Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Storytelling and Communication

Over the weekend, The Frisky Pagan put on an impromptu writing clinic over at his blog, The Emperor's Notepad. And when he ponders, he ponders deeply. Of particular note are his first three days.

On the 9th, he tackles what he calls "Deep POV"--or a strict, character-locked version of the limited third-person point of view:
I believe that what defines [deep POV] is something that doesn’t appear in any of its definitions, it’s something that is implied but not acknowledged, an unintended consequence: killing the narrator as an independent character and observers. In other words, no text will be written unless it’s perceived or processed through some character’s (deepish or not) POV. I don’t believe deepness is really the point here; it’s that the narrator disappears as an independent character.
On the 10th, first-person narrators:
I became very aware of that when I found myself reading a story, I think it was a short story but it could have been a novel, an urban fantasy I believe, with a first-person, past-tense narrator. The narrator was in the middle of a car chase and did all sort of cool stuff, very detailed cool stuff, and I thought, this is it, that’s what is wrong with these stories: there’s no way anybody could remember all that. 
All these first-person narrators have an eidetic memory. They keep pointing out the people’s shoe colors, or that they were fiddling with their cuffs, or that their own eyebrows arched at a precise microsecond… And this is supposed to be someone telling you his personal story, his life, perhaps years later after the fact? It’s not, of course, it’s just a traditional third-person narration with the pronouns switched.
And on the 11th, the traditional method vs. the traditional wisdom of story openings:
Now, I’m not saying this will make me throw out the book, but you notice the difference, right? All the older books start by setting the scene, the setting, even the plot… contemporary fiction starts by telling you someone you know nothing about leans to one side of his chair.  
Although modern fiction tries to imitate movies, if this were a movie, this is not how the movie would start. A movie doesn’t start with a close, very close shot of someone smiling and leaning on his/her chair. It starts with a wider shot of the television set, establishing the scene, telling you it’s not a live interview, THEN you focus on the characters.
In response, Misha Burnett joins in teaching the clinic:
What Emperor X got me thinking about, though, was that there is another side to the fictive conversation. Voice is determined not simply by who is talking, but by whom is being talked to. 
Imagine that you are relating the story of an accident that occurred at your workplace. You are going to tell the story very differently to the police, to your boss, to a coworker who was off that day, and to a friend who knows you, but has never been to your work. 
Even assuming that you tell the absolute truth in all instances, the way you tell the story, which details you include or leave out, how you describe the actions and personalities of the people involved, the order in which you describe the events, all of these things will be determined by the person listening to the you tell the story. 
Hence the “Invisible Character”, the Listener.
Taken together, the blog posts reaffirm the ancient wisdom of communication, that the act of communicating requires a speaker, a message, and an audience. Given that writing has such a separation between the speaker and the audience, it is no surprise that many writers forget about the audience altogether. Many literary novelties are written for the speaker's sake--such as three codas to a story written in the three persons of point of view--and not for the effect on the audience. The faults tackled in these blogs all boil down to writers forgetting about the audience and focusing on the flash of writing, like a metalhead speed freak who can shred through guitar riffs but cannot play a song.

Check out all the articles, there's more gold to be gleaned.

1 comment:

  1. "Many literary novelties are written for the speaker's sake"

    I have a post in my drafts folder, which I was sure I had published but apparently not, hell, I even remember some people answering to it but whatever I must be losing it, about "writer-based" and "reader-based" writing. Some psychologist wrote papers on writing thirty and forty years ago, arguing that bad or amateurish writers, cognitively speaking, basically write for themselves.