I was looking at a forum thread about “story theory.” Things like theme, structure, and charter vs. plot were discussed.
I just finished reading Samuel R. Delany’s “Tales of Neveryon,” and was feeling particularly thoughtful. As I knew I would after reading it. Here’s my story theory.
A story is the map of an island.
Maps of poorly charted, largely unknown islands are regular. They form smooth shapes, and make easy sense of the world. They show the world to be something sensible.
But the more an island is explored, the more that part of the world falls from the unknown to the known, the more irregular the map. What was once made of sweeping lines connecting north to south, east to west, is revealed as broken and jagged.
Careful study doesn’t help. Bold headlands are crumbling, temporary structures, and even the placid, peaceful beaches can shift with a storm. The more exactingly the lines of the coast are measured, the deeper the irregularities go. The chaos never ends.
So back away from the fractal knives that threaten to cut when examining anything too closely. There’s a level of detail that, while perhaps still confusing, rewards study.
Readers can use such maps to chart an accurate course and sail past wrecking-rocks not shown elsewhere, or even to places too strange to fit on any simpler map.
No map is the territory. But some maps can be almost mystical, and in the cartographer’s carefully chosen detail reveal more about the territory than is apparent when they disembark and smell the trees and listen to the rain, and wonder what’s on the other side of the hill.