Hatrack River Writers Workshop Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » "Narrator's emotional presence"

   
Author Topic: "Narrator's emotional presence"
Nathaniel Merrin
Member
Member # 9002

 - posted      Profile for Nathaniel Merrin   Email Nathaniel Merrin         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
From reading people's 1st 13s, I've come to the conclusion that we often tend to provide few hints about the characters who are our tales' narrators. Mohan Sikka, who is a 2009 PEN/O. Henry award winner, writes

"Sanju, the narrator, was too much of a disinterested "camera" hovering above the action in early drafts, and Grandma was even harsher than she is now. As I revised under the astute eye of One Story's editor, I sharpened Sanju's emotional presence while modulating Grandma." (See here.--> http://www.randomhouse.com/anchor/ohenry/spotlight/sikka.html )

Maybe sometimes we misinterpret "show, don't tell" to mean that our narrators should be passive and bland? Or maybe it is simply a challenge to observe both the intricate details of a scene AND observe who this observer of the scene is and delineate or hint at what his or her relationship to the scene is.


Posts: 64 | Registered: Feb 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
tchernabyelo
Member
Member # 2651

 - posted      Profile for tchernabyelo   Email tchernabyelo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm not sure I get what you are saying here - normally, as I understand it, "show, don't tell" is used as advice to get INTO the emotional state of the character? Also, it''s normally used with 3P style rather than 1P and an actual specific narrator normally implies a 1P presence, even if much of it is talking about what someone else did.


Posts: 1469 | Registered: Jun 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Merlion-Emrys
Member
Member # 7912

 - posted      Profile for Merlion-Emrys   Email Merlion-Emrys         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm not sure if I'm interpreting you right or not, but what you're saying makes me think of the issues I often encounter about how to present the emotions and/or thoughts of your protagonist in 3rd person close POV.

The "show don't tell" folks want them "shown" via expressions and actions, whereas theres another camp, what I might call the "deep penetration" people who feel that presenting those emotions in that way is too external and who in my experience seem to want to be "told" in no uncertain terms what the character is feeling, within themselves from their own POV, some times with an external expression as well, but not instead of. Of course usually when you do both those of the "show don't tell" persuasion will say you need only the action, not the statement of intent/of the emotion from which it went.

And theres the problem of thoughts, which can really only be told, but how does one, in some levels of penetration, seperate the MC thoughts from narration, if at all?


Posts: 2626 | Registered: Apr 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Nathaniel Merrin
Member
Member # 9002

 - posted      Profile for Nathaniel Merrin   Email Nathaniel Merrin         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Sorry for some confusion, due to my terminology, "tchernabyelo"
and Merlion.

I'm talking about first-person narrators -- such as 'Sanju' is, apparently, in Mohan Sikka's award-winning short story (and I haven 't even considered how such a consideration would apply to third-person narrators).

Many 1st 13s are narrated by a character who reveals little about him- or herself. I say in this case, get rid of the 1st-person narrator or else bring in elements of his or her personality or relation to the scene in the 1st 13.

As for show, don't tell, from what I understand how this principle is generally applied to written fiction, sometimes elements that aren't directly being "shown" in a scene must be "told," plain and simple. Therefore written stories that are overly cinematic sometimes suffer from too much detachment, especially if their first-person narrator just clinically and objectively describes what is going on in it without revealing right away something about this character's relationship to the scene that is unfolding.

[This message has been edited by Nathaniel Merrin (edited February 12, 2010).]

[This message has been edited by Nathaniel Merrin (edited February 12, 2010).]


Posts: 64 | Registered: Feb 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Merlion-Emrys
Member
Member # 7912

 - posted      Profile for Merlion-Emrys   Email Merlion-Emrys         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Ahh ok. First person isn't really my area of expertise, I've only written one story that way and it was a long time ago. I should probably try it again one of these days.
Posts: 2626 | Registered: Apr 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
tchernabyelo
Member
Member # 2651

 - posted      Profile for tchernabyelo   Email tchernabyelo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I don't necessarily agree that thoughts "can only be told".

I've used a deep 3P POV which actually slips into an almost-first... let's see if I can find an example...


quote:
“What you do, madona, is entirely your own choice. I would not think to advise you on the matter; I am merely providing you with information, from which you must come to your own conclusion. Whether you stay in Patrese and guard yourself, or whether you find some safer haven where your... where he is unlikely to be able to reach you; that is for you to decide, madona.”

“Don’t call me that,” she muttered. It should have been welcome; a title of respect, something that she was almost never accorded. But there was something about it, coming from Mavorino’s dry lips... she felt more uncomfortable, somehow, with him addressing her as madona than with Gianni calling her whore.

No. I don’t want to be a whore. Not any more. I want to be... something else.

But I haven’t earned it yet.


I don't italicise or quote, I just slip down from a 3P narrative directly into her thoughts. Of course, whether this works is open to question; it is all a matter of taste.

In 1P, telling and showing are harder to distinguish than in 3P. Even in 3P, there is a continuum, rather than a simple clear-cut "excluded middle". I seem to recall someone commenting on Harry Potter with regard to one of the books constantly stating "Harry was angry". It was constantly stated, but never expanded on, never analysed. He just... was angry. Now that's clearly "telling" rather than "showing", but if Harry is regularly and frequenly angry then perhaps we don't need to be shown every time.

It' all about trust between the reader and the narrator. Does the reader believe what s/he is being told? 1P narrators make it clear by their very existence that there is the potential for misdirection, the possibility - nay, the likelihood - that the narrator has a personal agenda, that the story is a matter of opinion, that the telling is subjective not objective. 3P narratives are different and are generally seen as being "reliable", objective, dispassionate. It could therefore be argued that "telling" is more valid from a 3P POV, in that we have no cause to believe otherwise, but I think part of using a 3P narrative is makin sure that the narrative IS seen as truly objective and fair and reliable, and so supporting evidence is worthwhile.

Ultimately, as with all advice, "show, don't tell" is a shorthand for something much more complex, and needs to be exmined in individual cases to see if it's applicable.


Posts: 1469 | Registered: Jun 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Merlion-Emrys
Member
Member # 7912

 - posted      Profile for Merlion-Emrys   Email Merlion-Emrys         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
I don't italicise or quote, I just slip down from a 3P narrative directly into her thoughts. Of course, whether this works is open to question; it is all a matter of taste.


Ohh I think it works great. Personally, I feel like all the myriad ways of presenting thoughts are equally valid and amount to simply a stylistic choice. However I could see some folks calling what you presented "telling" the thoughts according to some definitions.

Or maybe a better way to put what I mean is like this. You can't describe a thought (well, I suppose technically you could describe someone thinking about an image, but how often does that come up?) and technically you can't really visually describe an emotion either but emotions can be conveyed via things like facial expressions or describing physical reactions (stomach upset, sweating etc) whereas thoughts are basically internal dialogue (of course then we get into the is dialogue telling or showing thing which even I have no desire to do here.)


quote:
Ultimately, as with all advice, "show, don't tell" is a shorthand for something much more complex, and needs to be exmined in individual cases to see if it's applicable.


Totally. Even more so with SDT, in my opinion, since you also have to figure out which definition the person in question is using.

But anyway you're right about the whole thing becoming even murkier in 1st person. Everything becomes murkier in 1st person, at least with most characters. I haven't read that many stories with unrealiable narrators, but that being said I'd have to agree too that the majority of them are probably 1st person and that indeed a 1st person narrative can in some cases imply unreliability or at the very least that the reader isn't getting and isn't maybe meant to get the whole picture of things.


Posts: 2626 | Registered: Apr 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Nathaniel Merrin
Member
Member # 9002

 - posted      Profile for Nathaniel Merrin   Email Nathaniel Merrin         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I may be confused in my terminology, guys.

Is the 1st 13 of "Blue Man" by our forum's Swiga 1st-person narrated? I'd tell him simply to get rid of the narrator (the opening bit about "I saw"), unless Swiga wanted to put more about hi/r narrator in this opening. (See here.--> http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum11/HTML/003920.html )

Also "overly cinematic" for me is the 1st 13 of our forum's Charity in her recent piece titled "Online--SF flash fiction." (See here. --> http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum11/HTML/003923.html ) Is this 1st-person narration? In it, the narrator only mentions avoiding gnats but other than that just carefully describes the scene unfolding sans any implicit/explicit editorializations on the narrator's part or any revelation of the relationship to the actions being described other than the fact that the narrator is the child's mother. And apparently that was the case with Mohan Sikka's award-winning short story, in that he said that his narrator Sanju had been "a disinterested 'camera' hovering above the action in early drafts" but in later ones Sikka "sharpened Sanju's emotional presence."

In other words, if a written piece essentially has a "camera" pan over a girl sitting in a lounge chair at the beach, fine. But, if it is that there is said to be some character who is eyeing her, I want to be told or **shown** who that character is and why s/he's gazing at her. (Which then actually could support the directive to "show, not tell," since what might could be said to have been missing was the narrator's being sufficiently "shown," in my opinion.) Something like that.

[This message has been edited by Nathaniel Merrin (edited February 12, 2010).]

[This message has been edited by Nathaniel Merrin (edited February 12, 2010).]

[This message has been edited by Nathaniel Merrin (edited February 12, 2010).]

[This message has been edited by Nathaniel Merrin (edited February 12, 2010).]


Posts: 64 | Registered: Feb 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Merlion-Emrys
Member
Member # 7912

 - posted      Profile for Merlion-Emrys   Email Merlion-Emrys         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Both the openings you mention are technically in first person, since the narrators are refering to themselves as "I."

As I said in the "Blue Man" thread, the writing itself on that piece does feel a little bland and matter-of-fact, regardless of what person it's written in. But you're right that especially in 1st person one would expect the narrator to be injecting a little more of their thoughts and opinions on the matter into it as well.

I wouldn't personally describe the "SF Flash Fiction" as overly cinematic, and it does have some emotion to it. However as you say other than infering the protaganist is the child in question's parent, we know little else, not even gender. That can be fine but I don't think it fits the story type that that one seems to be especially well. In the "Blue Man" opening I don't find not knowing much about the protaganist to be particularly distracting or problematic.


I would say though that, for instance, in the case of the SF opening, if the POV characters identity were stated more clearly, many would say that that was "telling" and that we can already infer that its the child's parent etc.


But I think I get what you're saying and I will say that for me, personally, if I was going to write in 1st person it would probably be to take advantage of being able to let go of some POV concerns and narrative issues and essentially write entirely in a characters voice for the whole story...almost as if the whole thing were dialogue.


Posts: 2626 | Registered: Apr 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
tchernabyelo
Member
Member # 2651

 - posted      Profile for tchernabyelo   Email tchernabyelo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
In 3P, there is narration, but (arguably) no narrator - the story is being told, and may indeed have a strong and distinctive "voice", but the voice itself does not have a personality, a presence, or any apparent/overt input to the story.

In 1P, even if the narrator is not PART of the story, their input is significant. Most of the time, the narrator IS the protagonist, but by no means always. I've got a current "weird western" WIP where there is a narrator, telling the story long after the fact (indeed, possibly with no direct personal knowledge of the events - haven't decided that yet) but who puts a distinctive voice and spin and slant on the story.

1P with a protagonist narrator is superficially easy - it makes it very clear what you can or can't get away with saying. But it can also be difficult, particulalry in longer works, because you have to make your protag/narrator consistent and believable, and ideally sufficiently interesting (both in themselves and of their voice) to carry the reader along with you.

1P allows you to do things that 3P doesn't. For example:

quote:
“They’re going to ask us questions,” I pointed out, in a deliberately irritating sing-song voice; the kind you use to a recalcitrant child. There are people who don’t think you should talk to princesses that way. I can’t imagine why.

The aside there can only really be done if you have a narrator; I'm not sure how you'd try and portray that attitude successfully in 3P. ANd it is precisely the ability to put in such asides that makes 1P more personal, more involving. So the original point was right; if you are going to have a 1P narrator, even one who is narrating about events they weren't involved in, make them interesting in their own right; it adds an extra layer to the story.


Posts: 1469 | Registered: Jun 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Nathaniel Merrin
Member
Member # 9002

 - posted      Profile for Nathaniel Merrin   Email Nathaniel Merrin         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
tchernabyelo and Merlion, you guys are geniuses! Thanks.
Posts: 64 | Registered: Feb 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Merlion-Emrys
Member
Member # 7912

 - posted      Profile for Merlion-Emrys   Email Merlion-Emrys         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
wow...tchern do you think someone calling the two of us geniuses in the same sentence is likely to cause some sort of rip in the fabric of reality?
Posts: 2626 | Registered: Apr 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
tchernabyelo
Member
Member # 2651

 - posted      Profile for tchernabyelo   Email tchernabyelo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Um, wait... what is this thing you speak of called "reality"? I know it not...

Happy to help, Nathaniel.


Posts: 1469 | Registered: Jun 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
dee_boncci
Member
Member # 2733

 - posted      Profile for dee_boncci   Email dee_boncci         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I think 3P can be done with a very distinctive voice, in essence that of the POV character, just rendered with third person pronouns as opposed to first. I've fooled around with writing bits in the first person with an attempt to closely reflect the character's attitude, then re-rendered it in third person, when I switch POV characters in a story and had a hard time making the different POV's emotionally distinct. And it actually works pretty well for me.

I'm a believer in the key to capturing a characters emotion is to capture the character's thoughts, using the vocabulary and language they would use internally. Many people's faces flush when they're embarassed, but exactly what embarasses someone and why and how they think about it--the things that trigger the bodies mechanisms--is a big part of what makes them unique. I believe it is possible to reflect this in 3rd person, and to match the current POV character pretty well in a multiple POV 3rd person story.

To the way I was taught, that combination of transcribed thoughts and bodily reactions is how emotions are "shown", versus telling where an abstract summary term like embarassed is used, e.g., "he was embarassed".


Posts: 612 | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2