Pesky narrative voice

I’m beginning to write short-form stories again but I have a problem with one of my narrative voices. He’s an abusive husband. POV-wise, I’m not sure I can accurately portray him. But he won’t go away. He’s hijacked my creative process! Sigh. I’m going to have to get him out of my system before moving on. He’s hung around for years. 

Anyone else have problems with their POV characters? Do they hijack your stories too? 

And another thing. What do people think of fan-fic? I’ve read some good stuff recently that in no way reads like fan-fic and I’m wondering, do these writers use the plots and characters of well-known films (Star Wars, true blood etc) as impetus for their creative flow or as a genuine tribute to that film? What gives? Personally I can’t see the point of fan-fic but I’m sure there’s one somewhere. 

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Some pitfalls of ethical research

This could also be titled “when research participants get in the way”. My work on my narratives was nearly done, and as is the wont with narrative inquiry methods – or even case study – the ethical, respectful thing to do is send your draft narratives to your participants so that they can comment on what they’ve said, or report inaccuracies in the text. It’s the final piece of the ethical research puzzle and provides valuable validity to your findings.

So, about a year ago I sent my drafts to my participants for a read and possible discussion, and got a great response from one and an interesting response from another. I changed that person’s draft in response to their not unreasonable opinion that the draft was a bit long winded and lacked shape. (Love it when they comment on your actual writing style!). A few more minor edits to protect the innocent and there you are.

The other participants did not respond. So, this year after redrafting the narratives all quite heavily I sent through my final drafts to the participants. Well, it’s nice to see one came back with a “congratulations!”. There you go.

But the next respondent, boy oh boy. Every single sentence they uttered has been altered. Some to the point of not even sounding like it comes from a human. What do you do? In deference to the participant, I need to look at the work as a whole and consider what altering the text will do to my findings.

So, I’ve taken the road frequently travelled in narrative inquiry and looked at what is important to the study but keeps the humanity of the spoken word. I’ve removed things that hurt the innocent – in other words if my participant feels what they said at the time was unfair or contentious, then I’ve changed it to reflect the participant’s wish. That’s reasonable. It isn’t hurting my findings too much, rather, it’s tempering the language to be more moderate and being fair to those who cannot respond.

Where the participant changed the text to improve an explanation of a technical concept and it’s not too different from the original I’ve changed it too. However, my dear participant has removed all of the lovely interjections and language style that makes the narrative sing and gives it its power. The participant wanted to reflect that the narrative will be read, not spoken. But for me this is one step too far. This is where the participant gets in the way.

I’ve chosen to ignore some of the participant’s edits – they lose the beauty and movement of the participant’s lyrical speech patterns, but I’ve occasionally added an extra thing in the commentary that they had written in the edits, to provide greater clarity to the spoken text. That way the spoken word is maintained, but the participant’s revised word is still included. And booyah! I’ve found places where my text is lacking explanation or analysis of the text. Goodoh.

It’s difficult, though, because what if the intent, beauty and power of the original statement is lost in translation? That’s the great dilemma and one of the pitfalls of ethical research.

My room of my own

Today I’m down at my folks’ beach house, in a room of my own. And I’m working. I am sitting at a desk in front of a lovely large window from which I can see green. It’s nice.

Here’s a photo.

A room of my ownPoppy my groodle sits under my feet and I have made good progress on another of my narrative chapters, which should make it easier to shape the discussion chapter. Here’s hoping, at any rate. So, I’ve been aiming for 500 words per day. I had thought to ADD those words, but at this rate, I’ve been EXCISING them from my narratives. This is a good thing, actually. The narratives are holding together better and they are less wordy. I’ve paraphrased quite a bit of the quotes and removed others altogether. And I’ve reshaped the commentary. It hurts, but many times I’ve had to look at the quotes and wonder why they are in there. Do I need it? Does it help? Usually it doesn’t.

So out they go. But with one particularly powerful narrative, the voice of the teacher is so strong and profound I dread to remove the quotes. So I think I might reduce other aspects of the narrative altogether. Fun, fun fun.

Lunch, then back to work. It’s great working at my parent’s beach house. It’s not my house, so I don’t feel bad about how messy it is (that’s my mother’s mess, not mine). I don’t feel the need to clean, except my own grot, and there aren’t other things getting in the way. Everyone is leaving me alone. Perfect. But there are people here and an expectation that I will work. And I am.

Well, ok. I may have spent a few hours reading my fantasy novels – Stephen Donaldson and George RR Martin, you have a LOT to answer for – but their writing is good for me to see. Stephen Donaldson’s writing is rather overwrought. It is grammatically correct, but I’m getting sick of words like demesne and puissance. Just say domain and power, for goodness’ sake. Martin’s writing is fabulous. I hated it at first, thinking his first novel in his series GoT rather crappy fantasy style, but actually, it is amazing. I’m liking his work more and more. I’ve seen the series, hated the rather stereotypical and archetypal characters he had drawn, and REALLY hated the gratuitous sex scenes and nakedness, but now I see how he draws his characters. I GET how he has been inspired by the War of the Roses, and I think – scarily – that he has drawn a frankly barbaric account of the European middle ages. Which I suspect is rather accurate in its barbarity. I love it. And I love the teeny tiny bit of magic he weaves into his stories so that the fantasy element stays alive throughout the many descriptions of battles and political intrigue. And I love his characters. I have the first three books out of 6 he has currently written (book 3 divided into 2 tomes) and I can’t wait to read beyond the Red Wedding because his books give no real indication of how awful Walder Frey really is. The TV series is a wonderful accompaniment to the novels despite the many small changes made to accommodate narrative flow in TV.

Right. So easy for me to stray off the path of good intentions! Back to work I go.

Writing retreats are the bomb!

I’ve just returned from a successful writing retreat where I spent two days with my husband and a team of employees at a local university, working on a paper he and I are preparing for a journal. It’s a lovely article, but I’m uncertain as to how it will be received, because it is using narrative inquiry methods to talk about the case studies. They are intrinsic case studies with overarching themes that emerge from a reading and rereading of the data, and they are fascinating just for the humanness of the people in them, but there is a meta-narrative, I suppose, in the way these people educate the students in their charge for a career in music, and the various ways they try and allow this to happen. I have really enjoyed working with the data, but I now have to put it away for a while as I have a 20 minute presentation to complete and I’ve not even prepared the motivation studies material for my talk. I have to find a way to reduce my data in my talk from a furious 45 minutes to a more casual 20. Nearly impossible for me!

Anyway, I’m deep in the writing at the moment, which I’m loving, so there is not much time to report. I have been fascinated by the way I managed to keep focussed over the 2 days of the retreat, and I’m wondering if I might manage this for my own retreat. I have so much work yet to do on my transcriptions, and I’ve not much time to prepare my narratives for their first drafts while I am away, but the plan is going ahead nevertheless that I am planning to WRITE, WRITE, WRITE. I found over the last two days that if I lost focus, then I would get up, walk around for a bit and then go and do something else that was connected but not the same as the previous task. For example, I began the retreat by totally transcribing one of the interviews. This took me all morning, and I began another transcription later in the day, but I became exhausted by about 4.30pm, after transcribing 15 minutes of the 30 minute interview, and lay down for a little read. Then, at about 5.00pm, hubby came in and we began to discuss the introduction, so I then worked on that for an hour before dinner.

The following morning, I craftily asked my husband to look at the work I had done the previous night, which got him thinking, and then we spent breakfast discussing the article. I resorted to napkin writing to get all of his amazing ideas on paper. His capacity for the big picture is awesome. I envy that in him. Then, for the remainder of the morning, I spent time crafting more of the literature, and reading articles for the methods section. After lunch I then began crafting the methods section. This was actually heaps of fun, because the article and the analysis had not been formulated in the previous study from which the data comes, so we are creating our analysis from scratch. It’s not grounded theory, it is narrative inquiry, but because it’s only a baby study, it’s easier to create the theory arising from the research. It is informing my approach to my own study. Every day, learning something new! So, we have some pillars of learning in conservatoriums, and one of them is ensemble practice. Totally cool. I was afraid it felt a little glib, but my own research on conservatoriums tells me that, actually, this is a pretty accurate description.¬† So, once I’m done with my talk for Sunday, I will look at this article once again. And then send it to the second author for additions and edits.

And, to finish, later in the second afternoon, as my brain was slowly frying, I decided to become creative, right at the last. I began crafting one of the narratives from the field data I had written nearly a year earlier. It’s descriptive at the moment and there is no interview data, but writing it felt easy and joyous. So, after all this, and even though hubby says it’s a long way off, over the two days I wrote or transcribed about 10000 words. THAT is time well spent.

So, writing retreats are the bomb.

Narrative structures: a non linear perspective

I have been working on two draft narrative chapters recently and I am struck by the difference I will have to take in my approach to each. The first narrative has a clear, linear approach. I can see the pathway to take and its structure is straightforward. Beginning: introduce the characters, the place. Middle: there is a conflict. End: development is assured, learning is seen, characters have grown, the denouement is resolved. Simple. Narrative structure at its most elemental. Time, place, actors in the drama with their paths laid out along the chronology.

The second narrative, on the other hand, is more difficult to identify. I think this narrative is more circular. I think it is a stop start narrative. There is eternal conflict, frustration. The beginning is not the beginning, the middle is tedious and the end shows no development, no resolution, no learning. It feels like “groundhog day” where the patience of one person does not resolve in a triumphant ending for the other. It seems like more of the same. Dreary. Endless. Impossible. My friend feels that it is less circular and rather, more like a sea urchin with spikes, the spikes referring to the many ways in which a teacher, carefully and with great skill, tries a different approach to the education of this person, only for the person in question to not get it. It’s like one of those cute stress balls, except the stress is not resolved by squeezing it.

Maybe I should call this narrative a “Sisyphean task”? Maybe I should refer to the ancients, and develop themes based on my current reading of the Odyssey, or some other Greco/Roman tale?

This is a truly delicious conundrum to endure. I AM enjoying myself.