Welcome to The Inklings' Quill, a blog set aside for the study of one of the greatest authors of all time and father of the genre we now call "fantasy", J.R.R. Tolkien. This blog was originally created as a school project for a class on British literature, but I hope to expand this blog to something a bit greater. Thanks for dropping by! :D
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Dying art of Narrative Voice

"In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit."

And indeed there did. And this hobbit went on to change, not only his own metaphysical world of Middle Earth, but our world as well. Tolkien was an absolute genius in how his writings affected the entire literary world, even if he didn't exactly mean for them to.

Yet have you ever heard someone say, "Oh, Tolkien's works would never have made it in the modern world of publishing." Well, even if you have never heard that, I have. And I've heard it spoken more than once. In fact, it's quite well known around the writing world (even if it's known subconsciously) that Tolkien's trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" would probably have never made it to bookstore shelves if presented to the public via today's much stricter publishing market.

Now people will argue this: I expect it. And, to be quite truthful, there is a part of me that doubts Tolkien's failure in the modern industry as well. After all, he is considered the Father of all Fantasy, the master of the Writing Art. So who are we to say that "The Lord of the Rings" would never have been published?

But the fact is that times change. They change. They are always changing. So yes, Tolkien was a master, and yes, he brought the fantasy genre beyond fairy tales and folklore and made it into a much more noticeable literary art form. But Tolkien also did something else; something that has been frowned upon as writing has advanced from an artistic hobby to a professional career choice:

Tolkien wrote LOTR as a narrative.

It's true. He even admits to it. In an old interview clip I recently watched where Professor Tolkien discussed his writings with the media, he starts talking about how he first came about writing "The Hobbit" – he told about grading his students' papers and finding one with a blank page and how thrilled he was with blank pages because they always offer possibilities (which is very true) – but then he goes on to say that he was suddenly inspired to write a narrative… a rather long narrative that would hold the casual reader from the very beginning to the very end. He goes on to say that since quests and such, where a person must take a thing far away and has adventures on his journey and possibly becomes doomed in the end, are what he'd found to hold the readers' attentions longest, he thought he might try one of his own.

Now granted, these aren't his exact words: I have to go back and find the video before I could give you those… which I will do when I can find more time. But that was the gist of what he said. And yes, he used the word "narrative".

What does that mean exactly?

Well, I'm sure we've all heard of the narrative voice, right? It's used in some of the most acclaimed literary fantasy classics of all times: "Peter Pan", for instance, or Lewis Carol's "Alice in Wonderland". And yes, it was used in "The Lord of the Rings" as well. But what does it really mean when I say that LOTR was written as a narrative?

It means quite simply that Tolkien wrote "The Lord of the Rings" as if he were telling the story to someone else – as if he were a narrator. We all know what a narrator is – basically, a commentator or a person who gives an account to someone and refers to themselves occasionally using the word "I" and so on.

Ah! But there's that dratted, nasty word that so many modern writers have learned to dread: telling!

Yes, it's very true. Narration is all about telling. And that's exactly what Tolkien did: he wrote LOTR as if he were telling a story. Not as if he were living the story of the character as the events were happening, nor even as if he were watching the events unfold from a distance. Rather, it's more like he's giving an account to someone else of the events that happened in the past. He's telling the story orally, but not living it. He's recounting past deeds as if they were a history.

However, what makes his work really stand out is that Tolkien worked at his art until he became a master of storytelling. Just like all writers, Tolkien kept writing and revising and changing things. His stories, histories, and languages evolved over time and became greater and greater with each year. The result was that he wrote LOTR and "The Hobbit" so that even though he used an all omniscient narrative voice, a reader can also see the pictures clearly in his or her mind. And it's interesting because, if you've ever tried to read LOTR aloud and really listened to what you were reading as you were reading it, you might come to discover that it actually does sound almost as if you're telling the story out of your head.

"To deep!" you say, "I doubt I could come up with something that complicated straight off the top of my head!"

That may be true. But that's the beauty of it. That's why Tolkien wrote it all down. That's why all writers write their stories down: because it's hard to remember all the details in order. As a writer, I often go back over my manuscripts and am surprised by lines or scenes that I'd forgotten I'd written: then it's almost like I'm reading those scenes for the first time, even though I was the one who wrote them. It must have been the same for Tolkien. I'm sure it's the same for many other writers as well.

However, the truth is that except for the occasional scary story around the campfire or a mom telling her young children the stories of Little Red Riding Hood and Goldie Locks and the Three Bears, the art of narration is all but dead into today's literary world. Very rarely does one find a fiction book written in narrative form unless it's the classics, and even if you can find such a book, it's even rarer if it's actually a well written book. In today's world, the art of actually telling a story is frowned upon and quickly discouraged, while the art of showing a story to a reader – writing in such a way that it's as if you are somehow living the story yourself in one way or another rather than listening to the story be recounted – is highly encouraged. And "showing" is by no means a bad form of writing, but have you ever wondered why it seems to be such a hard concept to grasp? I mean, it wasn't until recently that I really understood what my writing mentors have been trying to tell me all along… that "showing" in writing is quite literally akin to painting a picture.

I believe that this phenomenon is actually because people are hard-wired in the oral traditions. For so long history was either recorded through the oral passing down of lineage and deeds from one generation to the next or else written down in journal entries, that now man-kind automatically falls to the older traditions when it comes to storytelling – even in today's world. In older days, Story Tellers and Bards were revered for their abilities to recount deeds and tales through songs or other means. That's why it's usually so difficult for new writers to understand what they must to be doing wrong when they are told over and over again that they are "telling the story" instead of "showing it" to their readers. In their minds they are supposed to be "telling" a story, so understanding the difference can be difficult (I speak from experience here).

So here's a challenge for all you writers out there: Write a short story using the dying art of narration. That means, write the story as if you were telling it to someone else. (Think Bed-time stories, or your grandpa telling you about his childhood). I don't care what POV you decide to use: first person present, first person past, second person, third person preset, third person past, third omniscient, or all omniscient… Just write it like you are narrating it instead of showing it… write it like you're telling it as a story around the campfire instead of writing it as if you were watching a movie. For some of you, this type of writing might rub you the wrong way. For others it will come almost as natural as breathing. But let's see what we can come up with, in honor of Tolkien and his marvelous and world changing works. When you are finished, post an excerpt in the comments, if you like, and let us see what you've accomplished.

This should be a very interesting project indeed!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Welcome Note

Hello, and welcome to The Inklings' Quill, a blog originally started as a school project, but that I hope will expand to something a bit greater.  I thought I'd start with something simple and straight forward, so I'd like to tell you what to expect from this blog.

The Inklings' Quill was created to explore the story of one of the greatest authors of all time, J.R.R. Tolkien.  If you'll look to the right, you'll notice a section titled "pages" at the top.  There's a link there titled "J.R.R. Tolkien" which is a short profile I comprised for your benefit, along with a picture of the man himself.  In further posts we'll be discussing the Life of J.R.R. Tolkien, his works, and his writing style.  (Yes, I said his writing style.  It's a very interesting subject, and one might be surprised to find that he didn't have just one.)  I also want to touch on how Tolkien became the inspiration for much of the literature on today's bookshelves around the world.

As a final note, I will also be posting links to websites and articles I found helpful in my research, and hopefully I will be able to interview a few people whose works I feel tie in some way with Tolkien's work, life, or both (but we'll have to see about that.  Interviews are often tricky to obtain.)  And for those of you who like what you see here, I do have a writing blog I post on regularly titled "The Pen and Parchment" where I am currently discussing the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing.  Right now I am in the process of interviewing several authors and publishers who have agreed to shed some light on this very interesting and often touchy subject.  You can click on the link provided above, or go through the web address which is: http://www.theravenquill.blogspot.com.  For future reference, I will be posting a link to my blog on the side bar.

Thank you for dropping by! I hope to see you around in the near future as I explore the very interesting worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Nichole White


About Me

My Photo
Nichole White is 25, a devout Christian, oldest of six children, and was homeschooled up to her first semester in college in the Spring of O9. But above everything else in her hectic life, Nichole is a writer. Her writing tends to lean towards Fantasy (with a little sci-fi thrown in) more than anything else. Nichole Also enjoys lurking in the sci-fi/fantasy forum at WritersDigest.com. Her current Blog "The Pen and Parchment" is a place she goes to discuss different subjects she finds interesting, first and foremost the art of writing, and then that of reading, and so on. It also might occasionally contain anything that is on her mind at the time. In the near future "The pen and Parchment" will obtain information about her current project, "Song of the Daystar" a christian fantasy novel, now in the final stages of the last rewrite. Please check in to learn more.
View my complete profile
Powered by Blogger.

Some really great books. :D

networked blogs