Southern NeoRealism: A Working Draft

The Square, Decatur, Georgia, 9 August 2009.

I’m formulating a definition of my writing style based on my recent work, which has been focused on my hometown of Atlanta. The name I’ve devised is Southern NeoRealism and I’m working to develop characteristics of it, based on common themes in my writing. For instance, a character’s motivation is often influenced by his or her religious beliefs. The challenge is to show the struggle of trying to maintain a set of principles in a chaotic and often confusing environment while remaining neutral in ones judgement of the character. People in the South are frequently more overt in their religious practices than those in other parts of the country, but don’t always practice what they preach. The goal is to handle each belief system respectfully, without descending into caricature, while not being afraid to note the contradictions sometimes demonstrated by followers of a given faith.

Below are some tenets I’ve developed to better define the style, with room to expand in the future. This is, very much, a work in progress.

Southern NeoRealism

Written in the eternal present. Current events are described as they occur to the characters.

Past tense is used to depict situations that can’t be altered.

Third person subjective voice; shifting perspectives.

Nonlinear storytelling.

A single narrative can be spread across multiple works and genres.

Historical events and existing individuals are utilized in the narrative, sometimes interacting with characters.

Contemporary Southern locales.

The sometimes tortured history of the South informs the narrative, but history is viewed with a realistic and nonjudgmental eye.

The past is neither romanticized nor glorified.

Allegorical in nature; attempts to strike a balance between surface and symbol.

The facts of a “true” story are altered without sacrificing the underlying truth.

A character’s actions are often influenced by his or her religion, and should be dealt with in a respectful manner, pointing out the contradictions sometimes apparent without resorting to stereotypes or ridicule.

6 thoughts on “Southern NeoRealism: A Working Draft

  1. I find your efforts toward a refined story-telling style quite laudable. I’m a northerner transplanted in my old(er) age to Alabama, where I’d likely have been born had the auto industry not lured so many of my previous generation to Michigan. My anecdotal impressions are that way more people down here wear their religion on their sleeves way more prominently than up north. It’s easy to observe the differences between their talk and walk as hypocrisy, but I’ve come to see it as just practicality. Most seem to exuberantly embrace parts of their religion when and where beneficial and mostly ignore it where not–and especially where it might not jibe with what they durn well intend to do. The stereotypes, though occasionally fair, are not nearly as interesting as the motivations. People need and choose to believe for a fascinating array of reasons if you dig deep enough to see the complexities. Sometimes it’s as simple as that’s what everybody else thinks and I’d rather not have to reason through it myself. Sometimes it’s desperate need: that old woman who doesn’t know how to live each day without clinging to the conviction that each day is bringing her closer to reuniting with the adorable little daughter she lost eighty years ago. I understand why someone who considers fetuses sacred would be against abortion choice, but not why that same person is indifferent to the fact that Alabama loses more than 10,000 babies a year above national average mainly because hundreds of thousands of poor mothers have no healthcare since the state refuse to take Obamacare Medicaid-expansion money. I’ve not found one yet who can explain to me why religion compels them to fight abortion taking a few hundred fetuses a year while ignoring a way to save thousands of breathing babies. That takes a trip into their minds. To do this well, you’ll need to keep striving to grow better at using point of view to your advantage. Stick to the rules, but develop finesse at using them to pull readers into the feelings and thoughts that infuse their actions. I’d be happy to send you a copy (or buy you through Amazon if you keep a Kindle library) of my short but very detailed guide on POV techniques, if you like. Regardless, I’ll be watching to see how you bring this together. Your reference to allegory encourages me to expect that more than just telling stories, you hope to say something about people and especially people of the South that helps us understand. There’s a lot to say, and a big audience for it. Good luck!

    1. Some of it came about because of my genealogical work, a lot of which is chronicled on my blog and at my genealogy site lupo dot org. Within the past year, I’ve moved to one of the counties where my family migrated in the 1800s. I really never knew much about my forebears before I started researching them. I only really knew one of my grandparents and she was of German descent from West Virginia.

      On the question of religion, I pretty much had it beaten into me (sometimes literally) as I was growing up and it wasn’t until late high school and into college that I started turning away from it. I’ve always been aware of contradictions inherent in how people conduct their affairs, insisting others meet a standard of behavior they’re not willing to adhere to. As I’ve gotten older, I now see the ways in which the power structure uses religion to control otherwise well meaning people. I’m of the opinion that it’s easier to ignore that nagging feeling of conscience when one is fully assured that he or she is “doing the right thing”.

      I would like to read your guide to POV. Rather than buying me a copy or giving me a free one, why not trade a sale for a sale. I’ll pick up a Kindle copy and if you’re so inclined, pick up a copy of Reconstruction, my latest story collection and maybe leave a verified review. I’ll do the same.

      Many thanks for your comments. Glad we connected on the Twitter.

      1. I grabbed the Kindle from Amazon. I have three books to edit in front of it, so do be patient a little while. I look forward to reading more of your work!

      2. Thanks. I’ll go find yours and purchase. Five or six people have sent me books to review when I can, but I’ll go ahead and start on yours when I have a copy.

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