Action! (Blog 8, 6/16)

I’ve recently started listening to music (instrumental only) while reading books, trying to pick a good tone for each particular book. You’d be surprised how much better it makes the experience. Here’s the kind of thing I’ve been listening to with DQ:

There’s a really interesting and confusing section in Jahn’s narratology called “Action, story analysis, tellability.” While this isn’t going to be a standard PIE Paragraph, nor appropriately quoted, I hope to try and make sense of the key terms in the section so that next time I’ll be able to link it with DQ or the next story. “Action” is a sequence of events and acts “constituting a story line” and an “action unit” is a “small segment” on the story line (like: Bill walked home in the context of Bill’s story of becoming a tennis player). But something like “Bill walked home” can also be called a minimal narrative, or a narrative unit. But these simple action or narrative units don’t “boast of a high degree of tellabilty.”

“Tellability” is the idea that normally a story is required to have a point, teach a lesson, present an interesting experience (“experientiality”), and arrange its episodes in an interesting progression. Jerome Bruner: Story must construct two landscapes: (1) landscape of action (agent, goal, situation, instrument—Bill walked home); (2) landscape of consciousness (what those involved in the action know, think, feel—Bill needed to get home to get to practicing his serve).

Hayakawa: relates “Tellabilty” to possible identification by self-recognition (where you see the character as more or less a representation of yourself, going through similar experiences) or identification for wish-fulfillment (where you see the character and what they do as everything you’re not and wish you could; personally, my favorite kind of story).

An “episode” is a group of action units consisting of three parts: exposition (John had always dreamed of becoming a published writer), complication (John cannot find anyone to publish his book), resolution (John finds someone, or not, to publish his book). Jahn goes through the triangle formula of rising and falling action; not crazy about the formula myself—I like Poe because he cuts out at the climax, skipping the resolution.

Story: the chronological sequence of events (1914-1915-1916): (What happens next?), in the discourse, with flashbacks and flash-forwards, the story does not have to happen in order (1916-1914-1915)…

Plot: the logical and casual structure of a story (Why does this happen? Forster: The King died, then the queen died of grief). There are linear plots—straightforward reasoning (John wants to find treasure in the Sahara; John gathers a crew; John pays off African officials, etc.), and there are mosaic plots, where the reasoning is not perfectly clear at first (John is lost in the Sahara; Bill is wealthy and living on an island; Bill had robbed John in the Sahara and left him there to die). Other plots: loosely plotted (Stuff happening, not necessarily interrelated; The Hours), episodic (John finds treasure in the Sahara; John climbs K2; John plays shuffleboard in Florida with his folks); accident-driven (the saga of Jack Reacher’s life, where stuff keeps dragging him in against his will); and no plot at all (character driven Canne award winners, usually).

Summaries paraphrase the plot. Story-lines break plot down into chronological order.

Incipit: the opening passage of a text

Point of attack: event chosen to begin primary action line. 3 primary options: (1) ab avo (state of non-conflict; beginning of story); (2) in media res (most common today; set close to climax of action); (3) in ultima res (after climax, near end; Benjamin Button)

Closure: the type of conclusion to end text—can really be absolutely anything.

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