Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Big Three in Story

In your evolved belief of what story is and, as a result, how to approach constructing it or making critical comment about it, three basic forces must be recognized for bringing narrative information onto the page, Narrative, Interior Monologue, and Dialogue.

Narrative is exemplified actions filtered through the perspective of one or more characters. For example, "John goes," which brings John on stage and shows him in motion. Interior Monolog is exemplified by John, thinking, "I should go," or "I want to go." Dialogue represents some character telling John, "Go, damnit," or by John, himself, saying, "I'm going as soon as I find my shoes."

So far as you're able to see, there is no other way to bring dramatic information into play. To begin a dramatic narrative, you need at least one character with a need or a goal. The forward motion of story is the decision of a character to strive toward some goal or to strive to prevent an action or series of actions from taking place. 

Recalling your high school creative writing teacher, who bade you to in actuality or metaphor shoot the sheriff in the first paragraph, a beginning of a story could be from the perspective of a deputy, who has vowed to discover who shot the sheriff, then to bring that individual or individuals to justice. 

This is a conventional approach to energizing the narrative, but the next step to set the inertia in place is for an individual to reveal some motive for preventing the deputy from accomplishing his goal.

Your evolved awareness of story elements offers you strong suggestions that these three elements were separate, but only because you recognized the importance of each, spent some time studying the implications and techniques of each, and only in more recent years discovered the need for them being taken in concert rather than separately, as in guessing some narrative would go well here, because for this particular scene, here is a place most readers will not be able to visualize with ease. Therefore, the place must be described.

That gives us, "John looked at the building," which is direct action and, thus, pure narrative. Now, things become more complicated.  "John looked at the building, realizing he'd never seen a construction of this sort before, and wondering what purpose it could have been intended to serve." 

This is a mashup of narrative and interior monologue. If John had a companion with him, he could approach his curiosity in a way calculated to reveal his innocence, his past experiences, his statge of sophistication. "The only other time I saw a building like this was during my visit to the linear accelerator outside the Stanford campus in Palo Alto."

You need a vivid, immediate awareness of narrative, or action, interior monologue which, while a form of action, is the internal musing and thought process of an individual character, in order to make an effective introduction of dialogue into the story. Neither persons nor characters spend considerable spans of time doing only one thing; the greater likelihood is of their doing two or more things at once, narration and interior monologue, or narrative and dialogue, of snippets of simultaneous dialogue and interior monologue.

Two significant challenges accompany dialogue, the need to keep it from sounding like conversation, and the need to maintain its edgy, semi-confrontational thrust, thus the temptation to tack on attributions as frivolous as some of the riders attached last minuite to bills pending before congress. "If you come any closer, I will shoot," she said, menacingly.  "You know me well enough to know I mean business when I tell you this is my last offer," he said, meaningfully.

Reminding students, clients, and, always, yourself, how effective dialogue needs no adverbial enhancement or, indeed, a verb other than "said," you make yourself aware that a line of dialogue is in fact action. While you're at it, you should be reminding yourself that the common denominator of narrative, interior monologue, and dialogue is action.

Oh, you wanted description as an outlier? How about this. John took in the features of the small room with care.  "Is there by any chance," he said, noticing he'd begun to sniffle, "a cat in this room?  I'm quite allergic to them, you might not have known, but my nose certainly does.. The clumps of furniture and bookcases seem arranged to accommodate cats and," he brushed the back of his hand against his nose, "something tells me there've been cats here, recently."

Achoo.

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