A NORTAV Analysis of Stephen King’s Joyland

For instructions on performing a NORTAV analysis, see The NORTAV Method for Writers. To purchase a copy of Joyland , click here.

Narrative Mode: NCE 1

Narrator: Devin Jones

Narrative Intrusion: Yes

Focal Character(s): Devin Jones

Prose Type(s) and/or Beat Types(s): NCE and Narration

Narrative Tense: Past

Additional Constraints: None

Narrative Pattern: NCE 1 throughout

Source: Sections 1-2; Paragraphs 1-4


    [N1] I had a car, but on most days in that fall of 1973 I walked to Joyland from Mrs. Shoplaw’s Beachside Accommodations in the town of Heaven’s Bay.

King opens with a beat of Narration. Here the narrator, (identified later as Devin Jones), is telling the reader of a time back in 1973 when he would walk from Mrs. Shoplaw’s to Joyland. We don’t know who the narrator is at this point. We don’t know what Shoplaw’s or Joyland is. We learn through this beat that we are dealing with a character narrator and we get a sense that the narrator is talking about a time back in his early adulthood. We do not yet experience any perceptions or activities of Devin at the time the story takes place. This is general, non-character experience information…i.e. standard narration.

    [N2] It seemed like the right thing to do. The only thing, actually. By early September, Heaven Beach was almost completely deserted, which suited my mood.

[N1] leads to [N2], another beat of Narration. The narrator continues to build on the story situation. But still, we have no character perceptions or activities at the time of the story, though we are starting to get there. We know that Devin was generally not in the mood for company at the time. In a different context this could be a character perception (an internal observation or reaction at story time), but it’s still being rendered generally. Notice one other thing here. The phrasing of this beat is such that we start to “hear” the narrator’s voice. The repeating “thing” within a fragment of a sentence gives us the impression this is more than just literary narration. This is starting to feel like someone, a real person (Devin), is actually telling the reader the story directly and personally.

    [N3] That fall was the most beautiful of my life. Even forty years later I can say that. And I was never so unhappy, I can say that, too. People think first love is sweet, and never sweeter than when that first bond snaps. You’ve heard a thousand pop and country songs that prove the point; some fool got his heart broke. Yet that first broken heart is always the most painful, the slowest to mend, and leaves the most visible scar. What’s so sweet about that?

Here [N2] leads to [N3], a long beat of Narration. [N3] is a beat that fully brings King’s powerful writing style into play. Here King’s narrator Devin really picks up the personal connection to the reader. The style and phrasings of this beat drive home the fact that this is going to be a story told to the reader by an actual person. The narrator even addresses the reader directly with “You’ve” and the rhetorical question at the end. This is precisely what Peter Straub was referring to in his introduction to King’s SECRET WINDOWS (a book of King’s essays on writing and fiction) when he says that King’s greatest strength is how his narrators actually talk to the reader directly. Although King does not always employ a narrator with this kind of directness (THE GUNSLINGER, et al), we certainly see how powerful the technique can be. After reading the past two beats, the reader can almost feel there is an actual person sitting next to him on the sofa, telling him his story face to face over a couple of beers.


[No4] Through September and right into October, the North Carolina skies were clear and the air was warm even at seven in the morning, when [Na5] I left my second-floor apartment by the outside stairs. [Nc6] If I started with a light jacket on, I was wearing it tied around my waist before I’d finished half of the three miles between the town and the amusement park.

After a section break, [N3] leads to Narrated Observation beat [No4]. This beat transitions from a general narration of the weather back in ’73 to a specific observation of the focal character at the time of the story. In other words, the narrator transitions from talking “about” the generalities of the story to providing the reader with his direct observation of the sky back on the specific morning when the story starts. This leads to Narrated Action beat [Na5], which is the narrator telling the reader of his direct action back at the time of the story. Here is where the reader begins to transition from hearing the story being told to him/her by the narrator, to experiencing the story somewhat through the focal character at the time of the story. As typical with NCE, the reader has an in-between feeling here, partially hearing the story from the narrator, partially experiencing it through the focal character. Finally, [Na5] leads to Consolidated NCE beat [Nc6], which summarizes the focal character’s perceptions and activities from the time he leaves the beach house to the time he’s a mile and a half down the beach.

    [Nc7] I make Betty’s Bakery my first stop, grabbing a couple of still-warm croissants. [No8] My shadow would walk with me on the sand, at least twenty feet long. Hopeful gulls, smelling the croissants in their waxed paper, would circle overhead. [Na9] And when I walked back, usually around five (although sometimes I stayed later—there was nothing waiting for me in Heaven’s Bay, a town that mostly went sleepybye when summer was over), [No10] my shadow walked with me on the water. If the tide was in, it would waver on the surface, seeming to do a slow hula.

[Nc6] leads to another Consolidated NCE beat, [Nc7], in which the experience of the narrator heading into the bakery for food is rolled up/summarized. This leads to Narrated Observation beat [No8] where the narrator tells us about his observation as it occurred back at story time. This leads to Narrated Action beat [Na9], a direct action coupled with a hefty chunk of incidental narration. I could easily have split the narration out into a beat of its own, but the parenthetical nature of the narration lends it more of an incidental feel. Last, [Na9] leads to [No10], a typical beat of Narrated Observation in which the narrator tells the reader what he was observing back at the time of the story.

    [N11] Although I can’t be completely sure, I think the boy and the woman and their dog were there from the first time I took that walk. [No12] The shore between the town and the cheerful, blinking gimcrackery of Joyland was lined with summer homes, many of them expensive, most of them clapped shut after Labor Day. But not the biggest of them, the one that looked like a green wooden castle. A boardwalk led from its wide back patio down to where the seagrass gave way to fine white sand. At the end of the boardwalk was a picnic table shaded by a bright green beach umbrella. In its shade, the boy sat in his wheelchair, wearing a baseball cap and covered from the waist down by a blanket even in the late afternoons, when the temperature lingered in the seventies. [Nt13] I thought he was five or so, surely no older than seven. [No14] The dog, a Jack Russell terrier, either lay beside him or sat at his feet. The woman sat on one of the picnic table benches, sometimes reading a book, mostly just staring out at the water. [Nt15] She was very beautiful…

Finally, [No10] leads to [N11], a beat of Narration in which the narrator gives the reader some non-character experience information that leads to and adds depth to the next beat, [No12]. [No12] is a long Narrated Observation in which the narrator explains in detail the direct observation he made at that time in the story. This beat triggers Narrated Thought beat [Nt13], where he analyses what he’s just seen. This leads to a continuation of the observation in Narrated Observation beat [No14], which triggers a final analysis in Narrated Thought beat [Nt15].

So if you want to learn to write like Stephen King, grab a copy of THE NORTAV METHOD FOR WRITERS and study the sections on NCE and Narration. Learn how to use a narrator that is fully noticeable to the reader. Create an omniscient narrator that has character and personality, or if the narrator is a focal character, let that character’s personality shine through in the narration. Do not write lengths of narration that do not relate directly to some action happening at the time of the story. Don’t pontificate. In other words, add Narration beats to your NCE within a single narrative mode. If you don’t know what that means, again, grab a copy of THE NORTAV METHOD. The biggest single trait of King’s writing is that his narrator is (nearly) always there, commenting on the story as it unfolds, addressing the reader directly, making the reader feel invited and welcome and part of the storytelling process.

Source Copyright

Joyland by Stephen King

Copyright 2013 by Stephen King

Excerpted for this analysis under the Fair Use doctrine codified in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law.


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