These are terms to which I often return when speaking about narration. Narration is the voice that we read—or the voice that we hear—when we experience speech wherever it is written or performed (be it on the printed page, on a digital screen, live, or in any platform). While there is sometimes an overlap between prose and poems, prose refers to text that is organized into sentences and paragraphs (instead of the lines and stanzas of poems). A narrative is a structure—an intentionally devised whole—that shares events, characterizations, arguments, descriptions, analyses, explanations, digressions, reflections, or some combination or semblance of these expressions.
This is the dramatic movement of externalized, concrete, physical events in time and place.
1. External: within the tangible, concrete, seen, heard, sensed world.
2. Internal: within the consciousness of an individual person (or character).
This is a narrative that represents ideas, which stand apart from the story’s literal events or meaning.
Analepsis (plural: analepses)
This is an interjected scene or passage that takes the narrative deeper backward in from the preceding scene or passage. Flashbacks are a form of analepsis that sets the action in the present tense or engages other techniques (like changing the typography to italics) to give a sense of immediacy when moving backward in time.
This is a view based on well-analyzed evidence; or a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is the best view.
A thesis is a central argument.
This is an an interlude (or an interruption within the narrative), which presents the experiences of a character or the circumstances of an event that occurs prior to the action. Sometimes backstory is another word for analepsis.
These are persons (or other figures with human traits) within narratives. Protagonists are lead characters (sometimes with heroic motives) and the most developed persons within a narrative. Antagonists are also lead characters, but with villainous or oppositional motives. Supporting characters (or character actors) assist lead characters. Stock characters are underdeveloped, stereotypical portrayals that serve comic or ancillary purposes in a narrative. Characterization is the process of developing characters’ actions and motives in a narrative.
Instances in which motivation and causation for characters' behavior or actions is problematically elided, under-developed, and or un-written in ways that create plot holes and other problems of under-development or lack of clarity in characterization.
This refers to the circumstances, background, or conditions within which a problem or an event occurs in a narrative.
When one preceding instant follows reliably from another instant without interruption or disruption, and without the misstatement or the inaccurate presentation of facts, then the narrative can be said to represent continuity. Continuity also refers to a state where the relationships between parts are reliably established.
This term refers to the demonstration of change or evolution from one state of being into others in a manner that represents depth of meaning or value.
Deus Ex Machina
This is an ancient term referring to contrivance within the plotting of a narrative (or the sequencing of the events). Such contrivance may involve a detail, event, instance, character, or object that appears at any time within a narrative to fix problems with the underdevelopment of the narrative’s structure, organization, characterizations, or continuity. Aristotle (the ancient Greek philosopher whose 4th century BCE treatise called POETICS advanced the rudiments of much of notion of basic narrative within the English language) decried deus ex machina. The words “deus ex machina” are Latin for “God from a machine” (idiomatically translated as “God on a machine”). In ancient Greek tragedy within the theatre thousands of years ago, a mechane, or a crane, was used to raise and lower actors playing gods. The ancient playwright Euripides often resolved his plots (or fixed problematic relationships between characters) by inserting gods into the action who then meditated or passed judgment on characters; hence the term’s theatrical origins. Aristotle criticized such approaches to plot resolution, arguing for plausible, carefully motivated action.
This is conversation between two or more people in literature and the arts, be it a play, novel, short story, movie, or other media; such conversation is usually surrounded by quotation marks in published fiction; sometimes it is identified by other typographical indications; in a play’s script, dialogue is organized according to the characters that speak it.
Diegetic elements refer to what is told, explained, or recounted in a narrative rather than what is shown through description. Diegetic elements are also things that characters experience within their world; thus, a film score may not be diegetic if the character cannot “hear” it within her world; however, if a character turns on the radio in the narrative world and music begins to play then that music is diegetic.
Discourse refers to the sum total of the way the narration is composed (including point of view, or quality of address); see free indirect style.
This is the over-expression of opinion, rationale, or explanation within the stream of the narrative, especially comments that seem to issue from the author rather than a character.
This is narration set within the present time; or narration that gives a sense of suspended present time; or narration that gives a sense of the superimposition of present time (see analepsis and prolepsis).
This is an expression of rationale, motivation, conditions or circumstance.
This is a passage in a narrative (often placed at the beginning) that explains the overall setting, problem, rationale, motivation, conditions or circumstance while also introducing key characters or themes.
This is an interlude inserted into the flow of a narrative and understood as a kind of psychic interruption (or break) from the external forward-motion of the story. Most of the time flashbacks present the past as a visual enactment within the present tense. Often, the typographical presentation of flashbacks sets them apart from the rest of the text (for example, a flashback may be italicized). Flashbacks are often couched within the point of view of a particular character and require some preparatory staging so that readers understand who may be remembering the flashback in the narration. Flashbacks are often set in the present tense to emphasize the apparent immediacy of the remembering. Flashbacks are unfortunately a very clichéd structural device.
Free Indirect Style (or indirect discourse)
This is narration that conveys a character’s perspective in the third person without quotation by using language that the character would use if she or he were speaking.
James Joyce’s short story, “The Dead,” begins with an instance of free indirect style. Lily, the maid, is preparing dinner for an “upper-class” Irish family and her thoughts are conveyed not through the direct reporting of her ideas or through quoted dialogue but rather through the diction of the narrative in third person:
“Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, was literally run off her feet. Hardly had she brought one gentleman into the little pantry behind the office on the ground floor and helped him off with his overcoat than the wheezy hall-door bell clanged again and she had to scamper along the bare hallway to let in another guest. It was well for her she had not to attend to the ladies also.”
In this classic passage, the reader is inside of Lily’s point of view in the third person because the discourse uses idiomatic phrasing and expressions common to Lily’s way of speaking and thinking (like the phrase “literally run off her feet”). This passage—and lots of the writing of the French writer Gustav (or Gustave) Flaubert—epitomizes free indirect style.
This pertains to all the strategies in narration employed to represent things before their ultimate appearance.
This is stilted third person narration divorced from characters’ points of view and/or laced with outmoded, portentous, clichéd or even archaic language. This is a particular hazard for “hardboiled” detective fiction, some medievalist themed science fiction or fantasy writing, or some forms of mystery writing.
This is excessive ornamentation or over-lyricism within third person narration in which the author sentimentalizes or fetishizes the events with verbosity, stylistic flamboyance, florid descriptors, decorative effects, quirks of diction, or outright editorializing about the characters and events of the story.
This is the simulation or creation of fictional worlds as a means to represent life as it may be lived; or, this can refer to what is shown through description in a narrative (rather than explanation or editorialization).
This is the state of being credible, reliable, acceptable or valid within a certain context. Remember: plausibility should most be assessed according to the situation devised within the narrative.
This is the organization of events in time and place in such a way that we gradually understand the conflict and consequence of characters’ actions.
An error, gap, omission, or inconsistency in a storyline (or plot) in which (1) the flow of logic is compromised; (2) vital information is omitted in a manner that compromises clarity and understanding; or (3) contrivance supplants careful motivation in plotting and characterization. These errors, omissions and inconsistencies may lead to the perpetuation of illogical, unlikely, under-developed, or impossible events; confusions by omission; weak causation; or contradictory information. All of these problems impede the quality of the narrative design and structure.
Point of View (or Perspective)
First person point of view: the story is narrated in “I” statements within the voice of a character who plays a main role in the events. Here are some first person modes:
Second person point of view: the second-person using “you” statements is rarer; example: “You knocked on the door. You went inside.” Very few narratives employ second person narration effectively because of its arguable overuse in popular detective fiction. However, when employed with an awareness of conventions, its effect can help the narrator invite the reader to picture her self as a direct participant in the action.
Third Person Point of View: Here are some third person point of view modes:
Something that is likely to occur within a given context.
This is narration that moves forward in time and place (inclusive of flash-forwarding); or, this is an interjected scene that takes the narrative chronologically forward.
A scene combines time and place within a continuous occurrence bound within one specific interior or exterior place, and limited to a particular, brief period of time. A scene may feature characters moving from an interior to an exterior location or visa versa. Scenes are characterized by their limits: they are bound in place and time. The time and place boundaries are not static; rather, the boundaries focus the action so that readers may witness the movement of the events with detail.
Mise-en-scène refers to the physical architecture, or the décor that comprises the scene.
Stream of Consciousness
This term refers to narration that mostly extrapolates a character's thought process rather than (again, for the most part) what the character does in terms of plotted events. Often (though not always) this form of narration relies on conditional verb modes (would, could, should) as in the writing within Pointed Roof, Dorothy Richardson's 1915 novel (examine the narration in the first chapter of this novel at this link online and count the number of times the author refers to what Miriam, the protagonist, would or could do rather than what she actually does do). While early twentieth century British and French novelists like Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Marcel Proust devised their own approaches for stream of conscious narration, nineteenth century American novelists like Ambrose Bierce and Edgar Allan Poe deployed early forms of stream of conscious techniques within the narration of their fiction too. We mustn't over-rely on Wikipedia as a reference, but in this case the entry on stream of consciousness provides a strong overview of the history and theory of this narrative technique with citations. Warning: while there are overlapping points, stream of consciousness is not the same thing as interior (or internal) monologue and free indirect speech (or style) in fiction writing.
This refers to parts held or put together in a particular way; or, the way in which parts are arranged or put together to form a whole; or, the interrelation or arrangement of parts in a complex entity.
In writing and the expressive arts, style refers to the way in which something is said, done, expressed, or performed.
This refers to literal persons, places, and things that stand for abstract concepts or themes; the whale in the novel Moby Dick may symbolize humans’ battle with the forces of nature.
Theme refers to what the art is about, or its subject, topic, or content. Sometimes the term theme also refers to a germ of an idea that is then developed throughout several variations in a work. Themes can be abstract, or a matter of images, metaphors, or symbols.
The dominant voices we read, see, or hear in a narrative.
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