Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Writer as Street-Crossing Guard

In the process or articulating the tools of narration for your students, your clients, and for your own composition, you've outlined narrative, interior monologue, and dialogue, but with one quick point on an outline for your lecture, you might have come upon a term and concept for whom you are the likely father.

Dialogue is the medium of communication between characters, a straightforward exchange until, as you like to do to make sure your points are being taken, you can demonstrate nuance, or choice, or the spillover from the effect dialogue has on characters to the point where it also has an effect on the reader.

Say one of your students arrives late to class, late enough to feel a bit defensive.  Say further, that the student arrives in time to overhear a heated, bordering on acrimonious exchange between two or more fellow students, with the possibility of you trying to wedge in for the purpose of restoring some order if not peace.

The late student cannot help but register some response, possible ones being alarm, undifferentiated adrenaline, wariness, surprise, confusion.  Other possibilities include a combination of all these, because no one has demonstrated the invariable singleness of an emotion.

Reverse the polarity by having the late student arriving in time to hear gales of laughter and pervasive sense of merriment and mutual enjoyment.  This time, the late student's responses are more likely to be positive, convivial ones, tinged with the regret of not having been there sooner in order to get the full effect of whatever hilarity it was that produced such amused responses.

If dialogue is effective, whatever effect it will have on the reader, it will also provide some feelings for the reader, who becomes your substitute for the student who arrived late.  There is an exception:  The reader will have caught the full force of the dialogue and interaction between characters.  

The reader will have been there from the start of the scene, may not have missed the most salient of the writer's intentions in constructing the scene and its resulting dialogue as it now stands, no doubt after a few revisions and as well the editorial process.

The next step, beyond dialogue, is narrative, which is all the movement,response, evocation, description, and nuance that come from action other than dialogue.  Pretty straightforward.  Now comes another aspect of narrative, the thoughts and inferences of characters to which the reader is made privy.  

Another way of approaching this narrative tool is to say of it that it is equivalent to the reader being able to eavesdrop on the inner sensitivities of at least one character, the person chosen to serve as the filter for the story.  This was not, she realized, going to be easy.  Or, He knew he was going to have to put more effort into solving this problem; his attempts so far had given him nothing to go on.

The next step in the scale of potential narrative may be either a fresh vision on your part or the possibility of you being asked how it was you took so long to see this.  You will call it outer narration, by which you mean all aspects of story that are not dialogue nor interior monologue.  

Outer narration is an account of the filtering character, the point-of-view character, involving movements and responses that are action beats rather than internalized thoughts or questions.  John ran as fast as he could to head off the runaway horse.  Thus, outer narration.  Who was he kidding?  Did he actually think he could outrun a horse?  Thus interior monologue.

Outer narration, as you see it, hits a brick wall if it is rendered, John was cold.  Such rendition is stage direction, which is also authorial intervention.  John began to regret setting off without a jacket.  Another matter.  No hint of the author there, directing traffic.

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