Friday, 2 December 2011

Getting into Gear - The Narrative

I've always believed that creative writing should have powerful narrative drive. Coupled with strong characterization and an eye-catching plot, it can be the major reason why a new writer stands out from the slush pile. It is the very stuff of readability.

You may start your narrative
 in familiar territory…
But 'narrative' is a confusing term - it means more than one thing and can mean different things to different people. When writers talk about their plot, or  structure, everyone knows what they're on about, but as soon as they move on to describing the narrative drive of their work, people's eyes glaze over. The only drive they feel comfortable with is the one that gets the car out of the garage and down the road.

Actually, there's a strong similarity. The word narrative might be ambiguous and confusing, but driving the plot of a story, or any other kind of creative writing along, is a pretty straightforward concept.

Perhaps the first step to feeling more comfortable with narrative is to search for a solid definition.

First from ...A narrative is a story that is created in a constructive format (as a work of speech, writing, song, film, television, video games, photography or theatre) that describes a sequence of fictional or non-fictional events. The word derives from the Latin verb narrare, "to recount", and is related to the adjective gnarus, ‘knowing’ or ‘skilled’.The word ‘story’ may be used as a synonym of ‘narrative’, but can also be used to refer to the sequence of events described in a narrative. A narrative can also be told by a character within a larger narrative. An important part of narration is the narrative mode, the set of methods used to communicate the narrative.
Not knowing
the direction you'll take…

Hmm...hope you're clearer now! Perhaps ths, from the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms will help...A telling of some true or fictitious event or connected sequence of events, recounted by a narrator to a  narratee. Narratives are to be distinguished from descriptions of qualities, states, or situations, and also from dramatic enactments of events. A narrative will consist of a set of events (the story) recounted in a process of narration in which the events are selected and arranged in a particular order (the plot). The category of narrative includes both the shortest accounts of events (e.g. the cat sat on the mat or a brief news item) and the longest of historical or biographical works, as well as novels, ballads, epics, short stories and other fictional forms.

A fair degree of agreement between the two sources, but for writers, the word narrative also holds a far more explicit and particular connotation. When refering to this second, more writerly sense of the word  they usually are talking about the parts of fiction that are not dialogue-ridden scenes or action-packed descriptive moments in ‘real time’.  – in other words the exposition of the story, which binds it together.

If you've been reading my Kitchen Table Writers Blog for a while, you'll probably know that I'm always encouraging new writers to 'show, don't tell', and exposition is the dangerous and difficult part of writing, because it certainly is close to 100% telling. But it's a necessary part; it's the string that holds the beads of your scenes, especially in a longer piece of work.

Narrative Trajectory
When writing, especially when writing a longer piece of work,the comprehension and formation of the whole is assisted if you can hold that first, dictionary definition of narrative your mind as you write. Writing gets you very close to the internal workings of story; to return to my string of beads, what you are concentrating mostly on is creating beads and stringing them. That stringing process...the complete your narrative trajectory. Over tens of thousands of words of writing, it's a terribly difficult process to keep a check on, especially if your full work has a complex plot. But doing so will create the overall picture in your mind and you'll be less likely to only see the trees and not the wood.

Narrative Drive
at the mode of conveyance…
If a ‘trajectory’ suggests a road along which a journey is taken, the word ‘drive’ might suggest the vehicle or fuel needed for that journey. Think of narrative drive in this way; it will guide your story towards being compelling and filled with natural suspense. Narrative drive is what makes a story a page-turner, and makes us care deeply about the character and wonder what will happen on the next page. Think of yourself behind the wheel of your writing - although don't take the car analogy too far; you don't have to start out, or finish in first gear, for instance! But you do have gears within your narrative drive and successful use of them is an integral part of getting it right.

Narrative Arc
…you'll take…
You may hear this phrase when reading or talking to may use it yourself!  It refers to the trajectory or journey of a narrative, suggesting that, as a story unfolds, its shape should look something like a rainbow; reaching a peak before settling towards its ending. I like to think of an arrow shot from a bow; it travels on its trajectory which is the shape of an arc. But we've already mixed enough metaphors in this Post - necklaces and cars - without adding bows and arrows! However, using the phrase narrative arc should remind you that your story must have shape.

Narrative Mode
This refers to the methods the author uses to convey their plot. Narration occurs because the writer is using the narrative mode. It encompasses several facets which multitask to create rich writing. Most important of these is narrative point-of-view, the perspective and view of the story; and narrative voice, which determines the manner through which the story is communicated to the author.

Narrative Participation
Narrators can said to be either non-participant or participant; implied, omniscient or semi-omniscient being who does not take part in the story but only relates it to the audience, or  an actual character in the story, often the main character or protagonist; and that participation can differ in substance, concentration and form. For instance, the narrator may be a fictitious person devised by the author as in the novel Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda.

Ane where your story will end...
Marcel Proust said ...The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes... looking at your narrative through new eyes can really help you see the complete landscape of your writing.