Saturday, December 11, 2010

The idea of narrative

Imagine a great matrix of characters, events, places, scenes, conversations, causes and effects, motives, emotions, purposes, actions, etc. -- continual, pervasive. The raw material of narrative everywhere, in huge quantities. How then do you turn that material into actual narrative?

You need to add a structure. And, I think, you can do that with anything, literally. Just today, e.g., think of the young dad in the Blenz coffee shop with his bright, laughing, 3 year old daughter, who likes going up to the counter by herself asking for a napkin, head barely able to see over its edge, but who knows how to order a decaf lattay, the dad striking up a conversation with the young woman with her shopping bags sitting by herself with a picked up give-away tabloid, her starting it though, bringing up her niece and nephew.

Or the two boys maybe about 8 with the young mom in the Wendy's, the boys all "Dude! You're still afraid of the roller coaster!?" "Yeah," from the other off-handedly, no hint of chagrin, the mom with her iPhone, but which she's at least partly using to play some sort of guessing game with the boys, only one of whom I think is her son, and that one going at one point,"How did I live when I was in your belly?" (no idea what brought that up), and the mom saying, "Okay, you know your belly button? Right? Your belly button?" "Yeah," goes the boy, a little puzzled, "Well," says the mom, "that's where you had a tube that connected you with my uterus, which is a sack that held you and fed food to you through that tube".

Consider either as incidents that could seed a narrative -- at the start or middle or end or even climax. But those are the parts of the structure that's needed to turn raw material into narrative product, which is what's meant by the "arc" -- traditionally at least that arc is built out of tension, requiring some kind of conflict, that rises to a climax and then falls away. Like music.

The main point being that story is dense, thick, a plenitude, but in the raw or seedling form -- what realizes it as narrative is tension, that provides the possiblity (though not in itself the reality) of structure. And that's what requires invention.


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