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. . . And a New Beginning!

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Mar. 4th, 2008 | 10:38 am
mood: cheerfulcheerful

Immediately after ending Lord of the Dark Downs, I began work on The Dogwatchers. So far, I'm quite pleased; I've just started the second chapter, and things are going well (well, not for the characters, but things are going as planned by me, so well for one of us, anyway). I did run into one thing, though, that has given me trouble in the past, so I thought I'd muse a bit on narration.

My professor of Advanced Fiction has instilled in me great value of active pace and staying close to the characters, and has encouraged us to cut narration from our work. He compares the POV character to a marionette, saying that the reader steps into this character, but that during narration, the marionette hangs limp, doing nothing. This makes sense, but at the same time, narration can be a useful tool, and I have seen it done well. After the amount of narration-bashing we see in class, though - and each creative writing class tends to have a lot of impact on me, as I feel like I haven't had many of them - I find difficulty using it. I feel almost guilty. Normally, this isn't a problem, as it's easy to avoid, and work does often improve when it's more active, but the beginning of this second chapter has presented me with an issue which gave me problems even before narration became a quasi-taboo: passage of time.

I remember in my first novel that I followed the POV character for at least two full days, maybe three, before finally doing a sort of "over the next few weeks" transition. This is precisely what I'm dealing with now; in Chapter One, a character comes to live in a new place, and the events of Chapter Two deal mostly with what happens about two weeks later, but I really want to convey a feel of what's been happening in the meantime, particularly so that the reader understands why the character dislikes her new home. I can think of several levels of narration with which this could be accomplished:

Lots: Begins with something like "over the next two weeks," but goes into a page or two of detail on what sort of thing happened. Uses "would" phrases, as in "she would go to work in the mornings," and comes across as a bit annoyingly inactive, but conveys daily goings-on fairly well, and seems almost to fit into the style of the story so far. This is how I've currently started the chapter.

None: Jump right into the action two weeks later and just show what is going on now in the character's life, living conditions, and so on. This has the advantage of showing, not telling, but the disadvantage of making it harder to convey things which have been happening right along or happen sometimes during the two weeks but not on the day I jump into. It also seems, with the slower pacing of the story, almost relentless, as if perhaps some narration is called for.

Compromise: Jump in, but include some notes which are narrationish to note whether something has been happening right along or is new. ("This was no surprise, as it had been going on all week.") These may be more acceptable from, say, my professor's point of view (not that he's going to read this necessarily), as they can spring from character a little more, and I would probably prefer this approach to the harsher "none."

So we'll see. I plan to look at how a few of my favorite authors got this effect - skipping ahead in time has always been tough for me.

A small note on the bright side, and also related to time: I've established the setup of weeks in my fantasy world! I'm constantly worldbuilding, which means a lot of research, so I learn things like the history of the week. (In ancient Rome, they had an eight-day week, and they just used letters for the names of days! Creative, right? But then, this is from the guys who brought you "September," "October," and "December," which actually were the seventh, eighth, and tenth months on their calendar at the time.) I also learned that glass marbles were officially invented in Germany in the 1800s, though both marbles (found in ancient Egypt) and glass (just really freaking old) are, well, really freaking old. So I suppose my character likely has clay marbles . . . good to know.
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"Also, I can kill you with my brain."

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from: toastedcheese
date: Mar. 5th, 2008 04:17 am (UTC)
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Hmm... I think any of your options could work, although I agree that "none" is maybe not such a good idea.

And to be fair, narration can spring from character (although if it doesn't, that can be okay under the right circumstances) It's just less active than action. As long as what you're narrating is interesting and important, I don't think you'll have a problem.

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Anica Lewis

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from: anicalewis
date: Mar. 5th, 2008 05:46 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I went to look at how Diana Wynne Jones did this in the book Conrad's Fate, which I remembered thinking did it quite well, and it seems like it most closely matches the "compromise" method.

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