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COMPOSITION AND CONTENT ORGANIZATION. TYPES OF NARRATION
As a narrative a work of fiction employs certain techniques creating a vivid character, setting a scene, developing a plot, arranging events to have a relation to one another. In order to establish significance in narrative, to raise the level of generality, to extend or complicate the meaning, there will often be coincidence, parallel or contrasting episodes, repetitions of various sorts, including the repetition of challenges, crises, conciliations, symbols, motifs.
The traditional narrative-compositional forms are narration about events (narrative proper), description, dialogue, argumentation.
I. Narrative properexists as:
· The author’s narrative supplies the reader with direct information about the author’s preferences and objections, beliefs and contradictions, i.e. serves the major source of shaping up the author’s image (the unfolding of the plot is mainly concentrated here, personages are given characteristics, the time and the place of action are also described here, as the author sees them). In Charles Dickens’s book A Tale of Two Cities (1859) the author’s narrative describes the setting of the novel – England and France of 1775 – the way he sees it: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some authorities insisted on its being received for good or for evil in the superlative degree of comparison only”.
· The figural narrative situation has no visible narrator and presents events through a character’s perspective. The entrusted narrative takes place when the author’s function is entrusted to one of the personages. It makes the writing more plausible, impresses with the effect of authenticity of the described events. Thus, in H. Melville’s Moby Dick (1851) the entrusted narrative is presented in the first person singular. The narrator tells the story of mono-maniac Captain Ahab, who swears vengeance on the White Whale that has crippled him. Ishmael is the only participant of the hunt who survives to describe the tragedy firsthand:“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world”.
· Represented inner speech conveys feelings and thoughts of the character that remain unuttered. Study how Susan Hill represents the inner speech in A Bit of Singing and Dancing (1973): “She thought, I can stay out here just as long as I like. I can do anything I choose, anything at all, for now I am answerable only to myself”. It is characteristic of John Galsworthy to include represented speech into the author’s narration without any perceptible transition from one to the other: “He became suddenly conscious that he was doing an indelicate thing. To have brought Fleur down openly – yes! But to sneak her in like this!” – the episode from To Let (1921) reveals the shock the main character got coming unexpectedly on his mother when he was meeting a girl secretly – “Something like despair ravaged the heart of his watching Fleur. If she left him for Winfred! But surely – no – her father, her house, her dog, her friends, her – her collection of – of – she wouldn’t – could not give them up!” Sometimes a third-person narrative shifts into adopting the point of view of one of the characters. Unless you read carefully, you may assume that it is still the narrator’s voice.
There are two techniques for representing consciousness in prose fiction. One is interior monologue, in which the grammatical subject of the discourse is an “I”, and readers overhear the character verbalizing his or her thoughts as they occur. The free direct representation of an “ordinary” stream-of-consciousness in interior monologue quotes the character’s thoughts. Narrative mediation gives way to the character’s psychological association. Being half asleep in bed, Molly Bloom (James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)) thinks about her first encounter with her husband: “…all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes then I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls use or shall I wear red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to again yes and then he asked me…”
The other method renders thought as reported speech (in the third person, past tense) but keeps to the kind of vocabulary that is appropriate to the character, and deletes some of the tags, like “she thought”, “she asked herself”, etc., that a more formal narrative would require. This technique in which the narrator’s voice merges with the voice of a character or characters is sometimes called free indirect speech. It gives the illusion of intimate access to a character’s mind, but without totally surrendering authorial participation in the discourse. E.g. “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning – fresh as if issued to children on a beach.” (Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (1925)). The first sentence is a statement of an authorial narrator, but an impersonal one without explanations who Mrs Dalloway is. The next sentence moves the focus of the narrative into the character’s mind adopting free indirect style.
Narrative texts are sequential ones that present the stories through actions of characters and through a narrator’s voice.
II. Description gives a mental picture of something that can be seen or perceived through the other senses. Description is used to depict scenery (landscape, seascape, townscape), premises (interior), appearance (portrait), things of material world. Description is static, it may be detailed and direct or impressionistic, giving few but striking details. The order of writing description can be spatial or the order of importance. The emphasis is usually laid on attributes. Pay attention to the vivid description given by Tony Parsons in Man and Boy (1999): “The car smelled like somebody else’s life. Like freedom. It was parked right in the window of the showroom, a wedge-shaped sports car which, even with its top off, looked as sleek and compact as a muscle. Naturally it was red – a flaming, testosterone-stuffed red. (…) I just liked the way it looked. And that smell. Above all, that smell. What was it about that smell? Amidst the perfume of leather, rubber and all those yards of freshly sprayed steel, you could smell a heartbreaking newness so shocking that it almost overwhelmed me. (…) I knew that smell from somewhere and I recognised the way it made me feel. Funny enough, it reminded me of that feeling you get when you hold a newborn baby. The analogy was far from perfect -– the car couldn’t squint up at me with eyes that had just started to see, or grasp one of my fingers in a tiny, tiny fist, or give me a gummy little smile. But for a moment there it felt like it just might”.
III. Dialogue (the neutral scenic narrative) reports the conversation of two or more people; the speaker’s exact words are reported or imagined. Dialogue brings the action nearer to the reader, makes it seem more swift and intense. Dialogue is the main component of drama, but it also can be seen in the emotive prose. Writers use dialogues to give their readers a sense of immediacy and involvement. In the story An Encounter with an Interviewer (1874) Mark Twain resorts to dialogue to show a parody on the American press:
Q. Well, it was only a suggestion; nothing more. How did you happen to meet Burr?
A. Well, I happened to be at his funeral one day, and he asked me to make less noise, and –
Q. But, good heavens! If you were at his funeral, he must have been dead, how could he care whether you made a noise or not?
A. I don’t know. He was always a particular kind of a man that way.
Q. Still, I don’t understand it at all. You say he spoke to you, and that he was dead.
A. I didn’t say he was dead.
Q. But wasn’t he dead?
A. Well, some said he was, some said he wasn’t.
Q. What did you think?
A. Oh, it was not of my business! It wasn’t any of my funeral.
IV. Argumentationcan be in the form of expository writing (or reasoning) and lyrical digressions. In XVIII-XIX century prose authors could appear as a commentators and moralists, philosophers and publicists. In A Tale of Two Cities (1859) Dickens speculates how the noble goals of freedom fighters became the crazed bloodbath called the Reign of Terror: “Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh. Six tumbrils carry the day’s wine to La Guillotine. All the devouring and insatiate monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in the one realisation, Guillotine. And yet there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a blade, a leaf, a root, a sprig, a peppercorn, which will grow to maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced this horror. Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.”
The events in the narrative are arranged with respect to time. That arrangement involves the notions of order, duration, and frequency. Order refers to the relationship between the chronology of the story (the order in which the events of the story occur in the fictional world) and the chronology of the narrative (the order in which the narrative presents those events). The events and things described in the text can be presented:
· In chronological order:in many types of writing – short stories, biographies, and historical accounts, for example – it is the most effective way of presenting a series of events. Notice how the following paragraph from a science fiction story uses chronological order to dramatize the hardship of the characters’ journey.
“The summer was waning when Shann took his two sons and went ahead to explore the way. For three days they climbed, and for three nights slept as best they could on freezing rocks, and on the fourth morning there was nothing ahead but a gentle rise to a cairn of gray stones built by other travelers, centuries ago.”
Arthur C. Clarke, History Lesson (1949)
A story may begin with a set-piece description of a landscape or townscape that is to be the primary setting of the story (for example, the sombre description of Egdon Heath at the beginning of Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native (1878)). It may begin with a self-introduction by the narrator (“Call me Ishmael” in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851)). A writer may begin with a philosophical reflection. Many novels begin with a “frame-story” (Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw (1898) consists of a deceased woman’s memoir which is read aloud to guests at a country-house party who have been entertaining themselves with ghost stories). Traditional beginnings of fairy-tales are ab ovo.
· In non-chronological order: the story can be anachronic with a combination of diverse stories. Through time-shift, narrative avoids presenting life as just one thing after another, it allows the reader to make connections of causality and irony between widely separated events.The writermay start the storyin medias res:for example,begin a mystery story with a murder and then circle back to the events that led up to the murder (famous Agatha Christie’s detective novels and stories). The narrative of the Odyssey begins halfway through the hero’s hazardous voyage home from the Trojan War, loops back to describe his earlier adventures, then follows the story to its conclusion in Ithaca. At the beginning of J. Kellerman’s detective novel Billy Straight (2000) the main character, a twelve-year-old Billy becomes a witness of a violent murder – a man viciously butchers a woman. As he runs for his life, his potential savior Petra Connor, a homicide detective, untangles the knots of the committed crime.
· A flashback (analepsis or retrospect) takes the reader to the event that happened prior to the present and clarifying it. Flashbacks help readers get a sense of what happened earlier that led to the present situation and what motivates characters. It changes the interpretation of something which happened much later in the chronology of the story:
“My feelings about Garfield are further bedeviled by what Garfield has become. He has shrunk – almost literally – from the strong, commanding figure he once was to the slighter, more tentative person that old age and illness have rendered him (…) He has a variety of cancer – I’m not sure which – and has only about two years to live. Just after a strange request, stranger perhaps because he made it of me. He asked me to take a photograph from my father’s bedroom window, looking down towards the river. He wanted a photo that would show the path by the side of the field, the trees, the big pool and the fields and farms beyond. I agreed of course, but never got round to it. So here is the beginning of a feeling of guilt which is mixed in with all the other feelings making the whole lot more confused than before.”
D.S. Mackenzie, The Language of Water (1991)
A flash-forward (prolepsis) interrupts the present chronology of the story and connects it to the future. Foreshadowingoccurswhenthe writer hints about something that may happen in the future, it can help build suspense or arouse curiosity:
“With the reindeer it was more complicated. They were always nervous, but it wasn’t just fear of Noah, it was something deeper. You know how some of us animals have powers of foresight? (…) The reindeer were troubled with something deeper than Noah-angst, stranger than storm-nerves; something… long-term. (…) And it was something beyond what we then knew. As it was something beyond what we then knew. As if they were saying, “You think this is the worst? Don’t count on it”. Still, whatever it was, even the reindeer couldn’t be specific about it. Something distant, major… long-term.”
J. Barnes, A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (1989)
Descriptions can be presented in the following way:
· In order of impression:the writer begins with the image that creates the most powerful impact and then describes the peripheral or less compelling images: “He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before – this sleek, sinuous, bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake and a-shiver – glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man, who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea”
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (1908)
“When she reached the third window her mouth opened wide, like a newborn chick demanding to be fed. <…> there, hanging round a slender marble neck, was a peerless diamond and ruby necklace. She felt she had seen the magnificent piece of jewelry somewhere before, but she quickly dismissed the thought from her mind, and continued to study the exquisitely set rubies surrounded by perfectly cut diamonds, making up necklace of unparalleled beauty. Without giving a moment’s thought to how much the object might cost, Consuela walked slowly towards the thick glass door at the entrance to the shop, and pressed a discreet ivory button on the wall. <…>
Although the room was full of treasures that might in normal circumstances have deserved hours of her attention, Consuela’s mind was focused on only one object”
J. Archer, Cheap at Half the Price (1983)
· In spatial order – organizing physical descriptions of people and places:
“The sky too has its changes, but they are less marked than those of the vegetation and the river. Clouds map it up at times, but it is normally a dome of blending tints, and the main tint blue. By day the blue will pale down into white where it touches the white of the land, after sunset it has a new circumference – orange, melting upwards into tenderest purple.”
E.M. Forster, A Passage to India (1924)
· Zoom in and zoom out techniques bring along a panoramic view then focusing on progressively finer and finer details and ending with a close-up description of one aspect of the scene or vice versa, these are two cinematography terms applied to writing:
“The lawn started at the beach and ran towards the front door a quarter of a mile, jumping over sundials and brick walks and burning gardens – finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his legs apart on the front porch.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)
Duration refers to the relationship between the length of time over which a given event occurs in the story and the number of pages of narrative devoted to describing it. Thus, duration is what produces the sense of narrative speed. To the Lighthouse (1927) by Virginia Woolf comprises three parts of different duration (the second one is the shortest but still covers the period of ten years, while the first and the third render the events of one day).
Frequencyinvolves the relationship between the ways in which events may be repeated in the story (the same event may occur more than once) and in the narrative (a single event may be described more than once).
The plot is the chain of events which are gradually unfolded in accordance with the author’s conception and the way the novel is arranged. Plots involve series of actions that are connected to one another and that are resolved in a logical manner. Plots generally include conflict of some kind that generates interest, suspense, emotional involvement. According to Aristotle, in a well-constructed plot everything hangs together, and changing one thing will wreck the plot’s unity and impact. A long story or a novel may have several lines of the plot, interwoven, sometimes whimsically entangled. Subplot or side-story is a ploy line that has no direct connection to the main one and to main characters, but is important for understanding various aspects of the characters’ personalities and the world created by the author. It is also possible to imitate the stream of consciousness and to offer random events from which readers can construct some stories in their own minds.
The following elements of the plot are distinguished:
· exposition (rising action)sets the scene giving the revealing description of the main characters and their relationships or introducing the central conflict, it may contain a short presentation of time and place; the action “rises” until there is some crises, after which it recedes and a resolution to the story provided;
· knot(the starting point and the subsequent unfolding of the main line of the plot);
· complication -separate incident helping to unfold the action, it might involve thoughts and feelings as well; sometimes a complication is internal and involves a character who is torn between two choices, each of which is problematic; in other cases “good” characters oppose “bad” ones and the complication is easily recognizable.
· climax (crises) -the highest intensive point in a story, the decisive moment on which the fate of the character and the final action depend; most stories have a climax that leads to some resolution;
· denouement[dei'nu:maŋ] (“the untying of a knot”, resolution) – subsequent events after the climax, denouement fits the nature and scope of the action that has occurred before it. Resolution without adequate motivation, with an unexpected or improbable event weakens a narrative.
There are the following plot devices:
· plot twist (any unexpected turn of the story that gives a new view on its entire topic);
· foreshadowing, flash-forward and flashback;
· red herring (distracting the readers’ attention from the plot twists);
· placing characters in jeopardy creates influence and suspense;
· dramatic irony (a state that occurs when a story resolves itself in ways not anticipated (and generally the opposite of what is desired) by a particular character – for example, most Roald Dahl’s stories are based on dramatic irony – the famous sommelier turns out to be a cheater in Taste (1951));
· formula (a highly conventional scheme used in a text, involving stock characters and recognizable plot structure; genre texts such as science fiction stories, detective stories, and romances are often highly formulaic – they take place in certain kinds of locations and have specific characters who engage in predictable kinds of actions);
· framing (frame is a story that provides the means of telling other stories within it; framing, or text-in-a-text device, is very popular with contemporary authors – Paul Auster’s Invisible is about an established writer reading a book of his friend, editing it, making investigations about it);
· meta-reference (the characters display an awareness that they are in a book).
The plot is based on the conflict as a driving force in literature. A realistic fictional disagreement must rise naturally out of the personalities and attitudes of the characters.