Friday, February 28, 2014

stories shaped to the visual arts divine proportion

Using divine proportion and its interior spiral to give
shape and focus for a visual work of art 
This is about the shape of a story.  It is not about choosing any specific formulaic approach to creating a fiction story, though there are some genres where the reading fraternity fully anticipates and looks forward to a story which hews close to a traditional formula, i.e., in romance novels.  In such cases the formula has been extensively tested over time in the market place, and is known to give its readers the enjoyment they seek.  Nothing wrong with such structured, formulaic writing, though it may diminish your chances of winning some coveted literary awards.

Screenwriting for a movie is thought to be somewhat formulaic, also.  A friend at a graduate creative writing program did some research into the structure of screenwriting works, to see whether he might uncover some useful techniques for writing young people's literature (Motion Picture Story Structure Techniques in Middle Grade Novels--a thesis, by C. Entwistle, Vermont College, 1999).  Generally, he found a consistent 120-page, three-act structure, with the inciting incident early in act one, the bleakest moment in latter part of act two, and the battle or climax in latter part of act three.  Each act rises to a point of crisis, the main character passes through a series of conflicts, and ultimately overcomes the major conflict.  Not surprising that it is a formula that works for a large global audience--some suspense, frightening moments, victories written both small and large,  and life returns to something worth living.

Now let's move away from the more formulaic ways of shaping a story and toward the more intuitive.  We've discussed in some past issues of this blog some affinities between the aesthetic processes of shaping and writing an interesting story and the shaping and design of an interesting painting, i.e., Hills Like White Elephants and other paintings, Aug. 27, 2009.  Some additional thoughts on the aesthetic and intuitive process involved in the shaping of another form of creative writing is given by the poet, Leslie Ullman, in her essay A Spiral Walk Through the Golden Mean, in The Writer's Chronicle, Oct/Nov 2013.

The Golden Mean, or Golden Rectangle, is also known as Divine Proportion in artist circles.  Divine Proportion involves a ratio of 1:1.618, or approximately 3:5, "said to form the most visually satisfying of all rectangles," and which can be related to "complex designs by Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and the builders of the Parthenon, as well as works by modern masters such as Le Corbusier and Mondrian," as stated by Ullman.

For example, our sketch of a model, above, was scanned into a computer and was slightly cropped from its original 3:5 golden rectangle.   A logarithmic spiral was generated on the computer monitor and was digitally drawn onto the sketch.  The spiral cuts across the corners of square grid lines superimposed on the sketch such that it bisected the adjacent 90-deg. segments of the grid lines at the golden rectangle's 3:5 ratio for the two lengths.  The resulting spiral begins in a broad curve at the outer margin of the sketch, and gradually tightens to a small tight loop just below the model's left breast.  The exercise suggests that the painter's natural focal point for light and dark value contrasts, lost and found edges, and perhaps color highlights, can be most effective when directed toward this area.

The fiction writer's analogy might have the spiral starting off with gradual introduction of characters and defining the conflict, then a gradual tightening of the conflict situation, and ultimately into the focus of dramatic conflict resolution at the end of the spiral.

Does the concept have much utility for getting that powerful literary story written? Can we inherently recognize the most beautiful proportions and path of a powerful work of fiction, effectively simulating the golden rectangle and its interior spiral? Michelangelo and Da Vinci might well have perfected this feel and intuition in their paintings.  Perhaps it is something we can think about, and possibly develop our own feel for the shape and path of beauty in fiction writing.

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