Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Narrative Focus

Narrative, narrative, narrative... what a wonderful thing. Aside from dialogue I think one might find narrative a very important entity within a piece of written work. How else might one transport one's eyes, and thusly their grey matter from point A to point B in a coherent manner without having to consider who said what and why?

Ah, it be narrative. Shame that I often have so much trouble with it. In the Figurative Language post, we saw that there is a right way to construct a sentence as part of the narrative structure, but we didn't consider what we can do with the narrative, and there lies the rub.

You see, I was reading a book t'other day and I came across an h'epiphany regarding the very different ways in which narrative may be constructed, and I don't mean first person present tense and all that fandangleness. No, pay attention.

So much of my prose can be confusing to the reader, but worse still it is confusing because I have failed to consider what elements I can focus my narrator's attention on, and thusly the reader's. How so, I hear you say?

I've tried to distill a concept for narrative choices, and it may be wrong, or not entirely complete, but this is an experimental blog and thus the mind that creates it hasn't yet had its premises inspected and signed off by the building commission.

Reflection - narrator / character reflects on the past / present / future
And for many, for Father, for me now, the risk of missing a catch through fear of foul weather is too great. If you aren’t out there catching, you’re not paying your way.

This is the living; what it is to live from hand to mouth.
Action - physical movement, physiological movement / reaction, interaction with others / object
And if I pause in my work to watch the motion, my body braced against the open-air cabin as I cast the last clove hitch between the port railing and my stash of pot traps, it looks as if he’s master of all the sea.
Intention - decision / impetus / drive to perform an act
He was my only companion for the journey, his head cocked to one side or the other, eyeing the bait I worked between my fingers. I regarded him but gave him nothing, promising instead the spoils if he stayed with me. There he lingered on my promise.
Observation - senses, dialogue delivery
Father’s lineage has bestowed me with his waxy, chiselled features, a sailor’s skin rigged to withstand the constant saltwash. I have his strong hands and the same sturdy disposition surges through my bones against the sea’s heave-ho.
Perception - like observation but subjective
He could manage all that and more, winching, knotting, securing from port to starboard; all the while grinning windward as only true sailors can. Alone, I barely had time to secure myself. I’m certain to this day that he’d made a pact with the sea. In return for having a storm’s forewarning he’d commit himself to her deep bosom one day, as if I’d been right all these years and Mother had meant nothing to him.
Wish / Need - future reflection
That first time alone, my entire catch scuppered by the dirtiest of squalls, I prayed. Whilst I’d had none of my father’s nous, I hoped I’d been blessed with some of his luck.
Feeling - how the character feels generally or their observation towards a situation / object / person (with feeling)
In the roar, the swoosh and the whoop of the squall I could hear nothing else; not the bilge pump I hoped was still running, nor my own screams of despair.
Relating - reflection vs feeling / observation towards a situation / object / person
He has a herring gull’s determination: fixed and stoic and calculating. It’s the same expression worn off ship by my father, whether skulking about the house, swigging whiskey from his favoured tin mug, or flipping mackerel in a skillet.
Resolving - intention vs feeling / observation towards a situation / object / person
On my maiden voyage, the first I made in the wake of his death, lying ahull was the only option. In my eagerness to get underway and my anxiety to honour his memory I failed to prepare.
All examples are from a short story of mine.


Anonymous said...

Exactly this sort of thing, and quite a bit more, is explained in Dwight Swain's book, Techniques of the Selling Writer.

And J.K. is that.

R1X said...

I will keep a look out for Dwight, thanks.