Friday, May 9, 2008

Adding Complexity To Your Narrative

By William Meikle

Complex narrative structure is used by authors to add interest by complicating the story.

There are several authorial methods of achieving this.

It can occur when the author uses causally unrelated narratives to work together to build thematic unity. This usually involves two or three or more clearly defined narratives each with their own sets of characters. There is often little or no intermingling of characters or narrative events, simply two or three narratives existing alongside each other.

One of the problems this causes authors involves not letting the reader lose track of what's going on. Since there are so many stories happening at once, a lot more reader activity is required to keep track of the various narratives. Therefore time and place are usually clearly defined: events often occur within a very specific time frame in a specific locale to keep the reader focussed. In order to achieve a form of formal closure, there is usually an event at the end of the story that brings all characters to one location or at least affects them all in some way.

Another way an author can use complex narrative structure is in interlayering many flashbacks, or introducing fantasy elements or stories within stories to make the story diverge from a central plot line while maintaining thematic unity . Don Quixote is generally considered the first of the "complex" narrative novels. It is a story within a story within a story within a story again.

Another example is the use of a complex time structure. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte begins in 1801, towards the end of the sequence of events that forms the plot and the story moves back and forward in time as the story unfolds.

By using the complex narrative structure, Bronte was able to show how the past and the present are intermingled, and was able to maintain the common theme of the story while adding interest by adding complication.

So in summary, complex narratives are used by authors to tell stories in interesting ways and may involve one or more of the following:

- flashbacks

- dream sequences

- repetition

- different characters' point of view

- multiple plot lines converging at the end

- flash forwards

- different time frames

- pre-figuring of events that have not yet taken place

- circular plotting where we are led back to the beginning

- backwards story telling, where the denoument is shown first and explained through the plot

The use of these is done with the intent of providing a deeper, more satisfying experience for the reader and all are writer's friends. Learn to use them, and they'll repay you tenfold.

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