Saturday, November 6, 2010

story inspiration and narration

I'm using my sketch of an oceanside driftwood teepee as a metaphor for a writer's process of constructing a fiction story.

First, there needs to be an interesting idea or concept for a story.  An image, and it usually is in the form of imagery, of some idea or concept springs from the subconscious mind, and depending on the energy  the image brings with it, reveals itself to a writer as a possible story line. 

Out of the solitary quietness of a walk along a deserted beach, the sight of a delicately assembled structure like the teepee fort can't fail to arrest one's attention.  What sort of person(s) constructed this?  Extrovert rather than introvert, likely; young, probably; feelings of insecurity, maybe; building sense, surely.  Of course it would make for a neat twist in a story if the builder was someone completely unexpected, like an older woman, who lives nearby in her own home, on a small but adequate pension from her share of community property she got when she divorced her boring husband of thirty years.  So why did she erect this teepee?  It's intriguing me already.  Don't steal this story!

Let's use the teepee metaphor a little further to explore the selection of elements needed to write the story.  I'm currently reading "Letters to a Young Novelist," by the 2010 Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Mario Vargas Llhosa.  I'm not so young, but never mind; it's interesting.  Llhosa describes the elements one needs to decide on when setting out to write a story as:
  1. narrator
  2. space
  3. time
  4. level of reality
His first three criteria are not so different than those discussed by other authors, but Llhosa's eloquence and fresh ways of describing them are worth reading.  Narrator and space as discussed by Llhosa are intertwined, and are usually discussed by other writers as the Point of View (POV) to be used in narrating the story.  In choosing a narrator the writer can employ a character from within his story, i.e., someone who occupies the 'space' of the story, and who tells the story in his own words, such that the operative pronoun used throughout the narration is "I."  Of course the narrator can also be a plural narrator, such as an entire classroom of students observing the new kid arriving in class (Llhosa's "Madam Bovary" example), in which the operative pronoun in the narration will be "We."  His examples of the use of the collective (plural) pronoun in literature is worth the reading.  The story narrator can also, of course, be someone outside the story space, i.e., an omniscient narrator.  Nothing new about that, but again, the examples he uses from literature are marvelous and prompts one to think of this potential choice in new ways.  A third category of narrator he discusses is the 'ambiguous narrator,'  one concealed behind the second person, and who talks directly to the reader.  Good examples given here, too, such as Victor Hugo and "Les Miserables".

More on Llhosa later.

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