My last post concerned Aristotle’s poetics. Today I’m going to have a look at the first of the concepts covered, that of poetic imitation.

On imitation of characters as real people:

‘…it follows that we must represent men either as better than in real life, or as worse, or as they are.’

Aristotle’s point is a subtle one, but hugely important. As writers we must be aware of the choices we make, of the words we use and when we use them and for what purpose. In representing characters we need to have a conscious understanding of the reasons why we depict one character as good and the other as bad.

Most actors will tell you that they don’t play bad characters as bad people. Nobody thinks of themselves as bad, most sane people have a reason for the way they are, the way they act. It is these reasons that we must carry across on the page.

On imitation of objects through rhythm:

‘For as there are persons who, by conscious art or mere habit, imitate and represent various objects through the medium of color and form … the imitation is produced by rhythm, language, or ‘harmony,’ either singly or combined.’

Writing styles act like instruments – the order of words on the page contribute, shaped the meaning ascertained. Not only does the way an object comes into existence change, the rhythm of our writing forms the world itself.

Aristotle talks about the pleasure of rhythm. He knew about the power of chants and persuasive speaking, all using common elements of melody. Today, science has confirmed that our ear is a finely tuned calculator, it enjoys repetition, a steady beat, and order.

On imitation of events through narrative voice and tense:

‘For the medium being the same, and the objects the same, the poet may imitate by narration- in which case he can either take another personality as Homer does, or speak in his own person, unchanged- or he may present all his characters as living and moving before us.’

The narrative mode, or the way the narrative is delivered is something I personally don’t give much thought prior to starting the writing process. In other words, for me, it just happens, I get a fairly good idea at the start of the story that POV should be second person, for example. That is probably not the best way to go, indeed Aristotle argues that poets imitate (a conscious decision, therefore) the world around them, and it is their imitation that gives meaning and life to the objects and people inhabiting their world.

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