After stoking on last week’s one-sentence travel writing contest, I wanted to try something else.
One thing I work with travel writers a lot on is the concept of narrating a story from a POV and style that most closely approximates the way the author actually experienced the events in real life.
I feel like other kinds of writers–novelists or playwrights–continually focus on these things because they define the overall rhythm and flow of each story.
For many travel writers and other kind of nonfiction writers however, considerations of how the narrator’s age / sex / worldviews / experiences shape the narration are often overlooked.
This week then, I wanted to try a challenge that examines the concept of who the narrator is and how he/she would perceive a scene or incident in a different way than a different narrator, or perhaps the same narrator, but only at a different age or “stage ” in his / her life.
The inspiration for this comes from one of my favorite (and also, I think, one of the strangest) novels, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. The novel takes place in a fictional town in rural Mississippi in the late 1920s. The scenes happen over just a few days, and most of them around a house where the mother is dying. There is the almost continual sound in the background of one of her sons, Cash, sawing and hammering her coffin. What’s really interesting about the novel is how each chapter is told from the point of view of view of a different character.
For example, here’s an excerpt from page 13. It’s narrated by Tull, a friend of the family. He’s middle-aged and a farmer:
That boy comes up the hill. He is carrying a fish nigh long as he is. He slings it to the ground and grunts “Hah” and spits over his shoulder like a man. Durn nigh long as he is.
“What’s that?” I say. “A hog? Where’d you get it?”
“Down to the bridge,” he says. He turns it over, the under side caked over with dust where it is wet, the eye coated over, humped under the dirt.
“Are you aiming to leave it laying there?” Anse says.
“I aim to show it to ma,” Vardaman says. He looks toward the door. We can hear the talking, coming out on the draft. Cash, too, knocking and hammering at the boards.
Now check this excerpt from page 26, where the boy, Vardaman, aged 8 or so, narrates:
Then I begin to run. I run toward the back and come to the edge of the porch and stop. Then I begin to cry. I can feel where the fish was in the dust. It is cut up into pieces of not-fish now, not-blood on my hands and overalls. Then it wasn’t so. It hadn’t happened then. And now she is getting so far ahead I cannot catch her.
The trees look like chickens when they ruffle out into the cool dust on the hot days. If I jump off the porch I will be where the fish was, and it all cut up into not-fish now. I can hear the bed and her face and them and I can feel the floor shake when he walks on it that came and did it. That came and did it when she was all right but he came and did it.
Narrating nonfiction definitely has more constraints than fiction. I’m not sure how–other than actually crowdsourcing individual viewpoints around an event–you could achieve the same “effect” as Faulkner’s narrator here, his imagination.
So that’s why I thought we’d try this as a contest. I’d like to see what other people come up with.
Here are the guidelines:
Contest starts now and ends at 2 pm EST on Thursday, May 6.
Please submit your entry to david at matadornetwork.com with ‘faulkner mixtape writing contest’ in subject line
You can submit as many entries as you like
Each entry should be NONFICTION – this is the challenge
Each entry should be narrated by at least two different narrators (how you create the narrators, who they are–could, for example, be two different ‘ages’ of yourself–is up to you)
The thing narrated could be a scene, a dialogue, an event–whatever you want, but it should be (a) true, (b) short (less than 500 words per narration), the shorter the better
Each entry should begin with a brief sentence or two setting up the scene and explaining who the narrators are
“Points” for imaginative ways to “invent” “real” narrators
As with last week, I will make a mixtape based on the winning entry with possible recording / remixing of the author’s work in the mix, as well as (potentially) an essay explaining why I chose the winner(s).
Thanks so much for your participation. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section.