What If? Separating Author, Narrator, and Character

When the protagonist is the observer of action – first-person feels like a once-removed narrator, third-person feels like a brain in the room. – flat story, writer is merged with the character who never becomes the focus of the action.

Aha, that sounds important – the narrator (first person) or protagonist (third person) must be the focus of the action. This is where I missed on Money from the Sky, maybe, I made him an observer – but only for the first section, then he became a participant, trying to give it away.

Maybe this is why Drown works because it is happening to Russ, not to someone and Russ is watching. I do like narrators as observers, though.

“…the function of the narrator is to present and somehow translate the action of the story, such that the reader can understand objectively what’s happening, even if the protagonist does not.”

Example, Emma – the third person narrator presents the drama in such a way that the reader understands Knightly is wooing Emma, not Harriet, though Emma thinks he’s after Harriet. I wish I could remember enough of Emma to know what that means – maybe I have it around here somewhere.  For first-person, see Catcher in the Rye. Ok, that I get.

Exercise: Write down “Once upon a time there was” and write a story for 5 minutes. Do it again.

um, ok….

First: once upon a time, there was a Lady of the Monument. She sat in Monument Square on warm sunny days, at the base of the WWII monument for which the square was named, and greeted people who walked by, calling out, “Good morning, sir!” and “Good evening, madam!” and offering help whenever needed – for instance, if a child was crying, she would pull a balloon from her pocket and blow it up for the little one, and then she would dance until the child smiled or at least stopped crying – most often as he looked at her over his mother’s shoulder since the parents never stopped. For the Lady of the Monument was considered crazy. No one who was normal would do such a thing, of course.

Except the Lady was not crazy, she was in fact a sociologist and the bag she kept by her side at the base of the monument was not full of smelly old clothes and worthless mementos but video recording equipment, and she recorded every encounter she made. At the end of the Summer, she stopped appearing in Monument Square because, of course, she had university courses to teach and, also, she had data to collate about her summer on the street. She learned that women feared her, young men ridiculed her, older men were amused by her, and only children accepted her for what she was, a lady who spoke politely and was helpful. She realized that this is the way of the world, that people expect the Lady of the Monument to be crazy, and that saying “Good Morning!” would be considered a sign of madness, and helping people by picking up dropped items and returning them, or distracting cranky children, was not something considered “normal”. This made her tremendously sad, but it also made her a full Professor of Sociology at the university, and thus it was a mixed blessing.

Second: Once upon a time, there was a chiropodist who arrived at his shop every day at 10a.m. and left every afternoon at 5 p.m. But on one random Thursday in September, he left instead at 4:45 p.m. and lay down on the sidewalk outside his office to look at the sky. Although the ground was hard and a bit chilly, and his head hurt where it rested against a crooked brick in the sidewalk and his back did not like the straightness of the ground, he found the sky to be beautiful, and he called out what he saw: “A small white cloud, it looks like a bunny rabbit, oh, now it’s changing, the ear is moving down and it is becoming a greyhound, no, a car, and I think I shall lose my mind if I have to shave one more callous.” He began to cry.

A woman walking by heard what he said, and she lay down on the sidewalk next to him and said, “The sky is the color of a robin’s egg under a tree, not in full sunlight, and I think I shall lose my mind if I have to type ‘Thank you for your cooperation in this matter’ one more time.”

Another woman saw them and also lay down over their heads, and called out, “The sun is pouring warm honey through the sky and if I have to ask ‘Paper or plastic’ one more time I shall go mad.” And person by person, everyone lay down on the sidewalk and noticed something about the sky and admitted what they were most tired of in their lives: “If I have to make love to a man I do not love one more time,” “if I have to talk my parents into letting me have money for jeans one more time,” “if I  have to grade one more paper on William Makepeace Thackaray,” “if I ever am chased out of my country by thugs who would otherwise rape my wife and slice me open like a goat and have to walk across the sand to another shore and spend years in a camp where clean water is the highest hope until at last my name is called and I am brought to America where it is safe…”  And all the people became silent, and ashamed, and they got up and went about their lives remembering how important it is to sometimes look at the sky, even when you are in a terrible hurry.

Then: Rewrite the first paragraph of your favorite fairy tale, removing “Once upon a time” and adding in modern syntax and details to make it realistic.

Huh? What does this have to do with narrators not being the center of attention, merging the author and narrator?  And I don’t really know any fairy tales well enough to rewrite them, and, yeah, I’m being stubborn because I just don’t want to.

Objective: “Once upon a time” creates a discourse that automatically separates us from the characters…
1. We do not mix ourselves up with the narrator
2. We do not mix the scene up iwth our present day lives
3. We are oriented outward and cued to invent characters and/or place distinctly envisioned in our imagination.
Um, I don’t think so – I was creating characters that were basically me, and using Monument Square as the setting.  I don’t see what the exercies has to do with the teach, but I think the chapter is worth it for the “narrator as the center of the action, not the observer” alone. I think this is one of my tendencies, to think I’m the Gatsby narrator. Hey – why did it work for Fitzgerald?

Now, Glasses had elements of real life, and the first draft, as T pointed out, was pretty dismal – “here’s what happened to me”. At that point I changed it and the character became someone else – how I wish it had happened –  and that improved it, I gave her something to do, she became a participant instead of a victim. Yeah, I need to remember that, the protagonist is a participant, the story is about what he does, not about what happens to him.

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