1. jess046
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    jess046 Member

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    Characters that act as a guide or voice the themes in the story

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by jess046, Dec 27, 2009.

    I'm a big fan of plays and musicals and one common device used is an abstract character that acts as a guide or voices the themes of the story for the audience. Examples include The Masked Man in Spring Awakening, The Emcee in Cabaret or Gabe in Next To Normal.

    For musicals this device is accepted because the character usually appears during the songs (such as The Emcee) or the theatrical and abstract element of his character is accepted due to the theatrical and abstract nature of musical theatre.With plays, expressionism is usually utilized as the method unto to which to develop these characters so that they don't appear awkward (such as The Masked Man).

    Basically my question pertains to this allegorical character and how he fits into novels. I was thinking of maybe using a similar device for a story and I can see how it would work on stage. But I'm interested to hear what other writers think about how this kind of character could work in a novel without songs to act as the character's platform or a stage to make it seem more appropriate. Should they interact with other characters? Does the tone of the story have to be drastically altered so that it’s more ‘surreal’ or ‘theatrical’? Are there any examples of these characters in novels? Where does this character fit in the world of fictional novels and short stories?

    EDIT: Just had a thought...is the closet repilica of these 'emcee' characters in novels a narrator who is detatched from the main action of the story...because if it is the idea intrigues, but I don't mean a character like Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby. I'm thinking more abstract.

    Also I just realized I probably posted this is the wrong area. If a moderator or admin wants to move it to the Character section, that might be the way to go.
     
  2. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I'm not sure exactly what you're shooting for here, but there are certainly novels in which the "voice" of the story is not necessarily identical to the "voice" of the narrator, if that's what you mean. In Toni Morrison's LOVE, there is a distinctively unique disembodied voice that intrudes every now and again to interject a sense of historicity to the storyline. It's very elusive and yet it layers the story with a quality of otherworldly mystique. I'm thinking the quality you're hoping to attain is unique to the story you tell (or should be), so I can't think of novels that would offer the kind of examples you're looking for. Why don't you just do it and see what it does to your story? Like anything, really, I think it all comes down to the skill with which you deliver your story--and I mean specifically you.:)
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think you have chosen the correct area of the forum. Your question pertains more to the inclusion of a feature within the framework of a story and not so much the creation of a particular individual character.

    ;)

    Wrey
     
  4. jess046
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    jess046 Member

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    well, the discussion doesn't have to be limited to what I myself may do with this sort of character (which I'm not even sure I'll use), I was just interested in hearing other people's opinions. I love the theatrical and surreal element that is often unique to theatre and I'd like explore the transference of this to form of a novel. The emcee character is one of the many aspects that came to my mind.

    The idea you mentioned of changing the narrative voice is intereting, because it is almost as if the emcee or ambigious character is apart of the other character's mindset- which is precisely what a character like Gabe from Next To Normal is, as well as Wendla and Moritz at the end of Spring Awakening. How exactly does the author do this in the example you provided? Is there a clear distinction between narrative voices, or is the person the story is told through (first, third) perhaps even changed?

    You also have somebody like The Masked Man who, in one production of Spring Awakening provided monolouges on the events of the play and observed the behaviour of the central characters. I wonder how this would work in the form of a novel? Could it be a third party entirely narrating the story and commenting on the plot and characters? Or like the example you referenced, somebody who sporadically interesects the action of the story with commentary?
     
  5. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    In part, the problem is I'm not familiar with the examples you give, so they don't clarify for me what you're looking for. In LOVE, the disembodied voice is entirely separate from the story narration and distinctly so. Some of the more contemporary experimental fiction writers might provide you with interesting possibilities, too. Maybe Calvino, e.g. (IF ON A WINTER'S NIGHT A TRAVELER). Saramago also does some interesting things with the narration of his stories (though that wasn't the primary element of his fiction that's interested me most). He occasionally steps into his own stories to breach the voice of narration (and I think he does that in a variety of ways). Maybe that's what you're looking for--a kind of metafiction.

    Didn't Woody Allen do something similar with his story ""The Kugelmass Episode," where one character enters Flaubert's novel about Madame Bovary? (It's a great story, if you've never read it). Anyway, some of Woody Allen's early short stories, if not that one, might suggest a foot in each of the artistic mediums you're speaking of.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    what you're describing IS the non-character narrator... most likely, the 'omniscient' narrator who has access to all that goes on and the thoughts/feelings of all the characters... and this is done all the time...
     
  7. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Metafiction

    Check out Wikipedia "Metafiction," where there are various types of conventions, some of which might be what you're looking for. Here's the kinds of examples they offer, with several suggestions for each (you've probably read some of 'em):

    "A novel about a writer creating a story ...
    "A novel about a reader reading a novel ...
    "A novel which features itself as its own prop or McGuffin ...
    "A novel or other work of fiction within the novel ...
    "A story addressing the specific conventions of story, such as title, character conventions, paragraphing or plots ...
    "A novel where the narrator intentionally exposes him or herself as the author of the story ...
    "A novel in which the book itself seeks interaction with the reader ...
    "A non-linear novel, which can be read in any order other than from beginning to end ...
    "Narrative footnotes, which continue the story while commenting on it ...
    "A novel wherein the author (not merely the narrator) is a character ...
    "A parallel novel which has the same setting and time period as a previous work, and many of the same characters, but is told from a different perspective ...
    "Magic realism ..."
     
  8. jess046
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    jess046 Member

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    This was where my thought process was sort of leading to, kind of like The Book Thief. I think metafiction is interesting as well and certainly shares elements with the theatrical experience of going to the theatre. I wasn't really talking about the idea of 'a novel within a novel' and I think the closet examples on that list is the idea of narrator footnotes, as well as "A story where the author is not a character, but interacts with the characters". But this was for film/television, but I imagine it could work for novels as well. LOVE isn't the kind of genre I'd usually read, but I think I may pick it up because the narrator-idea sounds very interesting.
     

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