Tuesday, August 05, 2014

When the narrator goes WAY off the reservation...

A friend just sent me a clip of a short film that’s won numerous awards and been selected for a number of film festivals. I noticed that right away. I also noticed that it was self-described as “Just another period western meta comedy short film”. Both things certainly caught my attention and whetted my appetite.

Note: I’m including the link to the film, but with one very strong caveat: some of the things said in it are pretty raw – funny, but raw (not to mention wildly politically incorrect in a few places). You don’t need to watch it to get the gist of the rest of my post today and I’m hesitant to include it in fear that some might be offended. With that in mind, here goes: The Gunfighter.

Okay, if you’ve watched the short, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t (and you’ve shown admirable restraint!), the heart of the story is that the film’s narrator can be heard by all the characters (as a disembodied voice). This narrator reveals all sorts of things the characters don’t wish to have revealed, but it’s their responses to the revelations that truly provide the comic thrust as the voice manipulates all of them to his own ends. The results are pretty hilarious – to my warped mind, at least.

Anyone who writes in third person – or even first person, to some extent – must become a narrator to the action. By going into our characters’ heads and voicing what we find, we help tell our story. This brief film is all about the “sacred covenant” between the writer and the viewer getting short-circuited, the balance of nature, as it were, being upset. We all try to remain neutral and not stick our own thoughts into action, but try as we might, sometimes the temptation is too strong. Sometimes we also don’t realize we’ve done it. Hopefully, our editors catch it!

Those who know me understand that I have a perverse sense of humour. Sometimes I go horribly out of bounds (Vicki Delany knows firsthand about this!), but that’s why I found the short so funny. It is sort of a one-trick pony, but because the format is brief, it works very well. It’s the ultimate “narrator inserting him/herself into the story.

So, I’m sitting here wondering if a novel could work if some of the characters could hear the omniscient narrator. Would it necessarily have to be funny, or could it work if it was serious? The narrator would have to be in more than one of the character’s heads or a reader would just think this person had mental issues. I would have loved to see the late Kurt Vonnegut get his hands on this idea and run with it. It would have been right up his alley.


S. C. Gates said...

I think it could work. My advice . . . try it out in some short stories to see if a)it holds together, b) gets too tiresome after a short period, and c) needs some level of humour to sustain the premise. Let us know how it goes!

Rick Blechta said...

That's a good thought -- and a lot less work!

Donis Casey said...

There was a whole movie about this, Stranger than Fiction, with Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson. She's a novelist and he's an IRS agent who just happens to be the main character in the novel she's writing. I enjoyed it a lot, being a writer myself whose characters seem to come to life and don't much enjoy what I do to them.