Poem Tryouts: Narrative Consciousness

12 Nov

7:41 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to The Beatles singing Get Back

Hello, all. Here we go with this week’s narrative exercise. As prose writers you need to be aware of the effect of the narrator, point of view, and distance, on the story. Keeping a continuity of narrative voice for the length of a novel is not an easy thing and you will need to train your ear.

“It is through action that characters most successfully and fully emerge, and seldom mere description.”[Roorbach, Writing Life Stories p74]

You need to look back for a character you have created or one from real life. Or use a photograph from a magazine. Ahead of the exercise:

Give the character a gender. [I am going to refer to the character as ‘he’ rather than the wretched dual pronoun thing.]
Name the character.
What does this character want… more than anything else… NOW?
Think: Is it the kind of matter that can sustain a story?
Explain the want.
Who is preventing the character from getting what he wants?
What does this character think about himself?

Keep these in mind as you follow the steps of the exercise.

1. Don’t have the character move. Describe him in prose. Just the person; no background. Describe especially the things people remember about him. Third person point of view.

2. Have this character move, but stay close; continue to focus tightly on him. Think of yourself as a movie camera in a close-up. Third person point of view.

3. Have your character approach and say something to someone else. Don’t get inside the second character. Describe the second character through your first character’s eyes. This can be third, or first person. Try both points of view and note how they differ.

4. Again, think of yourself as a movie camera. Continue with the interaction between these two characters, but report it from a distance, or through some kind of partial obstruction (fog, fence, screen door mesh, wind, snowstorm, passing traffic)  Third person point of view. BUT do let the reader be aware of the partial obstruction or distance that separates you from the characters.

5. Describe something your main character can’t possibly be aware of–but that is in some way related to him. It can be something physical about himself, or something that’s going on right now far away or nearby out of his sight. Third person POV.

6. Have your two characters go separate ways. Send away your starting–main–character first. Follow him for a while noting what he does.  Third person POV.

7. Come back to the second character. Reveal to us that your second character has been lying to your main character or concealing something the whole time. This may have been done for positive or negative reasons. Tell us how and why and since when this deception has been going on.  Third person POV.

8. End by showing us the first character again, probably unaware of the deception. This can be third, or first person POV.

Note that the exercise, while focusing on character, includes something the main character wants and a possible conflict, or two. Both of these are necessary in fiction to propel the plot.

Poets: Pick one of these steps and adapt it for a poem. If you choose a step that can be told in either first, or third, person point of view, try both. If you find the differences interesting, give us both versions and tell us what you note.

I shall see you Thursday for links; Friday for this week’s prompt roundup; and next Tuesday for a narrative prompt that focuses on eating.

Happy writing, everyone.

P.S. The Roorbach book is worth having if you write narrative.


Posted by on 12/11/2013 in exercises, writing


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26 responses to “Poem Tryouts: Narrative Consciousness

  1. Hannah Gosselin

    12/11/2013 at 3:53 pm

    Holy Moley. This is exactly why I don’t write narrative prose. SO involved. And I’m sure it is entirely worth it but wow…I better pull out my Larvikite power stone for patience if I’m going to tackle that version of this. Phew. Kudos and a thank you to you, Margo for your patience putting this post together! :)’s

  2. georgeplace2013DebiSwim

    12/11/2013 at 8:11 pm
    I may work on a first person, too, but not tonight. 🙂

    • margo roby

      14/11/2013 at 7:24 am

      The first several years of writing poems I used third person. When I shifted to first, I liked it better. But, one thing I always enjoy, is writing in both during the revision period. Such a difference in just changing a pronoun.

  3. markwindham

    12/11/2013 at 9:24 pm

    Needs much work, but It is something written, almost to prompt even. I shall consider that a win.

  4. Misky

    13/11/2013 at 5:05 am

    This one left me a bit confused but that’s nothing new.

    • margo roby

      14/11/2013 at 7:27 am

      I’m grinning. I have never been good at articulating. My first couple of years as a teacher that worried me. Then I realised it was one of my stronger qualities. In figuring out what the heck I was trying to say, the kids came up with wonderful things and learned more in the process. There was one year where I had a translator. She got me better than anyone I know. I would make a semi-articulate statement, the class would say ‘Huh?’ and she would say ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake. She is saying…’.

      • Misky

        14/11/2013 at 7:31 am

        You didn’t finish the sentence, and where did that translator go, and I’m with Barbara … why are the shops playing Christmas music and why are there reindeer on Oxford Street? Huh?

        • margo roby

          14/11/2013 at 7:44 am

          Reindeer? Already? Good grief.

          • Misky

            14/11/2013 at 8:52 am

            After we torch Guy Fawkes, there’s not much left to do until Christmas arrives, although I guess we could roast a few reindeer.

        • barbara_y

          14/11/2013 at 7:57 am

          It’s gotten so bad I had to look up the date for Thanksgiving. Totally been slicked down in the rush for Christmas sales. It’s just a good thing we don’t have time travel.

          • margo roby

            14/11/2013 at 7:59 am

            Atlanta is not bad. They had their first full xmas ad last night on tv. They bring it on fairly gradually.

          • Misky

            14/11/2013 at 8:55 am

            I was informed last night by my husband that he’s invited friends to our table for Thanksgiving, which is an event not celebrated here. Several people accepted by adding, “Oh, we’ve never had a real Thanksgiving,” and I thought something along the lines of ‘if it were real, you wouldn’t arrive with empty hands’.

            • margo roby

              14/11/2013 at 9:04 am

              After thumping Peder, you can say to the invitees: Now, for a real Thanksgiving everyone brings something. Who would like to do veg? I suspect my brother of inviting us so he can have our daughter’s green bean casserole,

              • Misky

                14/11/2013 at 9:24 am

                They’ll probably bring wine, and since I rarely drink, I’ll go all grumpy and start eating Halloween candy that I hid under the bed.

                • margo roby

                  14/11/2013 at 10:05 am

                  I can see it now: You in the corner of the sofa, muttering, casting dark glances around the room, and stuffing candy in your mouth. No one knows where the candy is coming from. You just keep putting a piece in your mouth and no one wants to stare outright.

  5. barbara_y

    13/11/2013 at 1:26 pm

    I have no idea what happened. Where my brain has gone. Why the hell are they playing Christmas movies? Agh!

    • margo roby

      14/11/2013 at 7:28 am

      Feeling a little grumpy are we?


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