Narrative Mode: Narration 1
Narrative Intrusion: Yes
Focal Character(s): None
Prose Type(s) and/or Beat Types(s): Narration
Narrative Tense: Past
Additional Constraints: None
Narrative Mode: DCE 2
Narrative Intrusion: No
Focal Character(s): Ian
Prose Type(s) and/or Beat Types(s): DCE with minor occurrences of incidental narration.
Narrative Tense: Past
Additional Constraints: None
Narrative Pattern: Opens with Narration 1, transitions to DCE 2.
Source: Chapter 1;Paragraphs 1-30
[N1] I intensely disliked my father’s fifth wife, but not to the point of murder.
Francis opens with [N1], a beat of Narration. Here the narrator is addressing the reader directly, providing her with a bit of background information that sets the stage for what’s to come. Notice the narrative mode is not yet definitively established. This could also be a focal character’s internal musings, so as such this opening beat is a tad ambiguous.
[N2] I, the fruit of his second ill-considered gallop up the aisle, had gone dutifully to the next two of his subsequent nuptials, the changes of ‘mother’ punctuating my life at six and fourteen.
[N1] leads to [N2], another beat of Narration. This beat continues the thread of [N1], and is also a bit ambiguous. Notice, however, the phrasing here starts to establish the narrative mode. This is definitely starting to sound like a narrator talking to the reader and not the internal thoughts of a focal character. p>
[N3] At thirty however I’d revolted: wild horses couldn’t have dragged me to witness his wedding to the sharp-eyed honey-tongued Moira, his fifth choice. Moira had been the subject of the bitterest quarrel my father and I ever had and the direct cause of a non-speaking wilderness which had lasted three years.
[N2] leads to compound Narration beat [N3]. At this point the reader should lock into the narrative mode. [N3] furthers the topic even more, and the continued “biographical” nature of the beat is too biographical to be internal musings. Thus, the reader settles into the Narration-based narrative mode and follows along as the narrator begins his story.
[N4] After Moira was murdered, the police came bristling with suspicion to my door, and it was by the merest fluke that I could prove I’d been geographically elsewhere when her grasping little soul had left her carefully tended body. I didn’t go to her funeral, but I wasn’t alone in that. My father didn’t go either.
[N3] leads to compound Narration beat [N4]. Notice here that we begin to get some character activities. So why isn’t this notated as NCE? First, the narrator has not firmly established a focal character. We haven’t experienced anything within or beside anyone. Second, these are events that have already occurred, and are rendered to the reader as such. If these were events summarized in the middle of a moment-to-moment or “in progress” section of prose, then they could be considered NCE. As they are not, we’re still dealing with Narration.
[N5] A month after her death he telephoned me, [N6] and it was so long since I’d heard his voice that it seemed that of a stranger.
[N4] leads to Narration beat [N5]. [N5] leads to Narration beat [N6]. Note that [N6] could be considered the narrator’s thoughts at the time the story is taking place, which would make this beat either NCE or DCE. But because we have not transitioned to prose that reflects events in progress, nor do we yet feel we are dealing with a focal character, the reader parses this as a telling of events that have already happened, rendered by the narrator. Thus, it’s Narration.
[V8] ‘Yes,’ I said.
[V10] ‘Hello,’ I said.
[O11] ‘Are you doing anything?’
[V12] ‘Reading the price of gold.’
[N6] leads to initiating Observation beat [O7]. Here the narrator repeats the event in [N6], but now we are experiencing the event, as it happens, through a focal character, with no sense of a narrator. Because this transition is so abrupt and obvious to the reader, we “feel” the narrative mode change. Thus we have transitioned from narrative mode Narration 1 to narrative mode DCE 2. Notice also the transition is made more obvious because we have transitioned immediately from a very distant mode to a very intimate mode.
Moving on, [O7] triggers [V8] and an exchange of dialogue in [O9] through [V12].
[O13] ‘No, dammit,’ he said testily. ‘In general, are you busy?’
[O13] continues the dialogue. Note “testily”. See how this narrative tag comes across to the reader as a description of how Ian experiences his father’s speech (adding color to Ian’s observation), rather than as a narrative intrusion? For more information about this technique, refer to the discussion on narrative tags within dialogue in the Vocalization Beat section of Chapter 3 in The NORTAV Method for Writers
[V14] ‘In general,’ I said, ‘fairly.’
[O13] triggers Vocalization beat [V14].
[O15] The newspaper lay on my lap, an empty wine glass at my elbow. [T16] It was late evening, after eleven, growing cold. I had that day quit my job and put on idleness like a comfortable coat.
Ian’s response of being fairly busy in [V14] triggers a self-observation in Observation beat [O15] and a realization in Thought beat [T16]. Both of these beats could have been written by Francis as NCE (meaning, the narrator is interrupting into the prose, explaining what his thoughts and situation was at the time of the story. But because we’ve been thrust into DCE, the reader will tend to parse these beats as DCE, experienced through the focal character.
[O17] He sighed down the line. ‘I suppose you know about Moira?’
[O17] is an initiating Observation beat.
[V18] ‘Front page news,’ I agreed. ‘The price of gold is on… er… page thirty-two.’
[O19] ‘If you want me to apologise,’ he said, ‘I’m not going to.’
[O17] triggers Vocalization beat [V18]. [O19] is an initiating Observation beat. Notice the tag “agreed” in [V18]. This is a bit of narrative intrusion that slips into the DCE.
[T20] His image stood sharp and clear in my mind: a stocky, grey-haired man with bright blue eyes and a fizzing vitality that flowed from him in sparks of static electricity in cold weather. He was to my mind stubborn, opinionated, rash and often stupid. He was also financially canny, intuitive, quick-brained and courageous, and hadn’t been nicknamed Midas for nothing.
[O19] triggers compound Thought beat [T20]. The refusal of an apology (and most likely the tone of voice) triggers Ian’s internal recollection of his father.
[O21] ‘Are you still there?’ he demanded.
[O23] ‘Well… I need your help.’
[O21] is an initiating Observation beat that includes a narrative tag that adds to the image. [V22] and [O23] continue the dialogue.
[T24] He said it as if it were an everyday requirement, but I couldn’t remember his asking anyone for help ever before, certainly not me.
[O23] triggers Ian’s internal thought in Thought beat [T24].
[V25] ‘Er…’ I said uncertainly. ‘What sort of help?’
[O26] ‘I’ll tell you when you get here.’
[V27] ‘Where is “here”?’
[O28] ‘Newmarket,’ he said. ‘Come to the sales tomorrow afternoon.’
[T24] triggers Vocalization beat [V25], which includes an intruding narrative tag (“uncertainly”). The dialogue continues through [O26] through .
[T29] There was a note in his voice which couldn’t be called entreaty but was far from a direct order, and I was accustomed only to orders.
[O28] triggers Thought beat [T29].
[V30] ‘All right,’ I said slowly.
[T29] triggers Vocalization beat [V30]. The narrative tag “slowly” interrupts here, but it’s necessary, as there’s no way the reader can tell from the words or context that Ian has “slowed” his speech. [O31] is an initiating Observation beat.
[O32] He disconnected immediately, [T33] letting me ask no questions: and I thought of the last time I’d seen him, when I’d tried to dissuade him from marrying Moira, describing her progressively, in face of his implacable purpose, as a bad misjudgement on his part and as a skilful, untruthful manipulator and, finally, as a rapacious bloodsucking tramp…
Finally, initiating Observation beat [O32] triggers compound Thought beat [T33]. [T33] contains some phrasings and a tag “I thought” that push it a bit towards NCE, but again, because the reader is deep within the focal character, the beats are still perceived as DCE.
We can see Francis’s style here is to use a character narrator (Ian) to tell his own story to the reader. Francis opens the story using a Narration-based narrative mode in which Ian talks directly to the reader. Then Francis abruptly switchs narrative modes to let the reader experience the events through Ian’s own eyes as Ian experienced them. Is this second narrative mode DCE or really NCE? Truth is, it’s right on the border. At what point do you switch from notating prose as a DCE-based narrative mode with the occasional non-conforming narrative intrusion, to a very intimate NCE-based narrative mode that uses mostly DCE? There’s no definitive answer. Follow your gut. If it feels, as it does here, that the mode has shifted “into” the focal character, then notate as DCE. If it feels more like the narrator is continuing his discourse with the reader, even if he/she is relating the perceptions and activities of a focal character, then notate as NCE.
By using a Narrative schema that combines a Narration-based narrative mode and a DCE-based narrative mode, Francis accepts the abrupt, jolting transition between the modes in order to reap the benefits of the strength of each individual mode. In other words, he uses the strength of Narration to quickly and efficiently set the stage of the story, and then uses the strength of DCE to maximize the intimacy between the reader and the focal character.