A C Macklin on Narrative Techniques – a Nine Worlds Talk

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One of my highlights from Nine Worlds was seeing my friend A C Macklin talk about narrative techniques. She did an excellent job of getting into the technical nitty gritty of things I’ve seldom even considered, but that are important in shaping a story.

You can read the slides and Macklin’s commentary on the talk here and I heartily recommend reading it. But here are a few things I picked out during the talk, useful points to consider as a writer.

Firstly, storytelling is about getting a particular reaction. You can get different reactions by varying:

  • narrative structure
  • level of emotional engagement
  • level of self-awareness
  • level of deceit.

Building an emotional bond between the narrator and the audience is important. People instinctively want to bond with other people and things, and this is a powerful tool.

Some types of narrator to consider:

  • Dramatized narrator – they’re deep in the action.
  • Reflector narrator – the sort who speculates on the perspectives of other characters instead of just showing their own.
  • Observer/frame narrator – someone entirely outside the story.
  • Self-conscious narrator – someone telling you the story with a reason or agenda.

Each of these will draw different emotional reactions from readers and give you different narrative tools.

Unreliable narrators should generally be reserved for when you want to feature a particular twist. They can be unreliable for a bunch of different reasons:

  • amnesiac
  • naive
  • misled
  • blinkered
  • delusional
  • in denial
  • speaking with an agenda
  • outright lying.

I never realised there were so many options for unreliability until this talk. Now I half want to invent a bunch of stories just to try them all.

And perhaps the most useful overall lesson I took from this – consider the balance between the audience’s bond with the narrator and the space they need to reflect on what’s happening. The bond is useful and powerful, but that doesn’t mean it should always dominate. It depends upon the sort of story you want to tell.