Wednesday, August 18, 2010

M.T. Anderson - Literary Experiment in Books for Children

M.T. Anderson

These are my notes from M.T. Anderson's workshop at the SCBWI LA Summer Conference, 2010.

  1. Experimental fiction is not experimental

  2. Picture books take up these elements naturally. In adult fiction they would be noticed.

  3. Experimental pieces teach us how to read them.

  4. ? (oops...missed this one...)

  1. 5. Introduce terminology. Words to describe what you're doing.

    Kurt Schwitters – contributed to surrealists. “Poem 25” - a series of numbers that teaches us how to read it - this is similar to children learning how to read. The poem is form without content. Structures don't relate to anything but themselves. Consecutive lines confirm patterns. There are surprises and disruptions. There are sequences. Uses one sequence to introduce a new sequence. Insight into the way that words turn into meaning. Structure for meaning. Group words.

    Late 19th Century children's books – syntax of narrative picked up implicitly. Children accept strange elements because they haven't yet assimilated the models that restrict us as adults.

    Oppositions. Difference. Differentiation.

    eg. Red, Blue, Old, New, Sad, Glad

    Units of sound – feel a particular way.

    It seems like the works of Suess began as doodlings and noodlings and they were 'banged into shape' later.

    Defamiliarisation. Russian formalists. The writer puts road blocks in our way. 'Nobody thinks about air until someone poisons it.'

    The Arrival – Shaun Tan. New element introduced at the end of the page. Drawn all together and contextualised. The book teaches us how to read it.

    Metafiction: any element of fiction that's about the story being a story. Eg. The Monster At The End of This Book. Grover trying to impede the progress of the book being read is in itself the forward motion of the narrative. He knows that he's part of the narrative structure. We fear the 'monster', but desire it. Like in every book. In some sense, each monster is ourselves, after all.

    'Go, Go, Go, Grabote!' Character crawls out of the artist's eye and paints it's own jungle and goes into it. This is metafiction.

    Typographical play and intrusion: experimental literature reminds and draws attention to the fact that you're reading – rather than aiming to disguise it. Techniques go almost unnoticed in children's literature such as playing with typography – eg. Lauren Childs (Charlie and Lola).

    Words as sounds instead of meaning: old dataist technique.

    Nonsense or whimsy: teaches us to read in a very different way. YA novel entitled 'YA Novel'. It has no moral: it's a datastory.

    Hypertext: does not demand that you read in any particular order. Provides links or avenues for you to read in an alternate order.

    Self-contradiction: “I am the Cheese” Has two plot lines running parallel. Characters cross over from one to another. They can't coexist. The one you least want to exist turns out to be the real one.

    No plot structure – eg: Red Fish, Blue Fish

    Experimental fiction: we see the world as sparkling with possibilities as a child does.

    See some things that break boundaries. No rules. Octavian Nothing: all documents. Some are real, some fabricated.

    Experimental can be tiring – it may be too tiring to use in a novel, but charming in a picture book.

    You are storytelling. Imagine children sitting around your knees and listening. You interact with them. You are drawing the reader closer.

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