Saturday, 30 October 2010

Narrative Class [4]

I’ve been meaning to keep on top of the MA reports, but have been distracted by— well . . . writing. Something must be going right.

The last few classes were on tone, structure and character. This is sort of thing I should be writing about but frankly, transcribing my notes is tiresome and I wouldn’t want to spread course material over the internet, or the whole university system would collapse.

Tone in particular has been my greatest concern over the last four months. I’ve written a few short stories with tighter viewpoints, narrative voice and rhythm. These involved stripping the humour from my work, which was successful in the case of a horror story, and writing a story with more sentimental content, which also went well. Both these stories were picked up when I sent them out, so I am happy with progress on this front.

My current full-length work is an attempt to explore the limitations and possibilities of narrative stance. The character, writing in the first person, refutes the success of first person as a means of storytelling while telling a perfectly engaging story in the first person. The second section, narratorless, questions the need for a third or first person POV by telling a story through documents that perform the function of plot, character, back story, etc.

The third section is, appropriately, in the third person, and is a story written about two real people—the narrative is reportage (or spying) tailored to fit the romance market. The writer’s impositions (via footnotes) gain hold of the narrative, twisting the focus of the story.

I have very clear ideas about this project, but we’re being trained to assess the worth or purpose of our work through a ruthless interrogation process. This helps to get to the heart of a project—listing its intentions, ideas and themes until a definitive purpose emerges. Almost like a psychiatrist asking: “Yes, but what do you really feel?”

My first assignment went OK-ish. It’s tricky to turn a reflective essay into an original piece of writing. It’s a skill that would be really useful in creative non-fiction, the module I’m doing next year. I overdid the humour in this one, knocking the tone off-balance so it sounded like a piss-take. Oops. I want to write the story, though, as I have a voice in mind for the lead.

The geese above are named Concert & Roderick.


  1. Geese!

    And not gooses. Even if that too is allowed according to my spellcheck. Which isn't allowed. Spell check and spell-check is.

    I also meant to say something about all the sensible things you wrote above, but then I discovered I am not very sensible (a word that means something completely different in certain other languages, such as Norwegian. Not that I am all that sensitive either).

    Anyway, since I am not sensible (or sensitive) I will refrain from trying to pretend otherwise and instead ask a question with regards to the humour (which also is not allowed. Blasted American spell check!) thing. How do you keep it out? This concerns me, you see, because even when I am sensible (it happens, every now and then), I find it hard to keep my twisted sense of humour out of my writing. Any tricks you'd like to share, without tearing down the university system?

  2. Sensible? I hope not. Expansive, certainly.

    Well, I’m new to the humo(u)r expunging business, so my tips will be scant.

    Umm. Very scant. *shakes brain*

    Events in the story help: if everyone is dying of a virus then merriment seems out of place. Likewise if your character is a very serious dude unlikely to look on the bright side. Otherwise, if you have the urge to write something funny, replace it with a harrowing image. Plague. Headless mules. Mussolini in flagrante.

    There’s no reason why most stories shouldn’t be funny. I resent deeply the persecution of the witty in this age of navelgazing realism. Bring down the universities!

  3. I have just installed iStripper, so I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.