Monday, January 23, 2012

A narrative tone

A narrative tone is something that belongs uniquely to you.

Some people might take years to discover what their narrative tone is all about, others are just born with a natural talent of making things concise and funny or elaborate and scary.

A narrative tone can be achieved in many ways but it's one of the things that also help you define the genre of your story and the target.

Remember when I previously mention to keep an eye on your target?
Well you can not use complicated expressions or sophisticated lexicon if you are meaning to target children, children have a smaller vocabulary than adults.

Also you cannot make sexual innuendos or scary foreshadowing for them. You have to keep your narration preppy and most of all avoid a condescending tone: and do you know why he's going to die if he sets foot into the hall? Let me explain you, little children, since you are to young and stupid to figure it out by yourself!

No, no, please don't do that.

What kind of narrator are you? You'll have to figure out yourselves. My suggestion is, whatever you do, don't be the type that takes everything too seriously, including yourselves and your story.
I strongly believe that if you hold nothing sacred you lead a happier life and you can explore more things.

Now I don't mean to say you need to be offensive, there are certain topics I would never touch (like religion) because they tap into people's beliefs. So when I say not to keep anything sacred I mean particularly your own creations.

That's why, after I painted a pretty picture of Kes with her cute pregnant belly... the next thing that came to my mind was her true nature. That's what I called the drawing in this post on Deviant Art: "true nature".
We know what Kes looks like when she is in locust mode, right?

I once met Chuck Palahniuk during a writing workshop held in San Francisco. He often speaks about moment of humiliations for the characters. To make it simple without hopefully corrupting his concept too much he said on that occasion that a good way to show nice, rounded characters is to give them authority and take it away putting them through moments of humiliations. That's when their humanity shines through and you see what stuff they are made of.

He mentioned in that occasion this accident he witnessed while watching TV in his motel room. He said the anchor woman started weeping while reading the news. To him it was astounding how up until a few moments before she had such authority, after all she was reading the news, and then all of a sudden... bam.. she was crying, the authority fell, she went through a very humiliating moment and he thought that was amazing.

Probably this is the same reason why he always suggest to tell the story in first person. First person has more authority and autenticity - he says. He also suggests to hide the "I"(if shows up too often is irritating) with "me" and "mine".

So the type of narrator also helps you define a narrative tone.
1) first person 
2) first person omniscient (they say is a big no no... yet we have American Beauty...)
3) second person (very rare but Calvino used it)
3) third person, subjective or objective, omniscient or limited

A first person omniscient is kind of rare, it means the narrator tells his story after it happened and can try and give you more foreshadowing than desired or does it?

Think about Lester from American Beauty: "My name is Lester Burnham. This is my street. This is my neighborhood. This is my life. I am 42 years old. In less than a year, I will be dead. Of course, I don't know that yet, and in a way, I'm dead already..."

The second person is also very rare and has something of prophetic tone to it: you didn't know you were going to die that day, when you left your house and breathed in the fresh morning air. No, you didn't.

So the most common ones would be a first person or the regular third person. Subjective and objective, omniscient or limited refers of how much this narrator already know of the character. How much in advance and how much he cares and feels for the person he/she is narrating about.

In Stranger than Fiction, the narrator voice over is a typical omniscient and objective narrator. She describes Harold's life in a detached way and throws in a "little did he know"... he was going to die: "This is a story about a man named Harold Crick and his wristwatch. Harold Crick was a man of infinite numbers, endless calculations, and remarkably few words. And his wristwatch said even less. Every weekday, for twelve years, Harold would brush each of his thirty-two teeth seventy-six times. Thirty-eight times back and forth, thirty-eight times up and down. Every weekday, for twelve years, Harold would tie his tie in a single Windsor knot instead of the double, thereby saving up to forty-three seconds. His wristwatch thought the single Windsor made his neck look fat, but said nothing."

Sometimes the third person can switch to first, like for Sunset Boulevard: "Yes, this is Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. It’s about five o’clock in the morning. That’s the Homicide Squad, complete with detectives and newspapermen. A murder has been reported from one of those great big houses in the ten thousand block. You’ll read about it in the late editions, I’m sure. You’ll get it over your radio and see it on television because an old-time star is involved; one of the biggest. But before you hear it all distorted and blown out of proportion, before those Hollywood columnists get their hands on it, maybe you’d like to hear the facts, the whole truth. If so, you’ve come to the right party. You see, the body of a young man was found floating in the pool of her mansion with two shots in his back and one in his stomach. Nobody important, really. Just a movie writer with a couple of ‘B’ pictures to his credit. The poor dope! He always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool," only the price turned out to be a little high." - as you see... the narrator, Joe Gillis, he is actually talking about himself.

This website here has a very good list of narrators or voice over that can help you figure out what kind of narrative tone you want for your story. He provides some good example... as you see... Charles Kaufman is in there too. He is only number 10 but you see Adaptation is one of those movie that proved how much you can actually stretch storytelling as long as you do it in an original way.

No comments: