Nostos  Nostos was OED’s word of the day today, and when I looked at its definition, it hit me that this is the perfect word to apply to very long-form stories, such as TV miniseries and multi-volume works that have a long, overall narrative arc as well as a short arc for each volume.  These long, long stories often do circle back to a “homecoming” in which–however far they roam–they return to show how what’s been going on relates to the starting conditions.

I throw it out here because my readers, and the other readers of very long-form fiction, often have no way to discuss the difference between the volume arc and “the whole thing” arc when talking to people who don’t read (or watch on TV) this form of story-telling.   This might help.  (Also, I just like learning new words.)   If it appeals to you, start using it as “the long form’s circling back, completing not just a story arc but the full circle.”

In Tolkein, it’s the return of Frodo and friends to Hobbiton, where the changes wrought while they were away doing other things is shown, just like Odysseus found changes at home when he got there.   I don’t think it needs to be a physical complete circle–but it needs to settle the big issues raised for the various important characters, putting them into a new relationship with themselves and their lives.   (No ending ever satisfies the reader who just wants MORE…but that’s a different issue.)

Anyway…the nostos of the Paks books comes in Crown of Renewal, even though individuals have more years to live and more interesting things may happen to them.   Those who “knew Paks back when” and influenced her are now in the new places and relationships which resulted from her actions in the first three books.  Her arc from peasant to paladin was set then; theirs took longer to resolve.   The nostos of the Vatta books will require getting the main characters settled into a stability–from which, of course, they could be further dislodged by LifeStuff, but probably not in this writer’s lifetime.  But you never know.

3 thoughts on “Nostos

  1. As an author, do you really have to bring things to a close? Not that you have to leave an opening for someone else to continue, but is it a requirement to clean up all loose ends. Some of the fun is wondering what are hero(ine) will do next.

    I have never read the last Hercule Periot book because I don’t like to think of him dying.

    1. There’s a difference between a conclusion–that winds up the main arc–and “cleaning up all loose ends.” One is a necessary part of Story, and the other is neither necessary nor ideal.

      Consider a mystery story. It poses a major question as the arc: “Who killed Professor Smythe in the greenhouse?” Whatever else happens in a mystery, the Story demands that the killer is identified. Other subplots and problems that show up do not need to be satisfied. Suppose Detective Brown and spouse have a huge argument in chapter three, resulting in his stomping out in a rage and missing a clue and being led astray temporarily. Will they reconcile? That doesn’t have to be answered in that book, though it might be.

      Every story needs a conclusion, and in a very long story (multiple volumes, many episodes of a TV drama) the “nostos” variety, leading the reader/viewer back to the initial problem and showing its resolution, can provide a stronger emotional release. Odysseus’ return home wasn’t to the same situation, but a new one, and his defeat of the suitors didn’t end his life and that of Penelope and Telemachus, but provided a possible starting point for another story (though, realistically, Odysseus’ life up to that moment is more interesting than his probable life after, sitting home quietly with Penelope and watching Telemachus tend the olive trees & vines.)

    2. Ah, but the Odyssey ends with Odysseus knowing he will enjoy an easy old age and gentle death only after making another long journey, to propitiate Poseidon by taking a well-cut oar to a people who know nothing of the sea and never use salt with their food.

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