Grit in behavioral terms, from Webster's: "firmness of mind or spirit, unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger"; specifically a literary sense, gritty: "having strong qualities of tough[,] uncompromising realism."
Grit, though, has other connotations for prose, etc., a grit is an individual of a rustic nature who also is easygoing and somewhat rebellious or idiosyncratic, not per se a hardboiled cynic, one of noir's conventions, nor per se a rogue, one of picaresque's conventions, both satires, for which a grit is also a potentially artful character type, especially for satire's social setting commentary convention.
Grit and gritty's denotative meanings are also fertile ground for symbolism, emblemism, and imagery, that is, sharp grains, as of sand. Grit is also an alternative name for the hard portion of a cereal grain: wheat, oats, etc., corn, in particular, the germ as opposed to the endosperm and bran portions. Plus grits themselves are a food item made from maize.
How to identify if a story's characters, usually a protagonist and possibly an anti-agonist, have grit? Such characters are determined on their goals and brook no quit or obstacle. Westerns are famous for characters with grit. The grit action of substance is an agonist's clear goal and unflinching and undeviating effort to satisfy the goal. Though an agonist may have grit or not, and a story might or might not be gritty.
Examples of gritless stories, what's good, are matters of personal sentiment. Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" is gritless in the grit sense above. The story, though, might cause readers to grit their teeth. Oates' and Alice Munro write victimism stories and generally don't portray character grit.
Mark Richard's "Strays" is mostly a gritless story, though two tertiary, relevant, and influential characters are of grit. Several stories from Richard's The Ice at the Bottom of the World story collection are likewise somewhat gritless, in other words, aimless characters.
Aimless is the same as gritless, so to speak, for an agonist's behavior, not per se a story. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been," teenage agonist Connie is aimless and that causes her problems. Uncle Trash of "Strays" is aimless as are his two young male charges. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" is dead-serious and uncompromising realism, though, and gritty for it. "Strays" is likewise of uncompromising realism, and gritty for it, though hilarious.
I've never described a piece as gritty, though of course the adjective is common enough. If someone were to say that a story I wrote was gritty, I'd take it as a compliment and say 'Thanks' without really understanding what they're getting at.
However, if someone were to say my story didn't have grit, I'd figure what they mean is that the actions in the plot are resolved too easily. I see this all the time in fiction, particularly workshop fiction. A lot of the time this is the result of writers simply trying to move the story forward with as little difficultly as possible.
If not this, I'd take it to mean the protagonist doesn't exhibit enough agency. Like a gritless plot, a gritless character is led around by the nose. They go to point A to point B because they're told to, not because they want to.
Grit probably has to do with narrative tension.
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"Grit" does evoke tension through antagonism; that is, an antagonal and causal circumstance compels firmness of mind and courage in the face of hardship or danger. Tension's reader emotional effects, empathy-sympathy and curiosity arousals, is a consequence of artful antagonism and causation.
A big iron law enforcer who wants to resolve a problematic and vile villain and on an unstoppable pursuit is True Grit, Charles Portis' novel and film adaptations, for example. Matty has grit as much as Rooster Cogburn. Matty's grit is strongly and clearly implied, Cogburn's directly stated -- a touch of inspired craft and appeal in that congruence.
The novel is also gritty realism. How can a film's default realism but be otherwise than gritty? One way comes easy to mind -- a correspondent recounts an action through summary and explanation, the correspondent's foreground bust the only focal image recorded. Gritless and non-gritty.