7:41 a.m. — Atlanta
listening to The Beatles singing Get Back
Hello, all. Here we go with this week’s narrative exercise. As prose writers you need to be aware of the effect of the narrator, point of view, and distance, on the story. Keeping a continuity of narrative voice for the length of a novel is not an easy thing and you will need to train your ear.
“It is through action that characters most successfully and fully emerge, and seldom mere description.”[Roorbach, Writing Life Stories p74]
You need to look back for a character you have created or one from real life. Or use a photograph from a magazine. Ahead of the exercise:
Give the character a gender. [I am going to refer to the character as ‘he’ rather than the wretched dual pronoun thing.]
Name the character.
What does this character want… more than anything else… NOW?
Think: Is it the kind of matter that can sustain a story?
Explain the want.
Who is preventing the character from getting what he wants?
What does this character think about himself?
Keep these in mind as you follow the steps of the exercise.
1. Don’t have the character move. Describe him in prose. Just the person; no background. Describe especially the things people remember about him. Third person point of view.
2. Have this character move, but stay close; continue to focus tightly on him. Think of yourself as a movie camera in a close-up. Third person point of view.
3. Have your character approach and say something to someone else. Don’t get inside the second character. Describe the second character through your first character’s eyes. This can be third, or first person. Try both points of view and note how they differ.
4. Again, think of yourself as a movie camera. Continue with the interaction between these two characters, but report it from a distance, or through some kind of partial obstruction (fog, fence, screen door mesh, wind, snowstorm, passing traffic) Third person point of view. BUT do let the reader be aware of the partial obstruction or distance that separates you from the characters.
5. Describe something your main character can’t possibly be aware of–but that is in some way related to him. It can be something physical about himself, or something that’s going on right now far away or nearby out of his sight. Third person POV.
6. Have your two characters go separate ways. Send away your starting–main–character first. Follow him for a while noting what he does. Third person POV.
7. Come back to the second character. Reveal to us that your second character has been lying to your main character or concealing something the whole time. This may have been done for positive or negative reasons. Tell us how and why and since when this deception has been going on. Third person POV.
8. End by showing us the first character again, probably unaware of the deception. This can be third, or first person POV.
Note that the exercise, while focusing on character, includes something the main character wants and a possible conflict, or two. Both of these are necessary in fiction to propel the plot.
Poets: Pick one of these steps and adapt it for a poem. If you choose a step that can be told in either first, or third, person point of view, try both. If you find the differences interesting, give us both versions and tell us what you note.
I shall see you Thursday for links; Friday for this week’s prompt roundup; and next Tuesday for a narrative prompt that focuses on eating.
Happy writing, everyone.
P.S. The Roorbach book is worth having if you write narrative.