Narration: Definition and Explain in English Composition

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Material of Narration:
      Narration has been defined as the form of discourse which recounts events in a sequence. It includes not only letters, journals, memoirs, biographies, and many histories, but, in addition, that great body of literature which people generally include in the comprehensive term of “stories.”

      If this body of literature be examined, it will be found that it deals with things as opposed to ideas; incidents as opposed to propositions. Sometimes, it is true, the author of a story is in reality dealing with ideas. In the fable about “The Hare and the Tortoise,” the tortoise stands for the idea of slow, steady plodding; while the hare is the representative of quick wits which depend on their ability to show a brilliant burst of speed when called upon. The fable teaches better than an essay can that the dullness which perseveres will arrive at success sooner than brilliancy of mind which wastes its time in doing nothing to the purpose. Andersen’s “Ugly Duckling,” Ruskin’s “King of the Golden River,” and Lowell’s “Sir Launfal” stand for deep spiritual ideas, which we understand better for this method of presentation. In an allegory like “Pilgrim’s Progress,” the passions and emotions, the sins and weaknesses of men are treated as if they were real persons. Ideas are represented by living, breathing persons; and we may say that all such narratives deal, not with ideas, but, for want of a better word, with things.

Not only does narration deal with things, but with things doing something. Things inactive might be written of, but this would be description. It is necessary in narration that the things be in an active mood; that something be doing. “John struck James,” then, is a narrative sentence; it tells that John has been doing something. Still, this one sentence would not ordinarily be accepted as narration. For narration there must be a series, a sequence of individual actions. Recounting events in a sequence is narration.

In Action:
      Not only does narration deal with things, but with things doing something. Things inactive might be written of, but this would be description. It is necessary in narration that the things be in an active mood; that something be doing. “John struck James,” then, is a narrative sentence; it tells that John has been doing something. Still, this one sentence would not ordinarily be accepted as narration. For narration there must be a series, a sequence of individual actions. Recounting events in a sequence is narration.

The Commonest Form of Discourse:
      Narration is the most popular form of discourse. Between one fourth and one third of all books published are stories; and more than one half of the books issued by public libraries belong to the narrative class. Such a computation does not include the large number of stories read in our papers and magazines. In addition to being the most popular form of discourse, it is the most natural. It is the first form of connected discourse of the child; it is the form employed by the uncultured in giving his impressions; it is the form most used in conversation. Moreover, narration is the first form found in great literatures: the Iliad and the Odyssey, the songs of the troubadours in France, and the minnesingers in Germany, the chronicles and ballads of England,—all are narrative.

Language as a Means of Expression:
      Narration is especially suited to the conditions imposed by language. Men do not think in single words, but in groups of words,—phrases, clauses, and sentences. In hearing, too, men do not consider the individual words; the mind waits until a group of words, a phrase, or a simple sentence perhaps,—which expresses a unit of thought, has been uttered. In narration these groups of words follow in a sequence exactly as the actions which they represent do. Take this rather lurid bit from Stevenson:— “He dropped his cutlass as he jumped, and when he felt the pistol, whipped straight round and laid hold of me, roaring out an oath; and at the same time either my courage came again, or I grew so much afraid as came to the same thing; for I gave a shriek and shot him in the midst of the body.” (“Kidnapped.”)

      Each phrase or clause here is a unit of thought, and each follows the others in the same order as the events they tell of occurred. On the other hand, when one attempts description, and exposition too in many cases, he realizes the great difficulties imposed by the language itself; for in these forms of discourse the author not infrequently wishes to put the whole picture before the reader at once, or to set out several propositions at the same time, as belonging to one general truth. In order that the reader may get the complete picture or the complete thought, he must hold in mind often a whole paragraph before he unites it into the one conception the author intended. In narration one action is completed; it can be dropped. Then another follows, which can also be dropped. They need not be held in mind until the paragraph is finished. Narration is exactly suited to the means of its communication. The events which are recorded, and the sentences which record them, both follow in a sequence.

Without Plot:
      The sequence of events in narration may be a simple sequence of time, in which case the narrative is without plot. This is the form of narration employed in newspapers in giving the events of the day. It is used in journals, memoirs, biographies, and many elementary histories. It makes little demand upon an author further than that he shall say clearly something that is interesting. Interesting it must be, if the author wishes it to be read; readers will not stay over dull material. Newspapers and magazines look out for interesting material, and it is for the matter in them that they are read. So memoirs and biographies are read, not to find out what happens at last,—that is known,—but to pick up information concerning an interesting subject.

      Plot: Or the sequence may be a more subtle and binding relation of cause and effect. This is the sequence employed in stories. One thing happens because another thing has happened. Generally the sequence of time and the sequence of cause and effect correspond; for effects come after causes. When, however, more than one cause is introduced, or when some cause is at work which the author hides until he can most advantageously produce it, or when an effect is held back for purposes of creating interest, the events may not be related exactly in the order in which they occurred. When any sequence is introduced in addition to the simple sequence of time, or when the time sequence is disturbed for the purpose of heightening interest, there is an arrangement of the parts which is generally termed plot.

      Plot is a term difficult to define. We feel, however, that Grant’s “Memoirs” have no plot, and we feel just as sure that “King Lear” has a plot. So, too, we say that “Robinson Crusoe” has little, almost no plot; that the plot is simple in “Treasure Island,” and that “Les Misérables” has an intricate plot. A plot seems to demand more than a mere succession of events. Any arrangement of the parts of a narrative so that the reader’s interest is aroused concerning the result of the series of events detailed is a plot.

      It often occurs that a book which, as a whole, is without a plot, contains incidents which have a plot. In “Travels with a Donkey,” by Stevenson, no one cares for the plot of the whole book,—in fact there is none; yet the reader is interested in the purchase of the “neat and high bred” Modestine up to the “last interview with Father Adam in a billiard-room at the witching hour of dawn, when I administered the brandy.” This incident has a plot.

      Books of travel, memoirs, and biographies, as whole books, are generally without any arrangement serious enough to be termed a plot; yet a large part of the interest in such books would be lost were the incidents there collected not well told, with a conscious attempt to set them out in the very best fashion; indeed, if each incident did not have a plot. In “Vanity Fair” with its six hundred pages, in “Silas Marner” with its two hundred pages, in the short stories of our best magazines, in the spicy little anecdotes in the “Youth’s Companion,”—in the least bit of a good story as well as the three-volume novel, the authors have used the means best suited to retain the interest to the end. They have constructed plots.

Unity, Mass, and Coherence:
      In the construction of any piece of composition there are three principles of primary importance: they are Unity, which is concerned with the material itself; and Mass and Coherence, which are concerned with the arrangement of the material. A composition has unity when all the material has been so sifted and selected that each part contributes its share to the central thought of the whole. Whether of a sentence, a paragraph, or a whole composition, all those parts must be excluded which do not bring something of value to the whole; and everything must be included which is necessary to give a clear understanding of the whole. Mass, the second principle of structure, demands that those parts of a composition, paragraph, or sentence which are of most importance shall be so placed that they will arrest the attention. By coherence is meant that principle of structure which, in sentences, paragraphs, and whole compositions, places those parts related in thought near together, and keeps separate those parts which are separated in thought.

Main Incident:
      For the construction of a story that will retain the reader’s interest to the end, for the selection of such material as will contribute to a central thought, for the arrangement of this material so that the most important matter shall occupy the most important position in the theme, one simple rule is of value. It is this: First choose the main incident towards which all the other incidents converge, and for the accomplishment of which the preceding incidents are necessary. A few pages will be given to the application of this rule, and to the results of its application.

Its Importance:
      There should be in each story, however slight the plot, some incident that is more important than the others, and toward which all the others converge. A reader is disappointed if, after reading a story through, he finds that there is no worthy ending, that all the preparation was made for no purpose. If, in “Wee Willie Winkie,” Kipling had stopped just before Miss Allardyce started across the river, it would have been a poor story. It would have had no ending. It is because a story gets somewhere that we like it. Yet not just somewhere; it must arrive at a place worthy of all the preparation that has preceded. A very common fault with the compositions of young persons is that they begin big and end little. It is not infrequent that the first paragraph promises well; the second is not quite so good; and the rest gradually fall off until the end is worthless. The order should be changed. Have the first paragraph promise well, make the second better, and the last best of all. The main incident should be more important than each incident that precedes it. Get the main incident in mind before beginning; be sure it is the main incident; then bend all your energies to make it the most important incident toward which all the other incidents converge.

      The choice of a main incident will determine what incidents to exclude. The world is full of incidents—enough to make volumes more than we now have. A phonograph and a camera could gather enough any day at a busy corner in a city to fill a volume; yet these pictures and these bits of conversation, interesting as each in itself might be, would not be a unit,—not one story, but many. Few persons, indeed, would write anything so disjointed as the report made by this phonograph; yet good writers are often led astray by the brilliancy of their own ideas. They have so many good stories on hand which they would like to tell, that they force some of them into their present story, and so spoil two stories. In the very popular “David Harum,” it would puzzle any one to know why the author has introduced the ladies from the city and the musical party at the lake. The episode is good enough in itself; but in this story it has not a shadow of excuse. There is a phrase of Kipling’s that should ring in every story-teller’s ears. Not once only, but a number of times, this prince of modern story-tellers catches himself—almost too late sometimes—and writes, “But that is another story.” One incident calls up another; paragraph follows paragraph naturally. It is easy enough to look back and trace the road by which the writer arrived at his present position; yet it would be very hard to tell why he came hither, or to see how the journey up to this point will at all put him toward his destination. He has digressed; he has left the road. And he must get back to the road. By this digression he has wasted just as much time as it has taken to come from the direct road to this point added to the time it will take to go back. Do not digress; tell one story at a time; let no incident into your story which cannot answer the question, “Why are you here?” by “I help;” keep your eye on the main incident; things which do not unquestionably contribute something to the main incident should be excluded.

Introductions and Conclusions:
      The choice of the main incident towards which all other incidents converge will rid compositions of worthless introductions and trailing conclusions. A story should get under way at once; and any explanations at the beginning, the introduction of long descriptions or tedious paragraphs of “fine writing,” will be headed off if the pupil keeps constantly in mind that it must all lead directly toward the main incident. Again, if everything converges to the main incident, when that has been told the story is finished. After that there must be no explanations, no moralizing, nothing. When the story has been told it is a good rule to stop.

      An excellent example of a short story well told is “An Incident of the French Camp,” by Robert Browning. Only the absolutely necessary has been introduced. The incidents flash before the reader. Nothing can be said after the last line. “Hervé Riel” is a vivid piece of narrative too. Such an exhibition of manliness appeals to all. Was it necessary to attach the last stanza? If this poem needed it, why not the other? If the story has no moral in it, no man can tie it on; if there is one, the reader should be accounted intelligent enough to find it without any help.

Tedious Enumerations:
      Making all the incidents converge to one main incident will avoid tiresome enumerations of inconsequential events, which frequently fill the compositions of young pupils. Such essays generally start with “a bright, clear morning,” and “a party of four of us.” After recounting a dozen events of no consequence whatever, “we came home to a late supper, well repaid for our day’s outing.” These compositions may be quite correct in the choice of words, sentences, and paragraphs, and with it all be flat. There is nothing to them; they get the reader nowhere. Pick out one of the many incidents. Work it up. Turn back to the paragraph from Stevenson and notice how little there is to it when reduced to bare outline. He has worked it up so that it is good. Always remember that a short anecdote well told is worth pages of aimless enumeration.

 What to include:
      The selection of the main incident will guide in determining what to include; for every detail must be included that is necessary to make the main incident possible. A young pupil wrote of a party in the woods. The girls had found pleasant seats in a car and were chatting about their friends, when they felt a sudden lurch, and soon one of the party was besmeared by slippery, sticky whites of eggs. Now, if eggs were in the habit of clinging to the roofs of cars and breaking at unfortunate moments, there would be no need of any explanation; but as the cook forgot to boil the eggs and the girl had put them up into the rack herself, some of this should have been told. Enough at least should be told to make the main incident a possibility. Stories are full of surprises, but they can be understood easily from the preceding incidents; or else the new element is one that happens frequently, and of itself is nothing new. In the paragraph from Stevenson, the entrance of the “prim, little old maid” is a surprise, but it is a very common thing for ladies to walk upon a public highway. Any surprise must be natural,—the result of causes at work in the story, or of circumstances which are always occurring and by themselves no surprises. If the story be a tangled web of incidents culminating in some horror, as the death of the beautiful young wife in Hawthorne’s “Birthmark,” all the events must be told that are necessary to carry the reader from the first time he beholds her beauty until he sees her again, her life ebbing away as the fairy hand fades from her cheek. In “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” it would be impossible to pass directly from the sweet boy of the first chapter to the little liar of the last; something must be told of those miserable days that intervene, and their telling effect on the little fellow. So a reader could not harmonize his idea of old Scrooge gained in the first chapter with generous Mr. Scrooge of the last without the intermediate chapters. Keeping the main incident in mind, include all that is necessary to make it possible.

      This same rule more than any other will make a story consistent. If incidents are chosen with relation to the one main incident, they will all have a common quality; they can scarcely be inconsistent. It is much more essential that a story be consistent than that it be a fact. Indeed, facts are not necessary in stories, and they are dangerous. Ian Maclaren says that the only part of his stories that has been severely criticised is a drowning episode, which was a fact, and the only one he ever used. Yet to those who have read “The Bonnie Brier Bush,” the old doctor is as well known as any person who lives across the street; he is real to us, though he never lived. “Old Scrooge” and “Brom Bones” are better known than John Adams is. A good character or a good story need not be drawn from facts. Indeed, in literature as in actual life, facts are stubborn things, and will not accommodate themselves to new surroundings. Make the story consistent; be not too careful about the facts.

      A story may be good and be entirely contrary to all known facts. “The Ugly Duckling” is as true as Fiske’s “History of the United States,” and every whit as consistent. “Alice in Wonderland” is an excellent story; yet it contains no facts. The introduction of a single fact would ruin the story; for between the realm of fact and the region of fancy is a great gulf fixed, and no man has successfully crossed it. Whatever conditions of life and action are assumed in one part of a story must be continued throughout. If walruses talk and hens are reasonable in one part of the story, to reduce them to every-day animals would be ruinous. Consistency, that the parts stand together, that the story seem probable,—this is more essential than facts. And to gain this consistency the surest rule is to test the material by its relation to the main incident.

      The choice of the main incident, then, will determine to a great degree what to exclude and what to include; it will assist in ridding compositions of countless enumerations, aimless wanderings, and flat endings; it will help the writer to get started, and insure a stop when the story is told; and it will give to the story the quality most essential for its success, consistency.

An Actor as the Storyteller:
      There is yet another condition that enters into the selection of materials: it makes a difference who tells the story. If the story be told in the first person, that is, if one of the actors tell the story, he cannot be supposed to know all that the other persons do when out of sight and hearing, nor can he know what they think. To take an illustration from a pupil’s essay. A girl took her baby sister out upon the lake in a rowboat. A violent storm arose, lashing the lake into a fury. The oars were wrenched from her hands. Helpless on the water, how was she to be saved? Here the essayist recited an infinite amount of detail about the distress at home, giving the conversation and the actions. These things she could not have known in the character she had assumed at the beginning, that of the chief actor. All of that should have been excluded. When Stevenson tells of the fight in the round house, though he knew what those old salts were doing outside, matters of great interest to the reader, he does not let David say anything except what he could see or hear, and a very little of what he “learned afterwards.” Stevenson knew well who was telling the story; David is too good a story-teller to tell what he could not know. In the pupil’s essay and in “Kidnapped,” all such matters would have a direct bearing on the main incident; they could be included without destroying the unity of the story. But they cannot be included when the story is told by one of the actors.

The Omniscience of an Author:
      Many stories, probably most stories, are told in the third person. In this case the author assumes the position of an omniscient power who knows everything that is done, said, or thought by the characters in his story. Not only what happens in the next room, but what is thought at the other side of the world, is comprehended in his omniscience. This is the position assumed by Irving in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” by Kipling in the series of stories included with “Wee Willie Winkie,” by Scott in “Marmion,” and by most great novelists. Omniscience is, however, a dangerous prerogative for a young person. The power is so great that the person who has but recently come into possession of it becomes dizzy with it and uncertain in his movements. A young person knows what he would do under certain conditions; but to be able to know what some other person would do and think under a certain set of circumstances requires a sure knowledge of character, and the capability of assuming entirely different and unaccustomed points of view. It is much safer for the beginner to take the point of view of one of the actors, and tell the story in the first person. Then when the grasp has become sure from this standpoint, he may assume the more difficult role of the omniscient third person.

      To sum up what has been said about the selection of materials: only those materials should be admitted to a story which contribute to its main incident, which are consistent with one another, and which could have been known by the narrator.

The Climax:
      When the materials for a story have been selected, the next consideration is their arrangement. If the materials have been selected to contribute to the main incident and converge toward it, it will follow that the main incident will come last in the story; it will be the climax towards which the several parts of the story are directed. Moreover, it should be last, in order to retain the interest of the reader up to that time. This is in accordance with the demands of the second great principle of structure, Mass. An essay is well massed if the parts are so arranged that things of importance will arrest the attention. In literature to be read, to arrest the attention is almost equivalent to catching the eye. The positions that catch the eye, whether in sentence, paragraph, or essay, are the beginning and the end. Were it not for another element which enters into the calculation, these positions would be of nearly equal importance. Since, however, the mind retains the most vivid impression of the thing it received last, the impression of the end of the sentence, paragraph, or essay is stronger than the impression made by its beginning. The climax of a story should come at the end, both because it is the result of preceding incidents, and because by this position it receives the additional emphasis due to its position. Who? Where? When? Why? The beginning is the position of second importance. What, then, shall stand in this place? A story resembles a puzzle. The solution of the puzzle is given at the end; the thing of next importance is the conditions of the puzzle. In “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” the story culminates in the surprise of a devoted mother when she discovers that her boy is a secretive little liar, who now deserves to be called “Black Sheep.” This is the end; what was the beginning,—the conditions necessary to bring about this deplorable result? First, they were the persons; second, the place; third, the time. In many stories there is introduced the reason for telling the story. These conditions, answering the questions Who? Where? When? and Why? are all, or some of them, introduced at the beginning of any narrative, and as soon as it can be done, they ought all to be given. In a short essay, they are in the first paragraph; in a novel, in the first chapters. In “Marmion” the time, the place, and the principal character are introduced into the first canto. So Irving begins “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” with the place and time, then follow the characters. In all stories the beginning is occupied in giving the conditions of the story; that is, the principal characters, the time, and the place.

      In what Order? Having the end and the beginning clearly in mind, the next question is how best to get from one to the other. Shall the incidents be arranged in order of time? or shall other considerations govern? If it be any narrative of the journal form, whether a diary or a biography, the chronological arrangement will direct the sequence of events. Again, if it be a simple story with a single series of events, the time order will prevail. If, however, it be a narrative which contains several series of events, as a history or a novel, it may be wise, even necessary, to deviate from the time sequence. It would have been unwise for Scott to hold strictly to the order of time in “Marmion;” after introducing the principal character, giving the time and the setting, it was necessary for him to bring in another element of the plot, Constance, and to go backward in time to pick up this thread of the story. The really essential order in any narrative is the order of cause and effect. As causes precede effects, the causal order and the time order generally coincide. In a single series of events, that is, where one cause alone produces an effect, which in turn becomes the cause of another effect, the time order is the causal order. In a novel, or a short story frequently, where there are more than one series of incidents contributing to and converging towards the main incident, these causes must all be introduced before the effect, and may break the chronological order of the story. In “Roger Malvin’s Burial,” it would be impossible to tell what the stricken father was doing and what the joyous mother was thinking at the same time. Hawthorne must leave one and go to the other until they meet in their awful desolation. The only rule that can be given is, introduce causes before effects. In all stories, short or long, this will result in an approximation to the order of time; in a simple story it will invariably give a time sequence.

      There is one exception to this rule which should be noted. It is necessary at the very beginning to have some incident that will arrest the attention. This does not mean that persons, place, and time shall not come first. They shall come first, but they shall be so introduced as to make an interesting opening to the story. The novels of some decades ago did not sufficiently recognize the principle. One can frequently hear it said of Scott’s stories, “I can’t get started with them; they are too dry.” The introductory chapters are often uninteresting. So much history is introduced, so much scenery is described before the author sets out his characters; and all this is done before he begins the story. Novelists of to-day realize that they must interest the reader at the beginning; when they have caught him, they are quite certain that he will bear with them while they bring up the other divisions of the story, which now have become interesting because they throw light on what has already been told. Even more than novelists, dramatists recognize this principle. When the curtain rises on the first act, something interesting is going on. The action frequently begins far along in the time covered by the story; then by cleverly arranged conversation all circumstances before the time of the opening that are necessary to the development of the plot are introduced. The audience receives these minor yet essential details with no impatience, since they explain in part a situation already interesting. The time order may be broken in order to introduce at the beginning of the story some interesting situation which will immediately engage the reader’s attention.

      In arranging the materials of a story, the main considerations are Mass and Coherence. Mass demands important matters at the beginning and at the end of a story. Coherence demands that events closely related shall stand close together: that an effect shall immediately follow its cause. Beginning with some interesting situation that will also introduce the principal characters, the time, and the setting, the story follows in the main the order of time, and concludes with the main incident.

An Outline:
      One practical suggestion will assist in arranging the 32 parts of a story. Use an outline. It will guard against the omission of any detail that may afterward be found necessary, and against the necessity of offering the apology, inexcusable in prepared work, of “forgetting to say;” it will help the writer to see the best arrangement of the parts, to know that causes have preceded effects. The outline in narration should not be too much in detail, nor should it be followed if, as the story progresses, new light comes and the writer sees a better way to proceed. The writer should be above the outline, not its slave; but the outline is a most valuable servant of the writer.

      Movement is an essential quality of narrative; a story must advance. This does not mean that the story shall always go at the same rate, though it does mean that it shall always go. If a story always had the rapidity and intensity of a climax, it would be intolerable. Music that is all rushing climaxes is unbearable; a picture must not be a glare of high lights. The quiet passages in music, the grays and low tones in the background of the picture, the slow chapters in a story, are as necessary as their opposites; indeed, climaxes are dependent on contrasts in order to be climaxes.

      The question of movement resolves itself into these two: how is rapidity of movement obtained, and how can the writer delay the movement. Rapidity is gained by the omission of all unnecessary details, and the use of the shortest, tersest sentences to express the absolutely essential. Dependent clauses disappear; either the sentences are simple, just one sharp statement, or they are made of coördinate clauses with no connectives. Every weight that could clog the story is thrown away, and it runs with the swiftness of the thought. At such a time it would be a waste of good material to introduce beautiful descriptions or profound philosophy. Such things would be skipped by the reader. Everything must clear the way for the story.

      What has been said of rapidity will indicate the answer to the second question. Slowness of movement is obtained by introducing long descriptions, analyses of characters, and information regarding the history or customs of the time. Sentences become long and involved; dependent clauses abound; connective words and phrases are frequent. Needless details may be introduced until the story becomes wearisome; it has almost no movement.

      Very closely connected with what has been said above is another fact concerning movement. Strip the sentences as you may, there are still the verbs remaining. Verbs and derivatives from verbs are the words which denote action. If other classes of words be taken out, the ratio of verbs to the other words in the sentence is larger. Shorter sentences and an increased ratio of verbs mark the passages in which the movement is more rapid. In “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” the sentences average twenty-five words in the slower parts; in the intenser paragraphs the sentences have an average of fifteen words. Poe’s “Gold-Bug“ changes from thirty-eight to twenty-one. Again, Stevenson’s essays have a verb to eight words, while the fight at the round house has a verb to about five and a half words. One of Kipling’s stories starts in with a verb to eight and a half words, and the climax has a verb in every four words. These figures mean that as the sentences are shortened, adjectives, adverbs, phrases, connectives, disappear. Everything not absolutely necessary is thrown away when the passage is to express rapid movement. No person should think that, by eliminating all dependent clauses, cutting away all unnecessary matters, and putting in a verb to every four words, he can gain intensity of expression. These are only accompanying circumstances. Climaxes are in the thought. When the thought moves rapidly, when things are being done with a rush, when the climax has been reached, then the writer will find that he can approach the movement of the thought most nearly by using these means.

Description and Narration:
      A valuable accessory to narration is description; in truth, description for its own sake is not frequently found. The story must be somewhere; and it is more real when we know in what kind of a place it occurs. Still it is not wise to do as Scott so often has done,—give chapters of description at the beginning of the story. Rather the setting should be scattered through the story so that it is hardly perceptible. At no time should the reader halt and realize that he is being treated to a description. Even in the beautiful descriptions by Stevenson quoted in the next chapter, the work is so intimately blended with the story that the reader unfortunately might pass over it. A large part of the pleasure derived from the best stories is supplied by good descriptions, giving a vivid picture of the setting of the story.

      Description has another use in narration beside giving the setting of the story; it is often used to accent the mood of the action. In “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Poe, much of the gloomy foreboding is caused by the weird descriptions. Hawthorne understood well the harmony between man’s feelings and his surroundings. The Sylvan Dance in “The Marble Faun” is wonderfully handled. Irving, in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” throws about the story a “witching influence,” and long before the Headless Horseman appears, the reader is quite sure that the region abounds in “ghosts and goblins,” dwelling in its “haunted fields, and haunted brooks, and haunted bridges, and haunted houses.” The danger in the use of description for this purpose is in overdoing it. The fact is, as Arlo Bates says, “the villains no longer steal through smiling gardens whose snowy lilies, all abloom, and sending up perfume like incense from censers of silver, seem to rebuke the wicked.” Yet when handled as Stevenson and Irving handled it, description assists in accenting the mood of the action.

Characters few, Time short.
      The number of characters should be few and the time of the action short. Pupils are not able to handle a large number of persons. There is, however, a stronger reason for it than incapacity. A young person would have great trouble in remembering the large number of persons introduced into “Little Dorrit.” Many of them would always remain entire strangers. Such a scattering of attention is unfavorable to a story. To focus the interest upon a few, to have the action centred in these few, increases the movement and intensity of the narrative. The writers of short stories in France (perhaps the best story-tellers of the present), Kipling, Davis, Miss Wilkins, and some others of our best authors, find few characters all that are necessary, and they gain in intensity by limiting the number of characters.

      For the same reason the time should be short. If all the incidents chosen are crowded into a short period of time, the action must be more rapid. The reader does not like to know five years have elapsed between one event and the next, even if the story-teller does not try to fill up the interim with matters of no consequence to the narrative. One exception must be made to this rule. In stories whose purpose is to portray a change of character, a long time is necessary; for the transformation is not usually the result of a day’s experience, but a gradual process of years. “Silas Marner” and “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” demand time to make naturally the great changes recounted. In general, however, the time should be short.

Simple Plot:
      Moreover, the plot should be simple. This is not saying that the plot should be evident. No one is quite satisfied if he knows just how the story will turn out. There are, however, so many conditions in a story that the accentuation of one or the subordination of another may bring about something quite unexpected, yet perfectly natural. Complicated plots have had their day; simple plots are now in vogue. They are as natural as life, and quite as unfathomable. In Davis’s “Gallegher” there is nothing complicated; one thing follows another in a perfectly natural way; yet there are many questions in the reader’s mind as to how the little rascal will turn out, and whether he will accomplish his mission. Much more cleverness is shown by the sleight-of-hand trickster, who, unassisted and in the open, with no accessories, dupes his staring assembly, than by him who, on the stage, with the aid of mirrors, lights, machines, and a crowd of assistants, manages to deceive your eyes. A story that by its frank simplicity takes the reader into its confidence, and brings him to a conclusion that is so natural that it should have been foreseen from the beginning, has a good plot. The conclusion of a story must be natural,—the result of the causes at work in the story. It must be an expected surprise. If it cannot be accounted for by the causes at work in the story, the construction is faulty. In the world of fiction there is not the liberty one experiences in the world of fact. There things unexpected and unexplainable occur. But the story-teller has no such privilege. Truth is stranger than fiction dare be. A simple, natural story, with few characters and covering but a short period of time, has three elements of success.

      Paragraph structure, sentence structure, and choice of words are taken up in subsequent chapters. Of paragraphs it may be wise to say that there will be as many as there are divisions in the outline; and sometimes, by reason of the length of topic, a subdivision may be necessary. The paragraph most common in narration is the paragraph of details, the first form presented in the chapter on paragraphs. What needs to be said of sentences has already been said when treating of movement. Of words one thing may be suggested. Choose live words, specific words, words that have “go” in them.

      It should be remembered that everything cannot be learned at once. The study of the whole is the principal occupation just now. Select the main incident; choose other incidents to be consistent with it; start out at once giving the conditions of the story; proceed now fast, now slow, as the thought demands, arriving at a conclusion that is an expected surprise, the result of forces at work in the story.

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