Narrative Mode: Narration 1
Narrative Intrusion: Yes
Focal Character(s): None
Prose Type(s) and/or Beat Types(s): Narration with some Narration beats posing as NCE.
Narrative Tense: Past
Additional Constraints: None
Narrative Pattern: Narration 1 throughout.
Source: Chapter1 ;Paragraphs 1-11
- [N1] The villagers of Little Hangleron still called it “the Riddle House,” even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there. It stood on a hill overlooking the village, some of its windows boarded, tiles missing from its roof, and ivy spreading unchecked over its face. Once a fine-looking manor, and easily the largest and grandest building for miles around, the Riddle House was now damp, derelict, and unoccupied.
Rowling opens with Narration beat [N1], which introduces the topic or thread of the “Riddle House” and the subtopic or subthread of the “villagers.” Here we have the narrator directly providing the reader information. There are no focal characters present.
- [N2] The Little Hagletons all agreed that the old house was “creepy.” Half a century ago, something strange and horrible had happened there, something that the older inhabitants of the village still liked to discuss when topics for gossip were scarce.[N3] The story had been picked over so many times, and had been embroidered in so many places, that nobody was quite sure what the truth was anymore. Every version of the tale, however, started in the same place: Fifty years before, at daybreak on a fine summer’s morning when the Riddle House had still been well kept and impressive, [N4] a maid had entered the drawing room to find all three Riddles dead.
Here [N1] leads to Narration beat [N2]. [N2] furthers the main topic or thread of the Riddle House by adding a related subtopic or subthread, specifically, that something horrible had happened within the house. [N2] also provides more detail about the villagers by providing the name of the village itself. Thus, [N2] furthers both threads introduced in [N1] and adds another thread.
[N2] leads to Narration beat [N3], which shifts the main topic or thread from the Riddle House to the thread of the horrible event that occurred there. Here we get more general details about that event. Notice also Rowling keeps the thread of the villagers intertwined within the beat.
[N3] leads to Narration beat [N4]. Here we have all three threads converging into one specific detail or statement. The maid (a villager) finds three dead bodies (the horrible event) in the drawing room (the Riddle House). So you can see how Rowling gets to this specific statement by starting off with several general topics/threads and weaves them with ever increasing detail until she can get to this one specific point or statement.
- [N5] The maid had run screaming down the hill into the village and roused as many people as she could.
[N4] leads to Narration beat [N5]. While one might think this is a beat of Mixed NCE, where the maid is acting as a focal character, it is not. We will see that the maid is never used as a focal character. Nor is any other character. She is just a part of the setting, a part of the overall story that the narrator is portraying directly to the reader. The reader is not meant to experience this beat through the maid but rather through the narrator as part of the narrator’s storytelling style.
- [N6] “Lying there with their eyes wide open! Cold as ice! Still in their dinner things!”
- [N7] The police were summoned, and the whole of Little Hangleton had seethed with shocked curiosity and ill-disguised excitement. Nobody wasted their breath pretending to feel very sad about the Riddles, for they had been most unpopular. Elderly Mr. and Mrs. Riddle had been rich, snobbish, and rude, and their grown-up son, Tom, had been, if anything, worse. [N8] All the villagers cared about was the identity of their murderer — for plainly, three apparently healthy people did not all drop dead of natural causes on the same night.
[N5] leads to Narration beat [N6]. Here we see the same style as was used in [N5]. Though it may seem like a Narrated Vocalization beat, it is meant to be the narrator telling the reader about something a villager (a part of the setting or overall story) said. The reader is not supposed to experience this through or within the maid.
[N6] leads to Narration beat [N7]. Here we start to get more details of the event. Thus, Rowling’s strategy here is to introduce the three threads generally, weave them together until she gets to a specific event that combines all three, and then begin to play out the details of that event. So here Rowling uses the maid to transition from speaking of the event generally to speaking of the event specifically. Once she starts speaking of the event specifically, the maid disappears but the narrator continues on with specific details.
[N7] leads to Narration beat [N8]. [N7] plays out the event, providing more details, and [N8] narrows the focus to the villager’s main concern: who murdered the Riddles?
- [N9] The Hanged Man, the village pub, did a roaring trade that night; the whole village seemed to have turned out to discuss the murders. They were rewarded for leaving their firesides when the Riddles’ cook arrived dramatically in their midst and announced to the suddenly silent pub that a man called Frank Bryce had just been arrested.
[N8] leads to Narration beat [N9]. Here the topic or thread of the villagers’ concern is furthered, or continued, as we see them discussing that very issue in a village pub. [N9] also furthers the topic by providing a new thread: the main suspect, Frank Bryce.
- [N10] “Frank!” cried several people. “Never!”
[N9] leads to Narration beat [N10], where we get a bit of direct reaction from the villagers in the pub. This is an initiating beat of Narration that dead ends, but it serves to add flavor to the story. I.e. it’s a bit of storytelling spice.
- [N11] Frank Bryce was the Riddles’ gardener. He lived alone in a run-down cottage on the grounds of the Riddle House. Frank had come back from the war with a very stiff leg and a great dislike of crowds and loud noises, and had been working for the Riddles ever since.[N9] also leads to Narration beat [N11]. Here the narrator provides the reader with more information about Frank Bryce, information that the villagers themselves would know and would most likely be mulling over at this very moment in the story.[N12] There was a rush to buy the cook drinks and hear more details.
[N11] leads to Narration beat [N12]. From a linking perspective, the villagers heard that Frank Bryce was accused, recalled what they knew of Frank, and then became excited to learn more.
- [N13] “Always thought he was odd,” she told the eagerly listening villagers, after her fourth sherry. “Unfriendly, like. I’m sure if I’ve offered him a cuppa once, I’ve offered it a hundred times. Never wanted to mix, he didn’t.”
- [N14] “Ah, now,” said a woman at the bar, “he had a hard war, Frank. He likes the quiet life. That’s no reason to –“
[N12] leads to Narration beats [N13] and [N14], which continue on with the story using the same style.
In this opening sample, Rowling uses a Narration-based narrative mode to tell the reader a part of the novel’s greater story. That is, this is a bit of background information that Rowling wants the reader to know about, and that has nothing to do with the focal characters of the story she normally uses (Harry, etc.). So, she relates this information to the reader directly from the narrator. She keeps the information interesting by providing the actions and vocalizations of several characters or groups of characters such that it almost appears as if it is coming to the reader through one or more focal characters. This lets the reader connect a little bit with the characters here as she would had she used an NCE-based narrative mode, rather than simply giving the reader a distant data dump completely through the narrator.
This excerpt is also a wonderful example of how to connect beats of Narration to tell a story that flows properly. When using DCE or NCE, the writer connects beats using a progression of perceptions and activities experienced by a focal character (for the most part). So the focal character’s natural sequence of observations, reactions, thoughts, actions, and vocalizations lead the reader through the prose chain from one beat to the next. When using a Narration-based narrative mode, the writer has to connect the beats in some other way that will lead the reader through the story, and without a focal character, that “way” has to be developed specifically for the scene at hand. Each Narration-based prose chain is unique. This is not an easy thing to accomplish.
Rowling is master at this. Take another look at this excerpt, or any of her Narration-based prose (see the openings to several of her Harry Potter books), and study how she leads the reader from beat to beat, from topic to subtopic or thread to thread, from high-level information to almost moment-to-moment information. And notice how she does it all in a way that reveals a very charismatic omniscient narrator.
Note: using a Narration-based narrative mode for any length of time, as in this excerpt, requires that the writer create/use a narrator that is interesting to listen to in-and-of herself. You can almost hear the voice of Rowling’s narrator as the story unfolds (again, the narrator is technically not Rowling herself). The narrator’s intelligent, witty, and just simply fun to listen to. Without an interesting narrator, the reader will quickly get bored when reading prose written using a Narration-based narrative mode.
FFS (for further study): three other authors famous for using charismatic, interesting omniscient narrators are Stephen King, Tolkien, and Twain. Compare Rowling with these guys and you’ll see how she stands up with the best of them.