Saturday, December 29, 2007

Philip Pullman on narrative voice

Good short feature by Philip Pullman in the Guardian today on His Dark Materials, specifically about the narrative voice. He asks: 'How much of a book is "story" and how much is "literature"? Or can't they be separated?' This question was prompted by the recent film version of the books, The Golden Compass which, by necessity, focuses on "story" rather than "literature".

He concludes:

And despite the profound and unsettling discoveries of modernism and post-modernism, and everything they show us about the unreliability of the narrator and the fallacy of omniscience, some of us still, when we read, are happy to accept that the narrative voice has the right to comment on a character, whether tartly or sympathetically, and the ability to go into that character's mind and tell us what's going on there. Do we ever stop to wonder how extraordinary it is that a disembodied voice can seem to tell us what is happening in someone's mind?

That narrative voice, with those mysterious powers, is the reason I write novels. I'm intoxicated by it.

We've had a number of discussions in Boot Camp recently about narrative voice, and about how to create something which is fresh and original, and which may be removed from your own personal experience. I think we're missing the point. Narrative voice isn't just about getting the accent right, using the appropriate words, creating and suiting the mood: it's about creating the heartbeat of the story.

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