Friday, May 12, 2017

The ABCs of Book Writing: I is for INTERTEXTUALITY . . .

Infographic for Weekly Blog Series on Book Writing and Publishing: I is for INTERTEXTUALITY
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. . . and enhancing your own IDEAS.

What is intertextuality? And why should I know about it?

Intertextuality is a term used in literary theory to designate the diverse ways that any literary text inevitably refers to other texts, both past and contemporary. These other texts may include novels, nonfiction books, and other written works. The text in intertextuality also encompasses other forms of artistic and cultural expression:

—ideas and beliefs
—sayings, conventions, and oral traditions

Intertextuality reflects the reality that culture is a way of life. It is therefore inevitable that a writer's cultural experience and community will find direct or indirect expression in his or her own writing. Intertextuality is important because recognizing and using it effectively can add to your personal stock of ideas, and enrich your writing.

For an overview of intertextuality, watch the video at the bottom of this post.

Intertextuality in fiction and nonfiction books

There are many ways that one text may refer to another. Such references may be direct or indirect, conscious or unconscious on the part of the author. In written works, they may be found anywhere from commercial nonfiction to literary and genre fiction, and might include the following:

—structural parallelism

Examples of intertextuality in literature and popular culture

Examples of intertextuality from the literary canon include Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which refers to Dante's Inferno, and his later novel Victory, drawn from Shakespeare's The Tempest. Among the best-known literary examples of intertextuality is James Joyce's Ulysses, a modern retelling of Homer's Odyssey.

Examples of intertextuality in TV & movies
Today's popular culture is also rich in intertextuality. The long-running comedy series The Big Bang Theory combines fresh, clever writing with extensive intertextual references to earlier sitcoms, Star Trek, Star Wars, various action-hero movies, comic books, and popular science—to name just some examples. In film, notable intertextual variations on earlier plots include Sleepless in Seattle (1993), which uses quotes, clips, and music from An Affair to Remember (1957), and Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), a millennial adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813).

The power and pitfalls of intertextuality in writing

Examples from literature and popular culture show that, used with awareness and innovativeness, intertextuality can be a powerful creative tool. Just the introduction of a short but apt quote can add an extra level of artistry and meaning to your writing. Beware, however, of overdoing your intertextual references and adaptations, or you might run the risk of having your work dismissed as too derivative. Falling back on hackneyed writing, discussed previously, is another kind of intertextual faux pas. Worst of all, for ethical as well as artistic reasons, is plagiarism, an extreme and always unacceptable form of intertextuality.

If you are unsure of what constitutes intertextual innovation, freshness of expression, and fair use, err on the side of minimalism: a pithy quote, passing allusion, or new twist on an old idea. When handled with deftness and discretion, intertextuality adds dimension and interest to your writing. 

Sources for this post: M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms, 5th ed. (1988); Chris Baldick, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (1990); and David Lodge, The Art of Fiction (1992).

Coming next week . . . "J is for JUST write"

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