L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami December 23, 2014 - 9:17am

I was wondering, could the transrealistic manifesto be compatible with viewing plot this way:

Your characters are locked inside a train. Life outside the tracks behaves plotlessly, the tracks only having a plot apply to where the cart goes. But inside the main characters are given free reign to be themselves.

Unable to link manifesto on tablet, thus for those unfamiliar transrealism are books like A Scanner Darkly, Infinite Jest, et cetera.

I think of the characters as the maze structure, but the plot is a train going on forever unless it runs out of fuel.

This only really magical aspect in the dream that inspired the question, is that wherever I went I could use my bottom to vault to higher platforms like Mario.

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading Seveneves and Animal Money December 23, 2014 - 2:34pm

A Transrealist Manifesto feels really contradictory and ill-formed, which is odd because in general I agree with many of the underlying sentiments: we need our fiction to be grounded in reality to give the work substance, but aware enough of the irrational and surreal to create interest; SF tropes are often stand-ins for archetypical ideas that pervade all of our stories; characters that feel 'real' are often filtered through the author's perceptions of 'real' people. But once it goes into proscription: "The Transrealist artist cannot predict the finished form of his or her work", "Ideally, a Transrealist novel is written in obscurity, and without an outline.", "The idea of breaking down consensus reality is even more important" (though Rucker is very reticent in what exactly this entails,) it just kind of falls apart, at least as a movement. I think the self-aware title "a type of avant-garde literature" is apt, but looking for it to move beyond that is a little unreflective.

It's also completely unclear that any of the stories that Rucker (or mostly Walter) claim as transrealist, actually are. It feels more like they're trying to claim Dick and DeLillo and Atwood and Wallace after (or even before) the fact to give credence to the idea, rather than those writers actually adopting the idea and writing works based within it.

The maze is the perfect analogy to illustrate how this contradicts itself:

The author can only choose characters and setting, introduce this or that particular fantastic element, and aim for certain key scenes. Ideally, a Transrealist novel is written in obscurity, and without an outline. [...] In drawing a maze, one has a start (characters and setting) and certain goals (key scenes). A good maze forces the tracer past all the goals in a coherent way.

What precisely does Rucker think an outline is if not a rough sketch of the characters and setting moving past all the key scenes in a coherent way? How are we supposed to compose 'mazes' of our works without dragging our readers down each and every dead-end and circular loop (way more distracting and aggravating for a reader than the plotlessness this is supposed to cure) that we often have to write and then edit out in the process of composition, while still maintaining the semblance of a maze in the first place? Indeed, he makes a point that "Although reading is linear, writing is not." So we aren't in the end writing mazes, we're writing straight paths, but to be transrealist we have to make the whole maze, even if only the "right" path is what the readers read? Unless he's actually advocating for hypertext fiction, which would be great, but not at all appearant. And none of his other stipulations actually apply to hypertext anyway...

As for your particular question about characters on a train, you're making a categorical mistake. There is no plot without characters, there are no characters without plot. They are inseparable. A plot follows from point A to B to C because there is a character to enact that path. A different character would have a different path, and likely be aiming for a different goal altogether. To move on a different plot from A to D to Z you need a different character that would make those decisions instead. 

But as a metaphysical statement about the nature of the world, your idea is intriguing; we're all trapped on the course the world takes us on, only able to influence our direct surroundings in minute, insignificant ways... sort of thing. But you have to remember, as readers we don't care about the train, we're reading the characters. Are they aware of the train? Do they try to get off of it? Do they care? What we are reading is what the characters are doing, and if the train stops and everyone gets off at the end of the line as if nothing happened, we'd feel cheated. Same as if the train crashed and everyone died and no one knew anything about it. It's when characters take action to change their course of life that we take interest in them. That's what makes plots interesting, because the characters are the type of people to make the plot interesting.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami December 24, 2014 - 7:32pm

Yea I was iffy about the writing without an outline. Though I have a small bias, in that my first novella was written with a sixteen page outline, with a seven point structured character arc per arc. I'm literally stuck at 1,000 words without it, as I thought of books I write as short stories that work toward a novel.

I presume if locked in the train, they are trying to find a way out as it takes them to hell. Sort of a recurring theme in my work: character goes through hell, in order to learn to cope with their living world with greater wisdom.

But I agree, plot and character are inseparable.

Actually these days I'm not even sure what I'm wanting to write: I'm wanting to write for those who read stuff like Peter Pan or Mary Poppins, yet find myself slipping into a Silent Hill territory at times. (Foggy environments, limited MC autonomy, complete total uncertainty. Town with a dark secret.)

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like December 24, 2014 - 8:42pm

I've read some of Rucker's stories, liked some better than others. Some were quite weird, others more recognizably "Sci-Fi". His manifesto killed me from the outset with the "only valid approach" business. Artistic manifestos often put forward interesting ideas or approaches, but I've always disliked that sort of dogma. EDIT --- I mean also I dislike it coming from people whose work I've really enjoyed, such as T.S. Eliot. Great poet, sure, but he had some of those essays saying "The poet should do X" and "Poetry should do Z" and that stuff irks me.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami December 25, 2014 - 10:06am

I think I may have had a miscommunication about plot and character. Yes plot and character are inseparable, though what I meant was more: plot being what the writer sees, and characters are what the reader would see. I know of no other word for events happening behind the scenes.

Such as a car crashing on a railroad, and creating a train track blockage, with the main characters (what the reader sees) locked inside the train. Therefore they aren't privy to the blockage, they just want to get out of the train car. That probably makes less sense then what I can visualize in my head. More of a visual thinker.

The reason I'm thinking of it this way, is if I know the my characters are trying to break out of a train, then I'll have to plot less than if I were going for a storyline that's far less specific.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated December 29, 2014 - 1:28pm

Honestly, RR sounds like he doesn't understand sci-fi or fantasy.  I mean his idea isn't stupid or anything, but he is insisting that the a genre that is somewhat devoted to escapism should only be used to write about reality.  Sci-fi has a large sideline of trying to do practical predictions, which I guess you could say is a based in reality, but I am pretty sure that isn't what he meant.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami January 3, 2015 - 10:18am

What determines understanding of science fiction? Maybe it's just me, but to me all it means is speculative fiction with a slight grounding in the laws of fiction. As distinct from contemporary fiction with a grounding in the laws of physics.

Yes I know the argument for hard SF made by a lot of them, though I don't agree.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated January 3, 2015 - 10:14am

Well he says,

Transrealism is not so much a type of SF as it is a type of avant-garde literature. I feel that
Transrealism is the only valid approach to literature at this point in history.

since there are other approaches that are valid he doesn't seem to get it.