Sunday, January 23, 2011

Day 6 - Writing the Coherent Narrative

Plots - be they linear or nonlinear - must still be coherent.  Regardless of how strange or outlandish our stories may become, we still want our readers to understand what's going on and why.

Narrative vs. The Narrative
We have two very similar and yet distinct definitions for narrative.  The first represents a very technical usage: all the text which is not part of the dialogue.  All the details described by the narrator are part of told in the narrative.
The second definition is somewhat of a synonym for story, but is somewhat closer to the art of storytelling.  When we talk about "the narrative," we're referring to combination of style and ordering of events (plot) which delivers the story.  We can't really say "the story is smooth" because any given story can be told in a myriad of ways, some of which would be "smooth" in that we can easily follow the events as they are told.  But narratives can be smooth or disjointed, linear or nonlinear, interesting or dull.

Transitions and the Narrative
The first step to writing a coherent narrative is to simply get the events down on paper.  In your rough draft, you don't want to waste too much time on transitions and details - it's too easy to become so bogged-down in the nitty-gritty that the story itself is never finished.  After you get the ideas down on paper, though, you want to make sure they flow together.  This is where transitions come in.

The Left Hand of Darkness is a good book to study transitions because, on the surface, it seems like there aren't any.  Chapters bounce from one perspective to another without much preamble.  Some of the chapters might have an Ekumenical designation at the top, but the narratives told from Genly Ai's and Estraven's perspectives have no such markers.  Instead, these chapters plunge us straight into the new point of view, and it's up to us to figure out who's speaking based on context.

And yet the transition from chapter-to-chapter works well.  Part of this comes from Le Guin's first line of the novel: "I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination."  Right away, Le Guin sends the message that this story won't follow the norms of documentary or textbook - we know to be a bit flexible, and this sets the right tone for the continual shifting of perspective.

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