Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Ever since January residency  the term Narratology has been sneaking into conversations around the house. Like this one that took place the other day. Marsha: "This is a really good article." Dave: "What's it about?" Marsha: "Narratology." Dave: "I think I'll warm up the lentil soup for supper."

I find the subject of narratology interesting. And that is why  a person blogs, of course, to talk about the stuff that in most situations drives other people to talking about lentil soup.
Kittens are relevant to every topic

I'd never heard the term  before Marsha Chall used it during a post mortem of the session Jackie Briggs Martin and I did during residency on the sidekick narrator, and I bow down to her in gratitude. I primarily studied history during my college years, you see, and never encountered literary theory except once, in an elective class on the films of Ingmar Bergman. (A class that, BTW,  launched my relationship with the soup-lover mentioned above. From Bergman to lentil soup--ah, marriage. But I digress).

Narratology is the study of, well, narratives, especially the point of view used for those narratives. Importantly, however, it is a study done primarily from the POV (Ha!) of theorists and not writers. Still, diving into narratology is is great for learning the arcane names given to various POVs, names that go way beyond "limited third."

All this is a long-winded way of getting around to sharing a snippet of the article that drove my man to lentil soup. The snippet is taken from “What every Novelist Needs to Know About Narrators,” that was published recently by the Chicago Manual of Style in its Chicago Shorts series. In it the author, Wayne C. Booth, says, In dealing with point of view the novelist must always deal with the individual work: which particular character shall tell this particular story, or part of a story, with what precise degree of reliability, privilege, freedom to comment, and so on. ... Even if the novelist has decided on a narrator who will fit one of the critic’s classifications—“omniscient,” “first person,” “limited omniscient,” “objective,” “roving,” “effaced,” or whatever—his troubles have just begun. He simply cannot find answers to his immediate, precise, practical problems by referring to statements such as that the “omniscient is the most flexible method,” or that “the objective is the most rapid or vivid.” Even the soundest of generalizations at this level will be of little use to him in his page-by-page progress through his novel.

I especially love that line, "his troubles have just begun."

And a good day to you.


  1. The hell with lentil soup. If you're talking narratology then the man needs to fire up some steaks and make a five-course meal!

  2. Troubles, eh? Sounds about right. I've been reading George Saunder's short stories, lately. Talk about a master at "narratology." And he deviates in voice as I have not seen before (since maybe Jennifer Egan's work). Stunning. I mean, you'd think a different writer produced each story. Def. a writer to study if y'all want to see a master, yet risky narratologist at work...

  3. Now I am wondering what an "effaced" narrator is. Dictionary says erased or inconspicuous. Hmmm....