**Giveaway alert for Banishing Verona by Margot Livesey—see info at the end of this post! Now on with today’s topic…
If I set up a soapbox to read a politically charged excerpt of my novel in front of City Hall, one or two curiosity seekers might stop to listen. But if fifty thousand marched with me to City Hall, and we read in unison, not only would many more onlookers take notice, but the mayor himself would come to the window, the whole thing would be captured on television, and then become a YouTube #flashnovel sensation (hmm, promo note to self).
You know it to be true: the voice of a group is more powerful than the voice of an individual. Since the earliest staged tragedies, storytellers have made creative use of groups to comment with a collective voice on a story’s dramatic action. Known as a Greek chorus, its sole purpose was to amplify the effect of the action onstage through unison movement or speech.
Uses for a Greek chorus might be to:
- provide background information to help the audience follow the story
- comment on themes
- demonstrate how the audience might react emotionally to the drama
- express what the main characters cannot, such as hidden fears or secrets.
The technique is still alive and well. In her debut, The Lace Reader, author and WU Contributor Brunonia Barry bolstered the perspectives of individual characters through a variety of Greek choruses. My guess is, the rich “types” of characters you might expect to see in her setting of Salem Massachusetts—witches, the religious conservatives who hunted them, and tourists—were the jumping off point for her New York Times bestselling novel.
Story is internal conflict made external
One reason we love story is the way it brings internal conflict out into the light of day, where we can more easily examine its components. Each of Bru’s groups amplifies one of the warring influences within protagonist Towner Whitney.
The witches, to me, represent Towner’s attempt to own her power as a woman as well as her inheritance of the gift of lace reading (a form of fortune telling). They lend heft to a passage like this:
Ann’s evolution into “Town Witch” was gradual. To hear Eva tell it, you’d think that Ann woke up one day and realized that she was a witch. In fact, it wasn’t a decision; it was an evolution. But her family history was what made her famous. The witches of Salem—the locals who have taken up the practice or the ones who’ve been practicing and have come to Salem because it has been declared a safe haven for witches—have all rallied around Ann Chase. They wear their association like a badge of courage, one that proves that the Salem witches really did exist here all along, a kind of “Look how far we’ve come” thing.