E-Learning Module

Unit 3 Grain 11
Theory on the narration creation
60 minutes

The objective of this lesson is to understand the possible methods to develop an idea, so as to start a story.

By the end of this grain, participants should be able to realize “embryos of stories”. They will experiment with different methods thus exercising their imagination and creativity.

Theory on the narrative creation

Let’s go now to define the plot. The plot is the succession of dramatic moments that conquers the reader and maintains his interest in the story. Obviously, to build an effective storyline, there is no one-size-fits-all rule.

The writer D. Buzzati, during an interview, declared: “My greatest aspiration is not to break the soul of the reader” (Roncoroni, 1989). In other words, every author should try to generate and manage tension so that the reader does not get bored but continually finds stimulus.

The first step to have a plot is to build a storyline, which is a succession of events arranged in chronological order. Continuing the previous example:

“Two boys with some problems with mathematics find the contact of a teacher on the school notice board who gives private lessons and makes an appointment. They go to his house and find that it is rather strange. The lesson is proceeding quite normally and is about to end. The professor asks permission to go away for a few minutes and leaves the kids to do an exercise. The boys finish the exercise but the professor has disappeared. They try to get out of the house but the door is closed with a padlock. They discover a series of clues, linked to mathematical proofs, which eventually allow the lock to be opened. Outside the door, they find the professor”.

We have a sort of news report, there is no tension as it is only a succession of events. It is necessary to rearrange the story, also altering the chronological order according to the need to create tension and suspense. What matters is to focus attention on the development of six moments of the narrative:

Introduction

We must introduce the readers into the narrative, providing them with all the elements necessary to understand the story:

  • the protagonist,
  • its starting condition,
  • the initial context.

Modern literary sensibility favors plots that begin in the middle, providing information through a flashback, concluding without a real resolutive ending. In fact, we suggest avoiding long premises or introductions. Readers usually like to be immediately involved in an action, immersed in a story that intrigues them, fascinates them, excites them right away.

There is no need to overdo the descriptions. A characterization consisting of a few but well-chosen physical and emotional elements will suffice. We will thus leave space for the reader’s imagination. For example, our story could start in this way:

“Thomas and Max had tried to give sense to that problem of integrals. “I still think this stuff is completely useless. We don’t need these math’s repetitions! We only need to convince Teresa to give us the class test done! What about this Professor Morris? He’s really weird! ” Max said.

“Above all, where is he going? I want to get out of here.

You’re right, it was not a good idea to respond to his ad” Thomas answered, looking out the large room door to peek into the corridor.

Silence reigned in the apartment. Only an old clock on the wall kept annoyingly keeping time.

Extraordinary event

An extraordinary event upsets the protagonist’s ordinary everyday life. This is the heart of the story and corresponds to the factor that creates the climax of tension: it is the reason why we expect the reader to remain passionate about what we write. The type of event will also determine the literary genre (ex. adventure, noir, thriller, fantasy, etc).

NB. To facilitate identification, we always try to create a situation that establishes some bond with the reader.

Consequences

The extraordinary event disorients and destabilizes the balance of the protagonist who thinks he is facing something much greater than him/her, apparently invincible. The author should highlight the difficulties in overcoming the impasse but also the need to act. It should prompt the reader to turn to the protagonist saying: “What are you waiting for? React! You have a chance! If I were you, I would do this … Come on! ” Especially if we are going to write with an educational objective, this step becomes crucial, through which we should trigger a Call to Action to our reader: what would you do if you were the protagonist? A change is possible, how would you behave?

Reactions

The main character, after having suffered the consequences of the extraordinary event, decides to react and finds the strength to try restoring a new balance. The protagonist can use intelligence, skills, courage, and willpower. Precisely this aspect makes it easier for the reader to identify with the protagonist, becoming passionate about his/her path and cheering for his/her success. There are many examples of stories where a weak figure manages to redeem himself from an uncomfortable situation, starting to believe in their own abilities (ex. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling).

This step can be very important in creating positive role models, allowing author to demonstrate the ability to succeed by trusting in your abilities.

Solution

The time has come for the protagonist to find a way out of the labyrinth in which he has lost himself and to restore a new balance, which will allow him to return to living life as before with completely different perspectives. Surely the protagonist, after having lived his adventure, will be destined for a different and better existence.

Reflections

This step is very important because it allows author to clarify the story’s message, creating a bridge between the protagonist’s past and future.

Last but not least, it is necessary to find the right title that must not be too long, captivating and original. A practical way can be to start from the first words that come to mind and play around looking for synonyms or antonyms, until you arrive at something more original and unexpected! A vocabulary of synonyms and antonyms can help!

The Hero’s journey

Similarly, the screenwriter C. Vogler defined “The Hero’s journey” scheme, which identifies a well-defined narrative structure based on 12 fundamental stages that the hero makes during his journey. Vogler identifies a series of function characters, the so-called archetypes, that accompany the entire narrative scheme.

Among the main ones are:

  1. Hero: the protagonist who in the story is in search of himself or has to reach a goal.
  2. Mentor: the guide who helps the hero on his journey. For the hero, this person represents a kind of conscience that serves to motivate him.
  3. Guardian of the threshold: the one who tests the hero’s qualities by putting him to the test, probing his will to reinforce it.
  4. Helper: which has a secondary role but helps the main character on his journey.
  5. Magic items: subjects or objects that help the hero in accomplishing his feat.
  6. Trauma: an event that puts the hero to the test and from which he must recover.

Graphic interpretation of the « The hero’s journey », n.d.

Advice for a good narrative

Study your itinerary!

There are so many ways to carry the story forward. Raymond Queneau in “Exercises in style” (1983) offers a very effective example of the relationship between genres of discourse and content. The book rephrases the story of a man getting off the bus on which he travelled and losing a button from his clothes in ninety-nine different versions! For each version Queneau makes use of peculiar devices: the choice of genre, of the tense, of the style, the prevalence of the type of sensory descriptions, etc. Each version creates a completely different story.

From Queneau, R. (1983). Exercises in style

Queneau teaches us that the same content can be treated in a multitude of ways. We have to be astute and chose the style that allows us to express ourselves best. A detective story fan will have to rely on his knowledge of the genre and his enjoyment in creating mysteries and enigmatic characters. A lover of history should accompany the reader in a past era, perhaps letting him discover what school books usually don’t tell…

We remember that each genre has its narrative rhythm and language, which must be suitable, as if they were the music of a film:

JOURNAL STORY ADVENTURE STORY HISTORICAL TALE science fiction story DETECTIVE STORY
Scientific, clear and consequential information Constant pace Details and descriptions provided impersonally Setting full of twists Fast pace, concise and effective descriptions, few digressions Uphill route and final effect Historical facts enrich the storyRigor and documental consistency Real or plausible characters Historical Excursus to contextualize history Details important Scientific and technological development at the center of history Appropriate terminology Times and places reinvented by the author, a world to be discovered Hero travels beyond the borders of the known Mystery Suspence Insertion of information / clues that have a precise meaning to direct the reader Use of logic to search for a unique and rational solution

Think how to surprise your “travel companion”, the participant in your experience

Writing is like a journey where there is always something new to discover. Our approach therefore must always be based on the creation of expectations or twists, which make the path that the reader will take less linear and obvious. As in the journey, not only the final destination counts but also the itinerary we propose to reach it! We can surprise the reader by using irony, paradox, suspense, fear, fun. In any case, we always have to be original whatever the message we intend to communicate. We never forget that we are not talking to ourselves but we have a travel companion: we have to find a way to involve him through questions, open reflections, silences.

Convey confidence

The narrator must be confident in his/her choices and be able to capture the reader’s trust. To this end, it is essential to avoid unnecessary details, which can be boring and distracting. Repetitions can paradoxically label us as insecure narrators: what need is there to reaffirm the same concept? Maybe we are not sure that we have transmitted it in the right way? Better then try to reformulate it, using keywords and a few adjectives that give the right touch of color. Readers prefer to be stimulated and have their own space to feel free to imagine.

Speak the right language

Letting characters interact through indirect speech alone can be cumbersome. We recommend letting the characters talk to each other so that the story becomes smoother and fast-pased. The reader wants to hear the voices of the characters and their personalities can emerge more interestingly while they speak!

Materials and Resources

Queneau, R. (1983). Exercises in style. https://monoskop.org/images/4/49/Queneau_Raymond_Exercises_in_Style_pp_1-26.pdf.

Roncoroni, F. (1989), Il meglio dei racconti di Buzzati (preface of the book), Mondadori.

Vogler, C. (2007). The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers. Michael Wiese Productions.

Q1. Why is important to define the “fabula”?

a. To have a perfect idea of the succession of the events, in chronological order
b. To be sure that the message we want to communicate finds the right way to reach the reader
c. To decide what is really needed to avoid repetition in the story and not lose the reader’s attention

Q2. On how many moments is it important to focus for a well-developed story?

a. On six: introduction, extraordinary event, consequences, reactions, solution, reflections.
b. On three, the protagonist presentation, the context where the story is set and the conclusion.
c. There are no fixed moments, they depend from the story and from the writer’s style

Q3. What does the “extraordinary event” represent in a narrative structure?

a. The main event in the story
b. A radical change in the direction or expected outcome of the plot
c. The heart of the story and corresponds to the factor that creates the climax of tension, upsetting the protagonist’s ordinary life

Answers: