|image courtesy of sxc.hu|
“If in the first chapter a hurricane is going to blow down an oak tree which falls through the kitchen roof, there's no need to first describe the kitchen.”— James Thayer
Narrative, simply put, is story--the trunk of the writer's work. For some reason, I got to thinking about this word the other day and decided to check it out--explore the word's roots and see where such an adventure might take me. I found myself climbing branch to branch, ten in all:
1. Narrate: to tell the story of (from the Latin narrare relate).
2. Narration: the act of telling a story.
3. Narrator: a person who tells a story.
4. Narrative Arc: the structure of story. This is often described as that of a three-act play--a beginning, a middle, and an end. Narrative arc is also often pictured as a bell curve: "It starts at a point on the lower left hand side of a graph, rises in a curve to a peak, and then drops back down again." (Robb Grindstaff). In this image the story is shown progressing from introduction and setting of the stage (beginning) through conflict and complications (middle) to the story's climax, denouement, and resolution. This is also referred to as narrative structure.
5. Narrative Authority: grounding the character in authenticity and context. Nancy Lamb in her book, The Art and Craft of Storytelling, calls this anchoring. Anchor your character in time and place, she says, otherwise they won't be able to come to life. Research for authenticity. Employ the use of all five senses. Know your setting. Things like that.
6. Narrative Continuity: orienting the reader in time and space. Lamb addresses this as well: "Whatever strategy you use to increase suspense, always remember to maintain the narrative continuity of your story by orienting the reader in time and space. When you reconnect with the main plot, include a prompt about where you are." Lamb's example is a character named Lia who is on a ladder. While there she has a flashback. But the author doesn't leave her there. Lia then "grips" the ladder, bringing her back to the reader's present.
7. Narrative Threads: the storyline or, in other words, plot threads. "A narrative thread (Wikipedia) refers to particular elements and techniques of writing to center the story in the action or experience of characters. The narrative threads experienced by different but specific characters are those seen in the eyes of those characters...each thread of which is woven together by the writer to create a work." Lamb weighs in here, too. "If yours is a book," she says, "that has required lots of research, make certain your story doesn't take a back seat to the facts and figures you include. Otherwise your narrative threads will be overwhelmed by details and your story will be lost along with your reader."
8. Narrative Voice: your natural tendencies in storytelling. This definition comes from Joseph Bates in his book The Nighttime Novelist, quoted by Roseann Biederman in the Writer's Digest article, "How to Find Your Narrative Voice." In the article Biederman says, "A strong narrative voice gives your fiction a distinctive flavor and makes it stand out in a slush pile. But many beginning novelists struggle with finding their narrative voice." She continues by quoting Bates, "You may already have an understanding of your natural tendencies in storytelling; if so, wonderful. But if not, let me reassure you that those tendencies are there, that your own voice is waiting, and wanting, to emerge...(but) it's a process of trial and error. Write without overthinking what happens, and take note of what patterns you see emerge in your work that might suggest your natural strengths in voice."
9. Narrative Clutter: too much detail resulting in confusion for the reader. Ansen Dibell in his book Plot makes some good points on this subject. For example, "Don't mention the names of any characters who aren't vital to the scene or to the scene immediately following. Develop or introduce extra characters later, when the context calls for them and they have something to do. Don't have your entire cast of characters, and all their relationships, cluttering the narrative at the beginning."
10. Narrative Roots: writing from what you know, from where you come, and what you feel. "It is by the nature of itself that fiction is all bound up in the local," said Eudora Welty. "The internal reason for that is surely that feelings are bound up in place...Fiction depends for its life on place."
I'm sure there are many branches of Narrative's Tree I missed. Are there any you've explored, any you've swung from--or fallen out of? (!)