Saturday, June 07, 2008

Dramatic Modes - The Dramatic Narrative

How ever did I miss this?

It's one of those very important writing tools that I've been ever so desperate to emulate, and failed to grasp.

The question is why? The answer is that I had not correctly analysed the elements and therefore hadn't named them.

As we all know from Ursula le Guin's Earthsea: To name something is to have power over it.

Back in January (my, that's a long time ago), I evolved my concept of Narrative Focus, and listed 9 elements:
  1. Reflection - narrator / character reflects on the past / present / future
  2. Action - physical movement, physiological movement / reaction, interaction with others / object
  3. Intention - decision / impetus / drive to perform an act
  4. Observation - senses, dialogue delivery
  5. Perception - like observation but subjective
  6. Wish / Need - future reflection
  7. Feeling - how the character feels generally or their observation towards a situation / object / person (with feeling)
  8. Relating - reflection vs feeling / observation towards a situation / object / person
  9. Resolving - intention vs feeling / observation towards a situation / object / person
But what I couldn't grasp was the flow from scene to scene. That effortless movement that, in some fashion, propels us not simply from location to location, as if we were watching ye olde films with their static cameras, but through the world and the narrative - exactly as if we're on steadicam, at one pursuing the characters, then into montage, and back again.

A friend bought me James N. Frey's How To Write a Damn Good Novel. But, aside from dipping in and out (I have such difficulty maintaining interest in how to books, where it's all this is how it's done, now go and do it yourself - I know, that's how they all are), I never got further than halfway.

However, towards the back of the book is where the nuggets are, and where, in this particular case, Frey explains the concept of Dramatic Modes.

There are, points out Frey, three distinct ways of splicing the narrative, or three different modes, if you will.
  1. Dramatic Narrative
  2. Scenes
  3. Half-scenes
Let me cover, point 2 first: we all know what scenes are. They're the definable units of action, where we see our characters interact with one another, develop, and conflict. When I am writing, these are the formal elements of my prose - the bits I am conscious of setting up and writing about.

Why did I cover scenes, first? Because they're exactly what they say they are - and even the worst of writers can write a scene (rightly or wrongly).

Thirdly, half-scenes are a meshing of scenes and dramatic narrative, so we don't need to cover them.

So, to the crux of the post... what is dramatic narrative?
In dramatic narrative, the narrator relates actions, shows character growth, and exploits inner conflict, but does so in a summary fashion.
- James N. Frey (How To Write a Damn Good Novel)

I touched upon this while talking about Earthsea, some months back - or at least I was thinking about it.

Dramatic narrative separates true writers from the amateur, relating to the reader this elements I laid out (above) with regard to narrative focus - the narrative topics and direction that take us slightly out of the scene and evolve the story beyond what is happening within a said scene.

1 comment:

Billy Marshall Stoneking said...

You might find some of the ideas and essays on my site, WHERE'S THE DRAMA? rather illuminating - it seems there is a certain synergy between your explorations and mine.

Billy Marshall Stoneking at