brecht's Alienation-Effect:

"The achievement of the A-effect constitutes something utterly ordinary, recurrent; it is just a widely practised way of drawing one's own or someone else's attention to a thing . . . . The A-effect consists in turning the object of which it is to be made aware, to which one's attention is to be drawn, from something ordinary, familiar, immediately accessible, into something peculiar, striking and unexpected""A common use of the A-effect is when someone says:
'Have you ever looked really closely at your watch?'"

- Brecht "Short Description of a New Technique of Acting"

If we head over to Wikipedia, we get:

... a theatrical and cinematic device "which prevents the audience from losing itself passively and completely in the character created by the actor, and which consequently leads the audience to be a consciously critical observer."

Along with:

The Alienation-effect is achieved by the way the "artist never acts as if there were a fourth wall besides the three surrounding him [...] The audience can no longer have the illusion of being the unseen spectator at an event which is really taking place." The use of direct audience-address disrupts stage illusion and generates the A-effect. In performance the performer "observes himself"; his object "to appear strange and even surprising to the audience. He achieves this by looking strangely at himself and his work." Musical and pantomimic effects also are used as barriers to empathy.

Which in turn led me to Defamiliarization:

To carry on the feelings of childhood into the powers of manhood; to combine the child’s sense of wonder and novelty with the appearances which every day for perhaps forty years had rendered familiar [. . .] this is the character and privilege of genius."

What this is all about is the making something the audience/reader takes for granted and taking it out of the ordinary. Good writers do this with strong metaphors or similies - Crace used strong decriptions for his dream highways in The Pesthouse. These were really just motorways, but could not simply be called as such for his character had no knowledge of their prior use.

Therefore, what we're doing as writers, to keep our readership awake and turning those pages is taking the familiar and spicing it up through the opticles of new eyes.

Further to this, some writers provide narrator asides to the text, be it as the narrator or as the point of view character - either affording the reader extra information they wouldn't otherwise know, or simply an observation of a situation or person ie: the moment Crace's narrator in The Pesthouse advised the reader that Mags would never see the Boses again. These break the reader from their passive subjectivity and puts them into an objective position, just as Brecht suggested his Alienation Effect would remove the fourth wall from theatre, and involve the character directly with the audience.

One last (and slightly separate point) from Barry Mauer:

I think that discovering intentionality is the key to any drama, conventional or interactive. If I were directing a project, I would focus on how to discover/interpret/invent intentions first, and all other considerations should be considered less important.

Though Mauer is discussing the direction of theatre, I believe this can be turned to authorship also. In this sense we are looking at the narrative and the decision over what is important to narrate to the reader. Referring back to my previous post on how I haven't given my character choices, I believe the above statement now goes hand-in-hand with that: important and interesting narrative focuses as much on discovery/interpretation/invention of a character's intentions as it does on showing action and the movement of plot, for is not character plot?

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