Dan Goodman's prediction and politics journal.

Friday, April 30, 2004

Friday April 30, 2004. The following may not be true for anyone except me:

Realization -- before I begin writing a third-person story, I ought to know a fair amount about two important characters: the protagonist and the implied narrator[1]. The implied narrator may only "appear" in the implied frame story[2]; but the core story as he tells it is different from what it would be if another implied narrator were telling it.

Telling the story in first person means not having to characterize the implied narrator. But it also means having to characterize the implied audience[1] -- who is this character telling the story to, and why?

Second person (where the reader is the protagonist) is probably the biggest can of worms. The only two second person novels which have worked for me as a reader both had female protagonists: _Molly Zero_ by Keith Roberts and _Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas_ by Tom Robbins. I've read and enjoyed a few second-person short stories; I haven't reread any, to the best of my memory.

[1]implied narrator, a persona invented by the author to deliver the tale we are reading, operating like a character through whose eyes and ears we receive episodes and whose opinions may shade or even wildly distort the narrative. "Chaucer-the-Pilgrim" can be read as an implied narrator, an understanding first articulated in an important 1954 PMLA article by E. Talbot Donaldson http://www.courses.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/canttales/gp/pilgrim.html. Such distorted narratorial points of view also can be called "unreliable narrators" (famously, the possibly hallucinating governess in Henry James' Turn of the Screw). The term was invented by Wayne Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961), where you also can find other terms helpful for studying fiction, like implied author (Chaucer's "fat, dumpy and stupid" authorial persona), implied audience (i.e., the "you" our narrator addresses), and inscribed audience (the other pilgrims listening to and reacting to the tales).

While "implied narrator" is a standard literary term, I've used it in a non-standard way. I assume that the third person narrator is never completely objective. He may be omniescent; but he chooses what to tell the reader about and how to tell it.

[2]frame narrative, a narrative which contains other narratives within its "frame," most famously the 1001 Arabian Nights' tales of dervishes and genies, told by a princess bride on her extended wedding night to distract her murderous groom from his ambition to kill her (anon.), and the Decameron, 100 tales about love and sex told on ten days by ten noblemen and noblewomen who have fled the Florentine plague.

"Implied frame story" is my own coinage.

email Dan Goodman
All comments assumed to be for publication, unless I'm told otherwise.
Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?