Narration on Narration
This article is about the subject of narration. The American Heritage New College Edition dictionary says that narration is "the act of narrating". How helpful. However, right underneath that is narrative, which is defined as "1. A story or description of actual or fictional events". Unfortunately, this copy is quite old, being my mother's, and conveniently has the copywright ripped out. So, in the Webster's Dictionary of 1997, narration is defined as "n. an account". There. Now you can verify my claim.
If you are dictionary obsessive like myself, you may be tempted to go off in a hunt for the dictionary to look up a definition on this word yourself. Off you go!
Now, everyone else, follow me. The others can always catch up later.
I personally define narration as any words the author writes in explanation between dialogue. As you can see, this is a narration!
What is narration for?
A narration is to pass on information. Think of the movie George of the Jungle. Chances are, whenever there was a scene switch or something unusual happened, the narrator would explain it to you. My favorite narration scene is when Lyle mysteriously returns, for, without the narrator to tell you that he has escaped and joined a strange organization, the story would be impossible to follow.
A narration is usually full of things like setting, who is doing what, character emotions, and sometimes, what the characters are thinking and feeling. This all ties into point of view.
For instance, who is narrating? The author? One of the characters?
It makes a huge difference whether an impartial witness is filling in the detail for you, or whether it is one of the people in the story. If Ranzadan the Madman, an utterly insane villain, is giving you an account of how he was defeated (or how he won), would you expect to get an accurate picture of what happened? Of course not, but it might make one heck of an interesting story.
There are two basic ways to write when concerned with point of view, and all this does is chance the pronoun.
First person is "I" "me" "myself" and such. "I blasted those stupid heroes with blue fire and lightning and scorched them until they were blackened bones!"
Third person is "he" "she" "they" "them" "her" "him". "He summoned blue fire and lightning from his hands and sent it forth".
Sometimes, there are other choices the author can make. Do I write down what each character is thinking? Do I leave out everyone's thoughts? Do I only provide that information for some characters? All of that is up to you.
But interestingly, first person doesn't always have to use "I". Sometimes it is possible to give a biased account only showing one character's thoughts and perceptions, while using third person pronouns. "'That's MY dress!' she thought. The little wretch was wearing HER dress." It's beside the point whether someone actually stole her dress; the scene is being explained as such because this is how she sees it. This is a sort of mutation that I am going to call second person (being between first and third). I have no idea what it's really called. I'm not that good.
Now comes the main concern of the narration. How to get across the information you want to. Some authors switch viewpoints – I've read one book in first person, and the person narrating switched every chapter, going back and forth between two main characters. But that's not necessarily what you want to do.
You have to watch it, letting one of your characters narrate. Hew, for instance, might hate Jarid. Allowing Hew to describe Jarid when they meet on the street might make a bad first impression on people, because Hew says that his eyes are shifty and his nose is too long, and every time he smiles he smirks in a superior fashion. When in reality, Jarid could be very handsome, and his eyes are shifting because he's bored, and his smirk is actually a result of him trying to smile in a friendly way at Hew, and Jarid likes Hew about as much as Hew likes Jarid.
Of course, you might want to set it up that way so that you can gleefully reveal later that neither one of them is as bad as the other says they are.
Lastly, I think I'll go back to setting, which I will do because I am unorganized. I'm sure some people will disagree with me, but certain people are inclined to like more chaotic narrative styles than ones that go in a neat, orderly, linear fashion. I'm pretty much incapable of being linear. For that, I apologize.
Setting. Now, this is one general word that has eaten a lot of other words and crunched them up into little bits. Yummy. Setting has eaten Time, Place, and Who.
Time – time of day, season, relative time (before, after), day of week, all that.
Place – where, what, background. Basically, where are you and what inanimate objects are there with you?
Who – the animate. Your main characters, their pets, and anyone else passing through.
This can also be the senses. What do you remember about places? In any one of your memories, there are at least three senses. The car was musty smelling and hot and the seats were sticky plastic vinyl that made sucking sounds when you got up after sitting down too long. Sight, sound, smell, textile sensations (touch), and taste are the five basic senses. My advice – be careful with taste. That only applies to some things. You can speak figuratively, of course- "the taste of danger was in the air"… but that's really a prickling sensation down your back, isn't it? Or some other sense, making 'taste' a misnomer.
Narration Under Different Circumstances
Thank goodness we've made it this far. I almost got stuck there back in the car.
This is what I've been waiting for. Application.
Narration will change along with the parts of your story. Or, at least, it should, because that makes it easier to read.
In the very beginning of your story, it should perhaps start out slow, with setting.
'In the beginning, there were only three gods, and they bickered.' From here on you might describe how your world came to be. This would eventually get around to races of people, cities, and the characters. This would be a nice relaxing way to start out the story – or a dreadfully dull and dragging one, depending on your personality. If you're someone who loves to explain as they go, always try that first, because loving your writing is what keeps it alive.
Now, with dialogue, your narration should change dramatically. You are now focusing on the characters. Descriptions should be shorter, and it should always be clear who is saying what, in what manner, and what they are doing as they are saying it.
"It's a slow day," Del remarked, lazily whittling away at a stick. (Now, if it were you, would you be speaking slowly or quickly?)
"Shut up! Shut up SHUT UP!" he screamed, flinging the door open with as much force as he could. It smashed against the wall with a deafening bang and in its wake, he stormed out.
Word choice comes into play now. Which is more forceful, 'remark' or 'retort'? 'Storming' or 'sauntering'? 'Chuckling' or 'laughing'?
But then, look what happens when you describe them. Do they change?
"I'd look where I was going," he remarked coldly.
"Oh, is that so?" Fellis retorted playfully, sticking her tongue out at him.
(Not much can be done to change storming or sauntering, I admit.)
He was laughing quietly behind his hand, trying not to be caught.
The burly man chuckled, loud and obnoxious and as deep down as a cave.
Most of them do. It's really amazing what you can do with a vocabulary and all the ways you can manipulate words to make them say what you want them to.
Ah, 'said'. Poor little 'said'. 'Said' is in the middle of a controversy. Either it's boring and ruins your work, or it's a miracle and allows your readers to focus on what your character is saying and how. I am a defender of said, based on the works of Patricia C. Wrede.
A low rumbling reached his ears. He paused.
The sound got… louder.
He turned around.
His eyes widened.
"Run!" he yelled ahead to anyone else walking in the tunnels, and he took off.
His coat flapped behind him, his arms pumped, and he sprinted.
Echoes bounded around him from the pounding of his feet on the metal floor.
Faster, faster, he told himself, leaning forward.
The rush of the wave of water thundered behind him.
I'll try not to re-hash the other article on action here at FARP. Basically, there are weak words, and there are strong words, words that zing! And pop! And bazang!
People shouting tend to use exclamation marks. In fact, they do shout. They can yell, or bellow, or screech or scream, wail and rage and storm. When someone is being forceful, it's not a good idea to use said, or remarked. They're too weak to support the weight of emotion put on them.
By the same token, their actions need to be loudly proclaimed. 'Ran quickly' is not as good as 'zipped' 'shot' 'sprinted' 'barreled' and so forth.
Took is not as expressive as 'snatched', 'grabbed', 'swiped', etc.
I don't mean that you should go around using these powerful words for just anything, but when your characters are worked up, these words are waiting to help you express it.
While it is time to leave you, I'm going to remind you about the purpose of narration and why I love it so much. Narration explains things, gives your readers a break, and gives you a chance to express yourself. Just look at the works of Terry Pratchett. If someone told me that he doesn't enjoy his narration, I would refuse to believe them.
Have a great time narrating. I've only scratched the surface.
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