Monday, April 11, 2011

Stretching the boundaries of genre

I was reading The Guardian's Children's Book site this morning when I can across this article about a young-adult novel by Jennifer Egen written entirely in Power Point slides. A one-chapter excerpt comprising 76 slides is included in the article. While I found the chapter compelling, I'm not sure it was because of the use of Power Point or whether it was simply that Egan's characters and circumstances are well-conceived and well-laid out. It's clear that Egan is a talented writer of YA fiction and I look forward to reading the entire book.

But let's get back to those Power Point slides. To my mind, they provided an overly busy sensory distraction from the theme of silence and dysfuntion that runs throughout this chapter (and, for that matter, through most YA fiction). Not only that, they felt gimmicky; and because they felt gimmicky, they became a flashing neon light pointing to all the other clichéd moments
in the book. Teen novels that deal with family dysfunction always rely on cliché to a certain extent. The trick in writing them is to get readers to the originality and art of a work before they can trip over the trappings that took them there. Bullet points and idea pyramids run counter to such aims. And what of the use of Power Point itself? In the age of social media, a book that uses Power Point as a tool for experimenting with genre, seems dated, almost quaint, especially one that's set in the future as Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad is.

So, what does all this mean when it comes to writing fiction with or in the new media? Everywhere I look, writers are anxious about social media--how to build on it, how to channel it for their own artistic or profit motives. Once upon a time, I adapted Pride and Prejudice as a twitter-stream. At the time, the use of Austen's words and characters seemed a fitting way to lovingly mock the puffed-up social media platform and the quirky collection of personality types that inhabit it. In retrospect, my effort was just one of many Austenizations of our contempory world, a trope that now has been done to death. Done to undeath, in fact. But the promise of art, of meaning, of originality is still there, sitting in a pause, waiting for the right artists to redefine us.

What I want to know is, "Is there an app for that?"

2 comments:

  1. I like the Gettysburg PowerPoint presentation:
    http://norvig.com/Gettysburg/

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  2. Sheesh. You were kind with "quaint." I'm surprised this work made it past the development stage without a red flag there. A quick perusal of the app store would have provided a sampling of more up-to-date productivity aids.

    I liked what I saw, and wish I had more time to look at it (read?) longer. It brought to mind one of my favorite past-times of the teen years: collage.

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