Thursday, 11 November 2010

Narrative Class [5]

Over the last few weeks on the course, I’ve been getting strong signals that my planning and practical application skills need to be bazookaed and built from scratch. This surprised me as I have always been a naturally analytical person, but less so for writing.

Today we discussed narrative position in depth and I felt lights switching on in those blank rooms in my brain. I’m not in possession of a clever, ingenious or fast-acting mind. I’m lucky to have been allowed into another university, frankly. I’m sure someone made a mistake. So when we are told about a crucial skill integral to our future as writers, I need some time to grapple with this concept. Not the skill itself, merely acknowledging this fact. I put this down to a pathological avoidance problem, but that’s another story.

We discussed the various nuances of first and third person narrators, ranging from interior monologue to detached, informational voices. How to shift between positions in the chosen narrative style was demonstrated by a story which goes from close third person narrator to omniscient within the space of a sentence. Reading the story again in this context really opened my eyes to the depth of subtlety it is possible to have in a story. It is also incredibly intimidating.

Today I felt knowledge and understanding dripping through. To avoid making a decision on narrative position from the outset only leads to bits falling apart, stories crumbling like unloved cake. I’ve decided to revisit a past project for the next assignment, which I’ve been sellotaping together from bits of gleaned information. I hope to be able to lay proper foundations—cement, bricks, stanchions, the whole caboodle—this time.

I feel confident about my writing most of time, but when there are glaring design glitches, things peter out and I’m left with more folders stuffed with stale work I can’t use. My confidence has slumped in the last month or so as a result. I’ve decided to switch to using paper and a pen for first drafts. It’s easier to make brain-scraping decisions without a cursor blinking at you all the time.

Scary as this may seem, there is a difference between learning technical aspects of writing in a classroom and applying them to your own work. The two sides of writing and theory can be symbiotic, so what matters, I think, is an awareness of the possibilities for how to tell your story, having the necessary technical knowledge at your disposal to make professional and informed decisions on the work, and to justify these decisions. This could be the difference between ‘aspiring’ and ‘professional’ writer.


  1. I can empathize completely. I taught High School English Language Arts for the past five years. It was difficult for me to apply those same rules I impose on my students and transfer to my writing. I find them really constraining. But from what you stated above (first person versus third person narrative and the subtle nuances necessary for great writing) seem to stifle me.

    Sorry about the slump. Your a great writer who uses rich language and great imagery. Things will turn around for you.

  2. Hi Chary. I find it easy to get into patterns that don't necessarily help my writing. In my case it's a matter of discipline and deeper thinking. Having all the tools at our disposal doesn't magic us into being great writers.

    Thank you for the encourgement! I hope things turn around for you too, and you find a way of writing that works for you.

  3. I have such strong biases on Narrative PoV that I find it hard to stretch myself. I REALLY prefer both reading and writing deep 3rd person. The informative narrator BORES ME (nearly none of it has enough heart for me), the omniscient narrator seems to lack imagination, and a first person seems clumsy--but how am I to grow if I never give it a go!? For my NaNoWriMo I am doing my first attempt at first person (since it is the least hated of the options i don't do). I've had to catch myself falling into 3rd several times, but it is working with the story, I think.

    You can do all of this--just keep at it!

    PS: started Man or Mango--am enjoying it, though my son asked me how a person couldn't know the difference. I explained that I THOUGHT it was a question of which was preferred, not which a thing was...

  4. I'm in agreement about third person. I'm glad you're trying first too.

    Man or Mango! Excellent! (I say this days after the original comment was posted knowing my response will never be read).