Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Teller in the Tale

Three questions of major dramatic importance:

1) Who is telling the story?
2) Why that person(s)?
3) Why not use the more impersonal, objective or neutral perspective?

1) You want a source with a stake in the main dramatic problem and its outcome, exposing the depth of the source’s commitment and potential reasons—if any—that source will have for bias. For example, Nick Carraway in Gatsby.  Fitzgerald sets him up straightaway as starched, conservative, reliable.  He is also a convenient target for Gatsby, a gateway, in fact, to Daisy, who is, after all, Gatsby’s new target.  In addition, Carraway comes to regard Gatsby with a mixture of idealism and admiration, thus the reliable narrator suborned.

You may not agree with the source or even like her or him, but—and this is vital—you empathize with that person because her/his goals because you grasp their meaning to the character.  Possibly, you’ve had similar goals.  Thus you are rooting for this character in spite of not liking the individual.

2) Your choice of POV is as important to the outcome and its outcome—by which term we mean the payoff emotion and its ramifications—as the use of filters and length of exposure time in photography and as the uses of pause and attitude in an actor’s delivery of lines.

Your choice of narrator(s) has a direct effect on the emotional payoff of the narrative.  Look how our opinions of Pip rise and fall, then turn to direct empathy in Great Expectations.  Observe how close to the interior core of Huck Finn we are taken in this eponymous narrative.  See how we resonate, much as Rochester resonated across the moors separating them in Jane Eyre, when Jane announced toward the resolution of that novel, “Reader, I married him.”  Consider your feelings about the sanity of the narrator of The Tell-Tale Heart when he observes, “And yet people think me mad.”

3) An impersonal perspective distances you and the reader—if any—from what the characters felt as the story evolves, leaving you little choice but to rely on authorial intervention for description, which is something like a retired theater convention wherein an author directs an aside—a “tell”--to the audience.

Our goal as storytellers working in the twenty-first century is to evoke rather than describe.  Readers are more prepared to “get” the story if they feel it, more prepared to reject it to the point of stopping their reading if they are told, and in particular, if they sense the author trying to argue them into the “logic” of the story.  The main logic of a story is its emotional core.

Even worse than the argumentive narrative tone is the one where the reader senses the writer wishing to show off a command of language or a facility for metaphor.

Authorial intervention in narrative—usurping the role of the characters—is the dramatic equivalent of Fox TV News attempting to elbow its way past the agitated mob and into the ranks of journalism.


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