The Poetics are a set of literary rules for Ancient Greek theatre originally set down I think by Aristotle, as guidance for writing a play. Some of the rules and precepts are still relevant. Some of the rules are relevant to all types of contemporary storytelling; novels, films, Coronation Street, plays of course and even documentaries and news stories where a narrative arc is needed to engage an audience. Plays in Aristotle’s time were tragedies; there was no other kind and they had to achieve a catharsis, an emotional purification or purgation, by the final curtain.
His view is that plot is the most important element, characters are there only to serve the plot, to advance the action and not vice-versa. There is invariably a hero-figure and he prefers his heroes to be flawed in some way, which he calls hamartia. The hero should overcome his flaw[s] in the course of the story but need not necessarily achieve power over a vanquished enemy. The object is for the hero to be wiser, rather than victorious, by the end. Heroes or ‘main characters’ must be realistic and they should have an appropriate moral purpose. They must be consistent both in behaviour and actions. A character can be inconsistent but should be written so that they are consistent in their internal inconsistency [I am thinking here of Keith in Train That Carried The Girl who misses Kiri’s wedding, offers her a job that never materialises, offers her a room in his home in Canada that never materialises, rents her apartment but never uses it, &c].
He likes reversal [peripeteia] and expects the writer to be fully aware of the uses of desis, or the weaving together all the knots of the plot , and lusis, which is the unravelling of all those knots.
To me, the tragedy of Train That Carried the Girl is that Mark loves Kiri despite her flaws.
This little essay was prompted by a recent review complaining that Kikarin wasn’t very nice. Tactless, arrogant and ‘not very likeable’ was the reviewer’s take on her. I thought I had got the ‘flawed heroine’ about right to be honest and in terms of hamartia, felt that she was much misunderstood, although I accept that she doesn’t explain herself much to those she meets.
But maybe I have got it wrong.
The wrong literary flaws, perhaps?