Posts Tagged storytelling
I thought I would go back to the basics this week with a brief on the various types of narrators and POVs fiction writers employ. I have gotten my reading mojo back thanks to The Ex-Wife’s Survival Guide by Debby Holt (you can read my review here) and have been indulging heavily in my TBRs since. Needless to say, I have written very little in the meantime but it’s okay for once since I just published a book, yay. But the point is, I was reading a novel over the weekend and it made me reflect on how even established and traditionally-published authors sometimes get their POVs all mixed up. I pondered maybe it’s because once we become “mainstream”, we stop revising the guidebooks on creative writing, maybe we become complacent.
For me, keeping my POV on the straight and narrow is fundamental. Your story is the product of your imagination but that does not mean it does not deserve your full attention in selecting the right devices and techniques to make the storytelling impactful. And jumping POV-to-POV, and selecting different narrative styles in one book is a rookie mistake that should have been corrected during the editing process. So I hit the academic texts and Googled and brushed up on the subject because part of choosing the right narrative style and POV for your story is knowing all the options out there. I thought I’d share my notes with fellow writers here just in case there were others also needing to pace themselves.
Narrator – According to my ‘A’ Level textbook Literature, Criticism, and Style by Steven Croft and Helen Cross (Oxford), the narrative is “a piece of writing that tells a story”. So by means, the narrator is the person, animal, or object that is telling the story. This storyteller is inserted into the text most often as an imaginary entity separate from the author whether or not he/she is a character living within the story. In essence, it is the voice that describes what is happening.
Point of View (POV) – The POV is the perspective from which the narrator tells the story. Whether the narration is conducted from a singular POV or multiple, I have always felt that the POV breaks down and identifies the various components of the storyteller’s voice, i.e. the personality, style, tone of the narrator. It demonstrates to us the level of involvement with which the narrator relates the tale, how far into the story the narrator is willing to insert themselves.
While the narration and the POV are closely related and often overlap, the distinction is that the former is the device with which the plot is moved forward, the characters are revealed, the setting is built, etc., while the latter allows the reader to experience the story from the angle(s) that makes these various illustrated components relevant and relatable.
The most common forms of narrators are the first person, second person, third person limited, and third person omniscient. However, academicians have further broken down the types of narrators to include the [detached] observer or third person objective, commentator, and unreliable narrator. The following is a description of each of these major types of narrators with an example of popular works where they were successfully employed: Read the rest of this entry »
I didn’t get to see the Oscars when it was initially televised and instead watched it last night online. The controversial goof up at the closing made me decide that I should wait no longer and see why this movie was making such waves. No, I’m not talking about La La Land, which was such a derivative piece of drama that I have no idea why it even made it to the Oscars, much less how Emma Stone snagged the Best Actress title when Amy Adams’s performance in Arrival didn’t even get nominated. I’m obviously talking about Moonlight.
I’ll admit, I had another reason for not watching it in the theater. Everything about the poster indicated how stark the story will be. Blood will spill on screen and there will be plenty of cause for tears to run down my cheeks. Of course, I was hesitant about making a prat of myself in public; that’s reserved for special occasions, like when Auntie Flo comes to visit. Now, however, I decided the timing was close enough to match my cycles and for some cathartic tears to let loose.
So what did I learn once I turned on the DVD? The poster is misleading on the level of blood-spill. Even though the kid’s nose is broken and bleeding, it’s not another gangster movie full of gunfights in the hood [I don’t always watch trailers]. Of course, I had managed to surmise from snippets of Jimmy Kimmel’s jokes that it was about the self-discovery of an African American boy coming to terms with his homosexuality but the poster still suggested violence and last night I began to wonder if the story depicted child sexual abuse. Nope, also not it.
Actually, there was very little violence in the movie but there could have been. I love movies that do not fuss around with frills for the sake of shock value. Movies that just tell the stories about the characters. This movie did that with such precision that I was nervous throughout the movie for Chiron. Every drop of maternal extinct God gave me was wrenching my heart for the child. Even after he grew into a man and a drug dealer, I wanted to crawl into the screen and console him for the grief he had to experience. I was right about one thing from seeing the poster. I cried.
I bawled, I wept into the neck of my dress until nothing less than a bath towel sufficed. I wondered if it was the fact that I was almost at that time of the month that made me so emotional. But I think it was mostly because of the way the story was told. It must’ve evoked different ethos in different viewers. For me, it was completely maternal. I don’t have any children to spare my bountiful share of the stuff and usually shower it on my cat. Chiron got the whole blast of it today. Still, being so close to my periods might have made it worse.
When the movie was over, I had to go lie down. My head was throbbing, my eyes bleary. I kept thinking why any child must go through life being excluded in such a manner. Where the hell were those angels we keep hearing about that always keep a lookout for our kids? History of the world certain tells a different story. I didn’t quite blame the bullies in his school; they were the products of our culture, they were kids themselves. But hell! There is just so much wrong with this world.
And then it dawned on me. That’s why I write, isn’t it? That’s why Tarell Alvin McCraney wrote In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. To fix this broken world by pointing out exactly what is wrong with it. Writers are born change agents whether they intend to be or not. By depicting the mess of our contemporary lives, even lightly, we lead the way into a hopefully better future. It is slow progress but a bid for revolution nevertheless. I felt connected to McCraney and sighed, feeling slightly better.
In fact, I was hooked to the movie from the moment Maharshala Ali spoke the line, “In moonlight, black boys look blue.” The writer in me woke up and replied, “Damn! That’s observant.” It brought to mind another beautiful observation by the Bengali poet Sukanta Bhattacharya in reflection of his experience of communism:
হে মহাজীবন, আর এ কাব্য নয়
এবার কঠিন, কঠোর গদ্যে আনো,
পদ-লালিত্য-ঝঙ্কার মুছে যাক,
গদ্যের কড়া হাতুড়িকে আজ হানো ।
প্রয়োজন নেই, কবিতার স্নিগ্ধতা,
কবিতা তোমায় দিলাম আজকে ছুটি
ক্ষুধার রাজ্যে পৃথিবী-গদ্যময়:
পূর্ণিমা-চাঁদ যেন ঝলসানো রুটি ।
Oh! Great Life
Oh! Great life, No more of this poetry
Bring now the hard, harsh prose instead,
Let jingles nurtured in verse fade,
And the strong hammer of prose strike.
No need for the serenity of poem;
Poetry, I give you a break today.
In the regime of hunger, the world is too prosaic,
As the full moon burns like bread.
I did my best to translate.
Title The Lunchbox
Starring Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Director Ritesh Batra
Writer(s) Ritesh Batra (screenplay), Vasan Bala (Hindi dialogue consultant)
Genre Drama Romance
Release Date September 20, 2013
Filming Location Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Parental Guidance Rated PG for thematic material and smoking
IMDB Rating 7.8
Synopsis: Ila (Nimrat Kaur) leads a mundane life of an average Indian housewife, where her days are occupied by seeing her husband and daughter off to work and school, respectively, then gossiping with the upstairs elderly woman whom she calls “auntie” by shouting out the kitchen window as she prepares meals for her family and carries on doing daily housekeeping. Lately, her husband has been absentminded about their relationship and, on the advice of her neighboring auntie, she begins preparing sumptuous lunches to win him back that she sends off with the famously efficient Mumbai Dabbawalas (lunchbox service) to his workplace. By a fluke, this lunchbox ends up at the desk of an elderly widower, Sajan (Irrfan Khan) who is an accountant on the cusp of retirement from a place he has worked for 35 years. Sajan enjoys the delicious meal and when the lunchbox returns home to Ila, it is completely empty, i.e. every bowl in the tiffin carrier is wiped clean. Excited by this unexpected turn of events, Ila waits for her husband to return home and compliment her. However, not only is he as aloof as ever, when Ila asks him if he liked the meal, he says “the aloo gobi (potato-cauliflower stir fry) was okay”, and Ila realizes he received the wrong lunchbox. Her upstairs auntie advises her to put in a note inside the lunchbox the next day to find out where her meal goes, which Ila reluctantly does, telling this stranger the box was for her husband. Sajan finds the letter, eats the delicious meal but, being the dry codger that he is, his reply constitutes of only two lines: “Dear, Ila, the food was very salty today.” Ila’s neighbor advises her to put extra chili in the food the next day and she again complies reluctantly. Sajan gets the message and becomes more tactful in his replies. Over time, Ila finds that she looks forward to his replies just as Sajan enjoys hearing about her days, her marital anxieties, and sometimes even offering advice gleaning from his own satisfying domestic experiences. Sajan also shares about his last days in office and the antics of the new replacement, Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), whom he is training to take his post.
Experience (some spoilers): If I were to describe this movie with one simple line, I would say, “It’s a gratifyingly romantic story with no fuss and no muss”.
The screenplay, the direction, the editing was all done with the aim to satisfy the story and nothing more. There are no superficial elements, no extra scenes, and no irrelevant dialogues to detract or titillate the audience. We are immediately taken to show Ila preparing that significant first lunch for her husband and then Sajan’s reaction to the meal. If one does not see the trailer or read the synopsis, one would think Sajan is her husband until another man walks in through her front door that first evening, and hence, commiserate with her anticipation. And in this way, the audience is made to share in each season of emotions as they take turn to appear: anticipation, irritation, empathy, sympathy, surprise, humor, disappointment, and hope. In fact, so well is the movie directed and edited, that there is an overall dry appeal to the storytelling, effectively capturing Sajan’s eccentric nature and Ila’s frustrating home conditions. Even when the movie cuts to comic relief with Sajan’s interludes with Shaikh, the senior’s less-than-welcoming attitude towards the junior’s enthusiasm to be trained, the movie picks up clean humor as we witness Shaikh finally penetrating and melting Sajan’s heart, which was already softening with his daily letter exchanges with Ila. And the fact that there are these montages to depict the lives and efficiency of the Dabbawalas only added to the drama and is such a fit tribute to the theme.
I especially enjoyed the fact that Ila and Sajan do not meet throughout the movie and still manage to fall in love. There is nothing superficial or artificial about their relationship. It’s a search of companionship that has transformed into something more sustainable. It is endearing to see this older gentleman, so resigned to living a life of retirement convalescing in a nursing community, take painstaking care in his appearance the morning he is to meet Ila only to stand her up; or the way she sends him an empty lunchbox the next day to give him a “silent treatment” and he accepts it readily, sending her an apology, explaining that he went to see her but lost his courage when he saw how beautiful she was and how old he is. It is a moment rich with impact when he explains that he realized that morning that he could “smell his grandfather” on himself. I was actually able to imagine what that could smell like – starched cotton, soap, talcum and Old Spice aftershave. I could feel his humiliation and sympathize with him thoroughly.
There is no point in discussing the acting of any individual actor in this movie. Every actor, starting from the three starring roles to the lunchbox courier man to even the faceless auntie upstairs, performed their roles with economy. They were each a credit to the art of their profession yet made their efforts seem artless. Without a doubt, the movie has been made on a small budget (so small that there is a copy error – ‘Reseach’ – in the end-credit roll) cinema but what budget they had was very effectively allocated.
Recommendation: Even though the movie is weaved with the use of Hindi, I would ask movie lovers and fiction writers to watch it alike. Not watching this movie would be letting a masterpiece slip by.