For this week’s Poetics I thought we could work in First Person Narrative. As most are well aware of, a first person narrative is storytelling through the voice of the character, at a particular moment, and referring to themselves. In this mode we are seeing things through the narrators point of view.
I’ve always liked this style as it allows you to experience information simultaneously with the narrator, and is, in a way, like you are experiencing the drama in real time. I also like the mystery that this mode of narration presents, as we cannot know anything more than what the narrator knows. However, many view this feature as limiting, as the reader is dependent upon accurate observations and information. We only ever see the world as the character does. Therefore, if the narrator has a limited scope of education or experience, our information will be filtered through such a lens. If he is incorrect we will not know immediately. Additionally, if the narrator makes assumptions in any way, we will be clueless and victims to the potential transference of misinformation.
Such openness to unreliability turns some readers off to first person narration as a whole. Yet it certainly has its merits. It can offer a change-of-pace to a story primarily told in one of the other points of view. First person narrative is a way that allows the reader to travel directly inside of the character’s thoughts. This view works very well for quieter characters, where without understanding what goes unspoken, one may never get to know the character at all. One last idea, as to what first person can offer, is in stories where storytelling is a major component. It brings me back to how tales were told way back when, where, at night, people would gather around the warriors who just returned from battle. Here they would tell their adventures in a personal way, allowing the listeners to feel as if they were there, right beside him.
An important note is that almost any longer story will use multiple points of view throughout. Such a tactic not only offers variety to the reader, adding freshness to the writing, but it also allows the reader to weigh information through a multitude of lenses, enabling them to grasp the whole picture more accurately.
As it is with most forms of writing, Poetry can utilize any of the viewpoint narratives. Typically though, first person offers a deeper connection between poet and reader, which, I do believe makes a lot of sense, as poetry is, or at least should be, the most personal and emotionally stirring of any writing format. I think it’s for this reason that the majority of poetry is composed through a first person point of view.
So for today’s Poetics prompt, compose a poem using first person narrative. This can be personal, or you could pretend you are another person or some figure throughout history or from fiction. Try to tell the reader what this character sees, feels, wants, illustrating their deepest thoughts within and honing in on what the senses are drawn to.
That is one possibility for today’s Poetics, which you could simply start writing now and skip or gloss over the next part of this article. But really, what would be the fun in that. Or, if that being the sentiment, you could read forward and try something a bit different. Remember this as well, if the ideas listed below seem too confusing or something you feel might be too involved, you can always return to the exercise I just mentioned, the first person narrative poem. Yet, to do that you’ll have to read on to find out what radical experiment awaits.
While still connected to the first person narrative I just introduction, I thought, what a perfect place this would be, to attempt incorporating a character study, from an actor’s point of view and infusing it into our first person narratives. The goal here is to create poetry on another level, one so deep, that it embodies multiple art forms.
Acting is one of the oldest art forms. It certainly has evolved over the years. The evolution of the craft has taken it from a place of performing and pretending, to where it is today, as an art form whose reason for being is just that, being, living, as a reality on the stage or behind the camera’s lens.
Early on, performers would deliver over-the-top, greatly embellished and over-emphasized bouts of physicality to hammer down the core essence of each scene to their audiences. Today, while history is always someplace within the most current stage of evolution, it is also buried deep beneath many, many years of progress. The closest direct connection we have, where such early forms of acting can still be seen performed as such today, are in the overtly and downright blatant performances given in the most severe of physical comedies. Yet, even so, the actor purposefully delivers his part from a center of being and thus still remains removed from today’s actor’s ancestors.
All change begins someplace. For the craft of acting, the most recognized and cited moment of change was when Stanislavski created his theory of acting practice. This practice would become the basis for “The Method,” a system of acting birthed by Lee Strasberg. In the 1930’s, the method thrived. The group theatre was a collective of innovative actors that brought reality to the stage, something audiences had never seen with such proficiency before.
Over the years though, the group theater would find many of its members splintering away from Strasberg’s interpretations of Stanislavski’s theory. At this point you had the formation of many new schools, each using, at its core, some form of Stanislavski’s work, with each offering its own unique interpretation and focus.
Along with Strasberg, Stella Adler, Michael Chekhov, Richard Boleslavsky, Uta Hagen and Sanford Meisner became the most famous of the initial “protégé’s.” Today, this evolution continues, where the students of those acting teachers mentored by Stanislavski and Strasberg, have gone on to adapt what they had learned, what they experienced to work more effectively, into systems of their own.
Eric Morris, Larry Moss, Ivana Chubbuck and Howard Fine are but a few of the most notable teachers currently available to study under. While it does seem as if we are well removed from that first wave of modern acting theory, it is important to note, that despite the individualized philosophies of the most current batch of teachers, all of them are, in some way, indebted to the practices of Strasberg and Stanislavski.
The above discussion is but a very brief look at the history of acting. And while impossible to properly show each of these teachers in their own elements and how each differ from the others, it is important to understand a major focal point of all modern acting theorists. This mainstay is bringing a sense of reality to the role.
There is a great deal of differentiation here, as to how an actor should build their roles and as to what should and should not be used to facilitate such a reality into their performances. And to this, just how does an actor build reality into their roles?
For the most part, crudely though, it’s an actor recalling memories from their own lives. Here they will then infuse the individual memory’s essence into their lines, scenes, acts and roles. The terminology greatly varies between teachers. Some call it Affective memory; others call it Sense or emotional memory. Some teachers strongly believe you must have experienced similar emotions in your own life to incorporate such a reality to the role. Others think it is understandable to believe it impossible for any human being to possibly have experienced everything they will encounter in a role. Therefore, these particular teachers condone the use of imagination.
The main point here though is that the actor works from those experiences found through and within memory. Here, within each memory, the actor attempts to recall vividly as many of the details as possible that relate directly to the senses. The thought here is that through the senses, the actor will most readily be open to reintroducing what they had originally felt back into their current roles and characters.
The thought behind this is almost mathematical in it’s formation. Actor reads script. Actor understands character on multiple levels, (Overall, Scene), Actor Goes into his or her memories. Actor finds directly relatable or indirectly usable sensory information. Actor infuses sensory information back into the scripted role. Actor successfully creates their newly formed character. This character is, at all times, the role scripted by the author and also steeped soundly in and by the actor’s own real or understood memories, whereas each becomes a part of the other. The effect or outcome is a living, breathing reality given new life upon the stage or screen.
The way an actor is able to harness these senses varies greatly between schools of thought. Again, it is impossible to detail such methods properly here. There are books upon books that deal with such a question. Yet, here, for this purpose, I would like you to be able to dig deep within yourself, for your own experiences. I want you to try and feel your way around your senses and attempt to recreate the essence here in your writing.
A good exercise, albeit rudimentary, is to sit still, close your eyes and breathe rhythmically. Feel the breath as you inhale. Feel it fill your lungs. Feel it fill your stomach. Feel it return as it entered. Feel this breath as it then escapes, bringing along with it, feelings of stress and tension. Repeat this exercise a few times until you feel deeply relaxed and free.
From this point, once completely relaxed and open, stroll back through your experiences and find that particular moment that is aligned to your current role, to the character you are attempting to embody, to the lines you are trying to infuse reality into. Once you get there, spend some time there; become reacquainted with your experience once again.
Just because you lived it once before, have felt the sensations it produced already, does not mean everything will automatically reappear for you. By lingering amongst your experiences, you are allowing your senses to attune themselves once more. You will find more and more information surfacing, many of which you never even knew was there. This information gathered acts as brushstrokes do, enabling you to paint theses experiences upon the character you are working on. Pay very close attention to and look particularly for, those moments where the senses are involved. These moments will be the most useful to you.
Once you have what you need, retrace the breathing exercise back once again, bringing that sense of relaxation and the discoveries you encountered therein, to the surface, and in most cases, you should be able to see your lines, your characters in a truer reality.
You will encounter certain characters, certain scenes, where you won’t have the direct experiences that are needed. This is fine. In such cases, try to root out the scene, find out what the characters objective is. In most cases you will find the objective to be something universal, such as to love, to heal, to hurt, to pursue. Once you do this, you should be able to locate personal experiences that correspond. A quick example would be: If your character is stuck in an alley, surrounded by a gang of thugs, you may not have such a situation to call upon from your own experience. Yet, I’m pretty sure you can recall a point in your life where To Survive or To Escape was your objective. So draw upon that and use this as your baseline whenever you need to connect to any situations unfamiliar. Play the objective for your character and for your scene and you will arrive at the point you need to find.
Every character will have a set of objectives. For the individual scenes, as just mentioned. They will also have overall objectives. To get to these, you should know your character as best as you can. While time may not permit you to read an entire story or script, you still should be able to grasp your character’s overall desires, albeit crudely, yet enough so that you can have that in the back of your mind while working on your lines, working on your character, in any particular scene.
This is fun, as many times contrast appears and it is necessary to display. A quick example: Say the character’s overall objective is to unite a community torn into factions. During the course of the story however, your character may be in a situation where To Fight, is the only option available. Herein lies the basis for drama. Here we find and build up organic contrast and tension. By not completely relinquishing your character’s overall objective, you can see how the immediate and overall objectives either work or will not work together. In any effect, you should have found something dynamic to work with and in effect, a dynamic moment should be there for the reader/audience.
The actor will conduct a scene analysis for each of his scenes. In which, he’ll look to uncover a myriad of questions, Who Am I? Where am I? What is my Objective? Who is opposing me? What do they want? There are countless others as well. These here are but a few to get you on the path.
When reading through your scenes, you should not only take into consideration your present and overall objectives, but also take environment, setting and any other particularity into consideration. This you’ll uncover by the analysis and the use of these questions you’ll keep in mind continuously while studying the scenes.
A quick example of what is meant here can be seen in a situation where an actor is speaking to one person and how differently he would act if he were speaking to two, three or more. Another example would be how a role may be affected depending on location. If the scene takes place inside, a character may act in a particular manner. This can be greatly altered simply by placing the scene outside. The same can be said when a setting is quiet or noisy, or wherever two opposite possibilities could potentially exist.
Again, these are just a few of the ideas you’ll take into consideration while preparing. The major and most essential though, are, and always will be, determining what your objective is for any particular scene and how it compares to the overall objective. It is also very important to know whom you are interacting with in any given scene. Here you’ll want to understand what their objectives are. You may not be able to discern the other character’s overall objective from a given scene. it is essential though, to properly identify their immediate objective, as preparing for a scene with a likeminded character will vary greatly from one who’s objective contrasts your own.
A lot of what you are setting out to accomplish will take place through dialogue. You may include dialogue in your writing, but by no means is it a requirement. Dialogue works well in first person narratives, as it does in most points of view. But using it for this, a poetical purpose is not necessary in your end result.
I mention this, solely because in a script, it will be the dialogue that drives your scene and your character. It is through dialogue that much of what you’ll be able to come to understand about your character is discovered. What you need to draw upon personally, to relate reality to this scene, to this character, will be found mainly through the dialogue. From which, you’ll come to understand and then develop your combined reality, to which you can then work into your poetry.
A final thought here stays with the scene study. As you are reading a scene, weighing the lines and so forth, how can you effectively illustrate your objectives here, both short and long term?
You can’t just come out and say them. Still though, you must be able to convey the essence of your objectives through the lines. This is done through knowing your character, knowing your objectives and understanding how each scene, each line, interacts with all of these. Something I never considered before reading about the craft was how so much that goes unsaid, dictates a performance.
In acting, a character, even while speaking his lines, is also running an unspoken inner monologue. Here the actor speaks unfiltered. His thoughts are pure and direct. His objectives are thought upon and in result, the lines, the scene and the characters are shaded fully, broadened and brought to life. And what if our inner monologue runs counter to the spoken words? Herein is the fun of a scene. The torn facets of the character are on full display. Such cases are what makes winning performances and drive drama.
On this note, it is also important to indicate just how crucial it is for your character, to continue a running inner monologue throughout every scene, every appearance your character has within the story. If you are without lines, you are to listen intently to the other characters. While you are listening, you should be playing your objectives in your inner monologue. In no case are you just there. You will always be living in the moment. Whether speaking or listening, you’ll always keep your inner monologue running, as the minute you stop, the audience will be able to tell your are no longer there, and reality will then be lost, and the performance will lose its grasp upon everyone in attendance.
I understand this article went on a little longer than most. Even though, there still wasn’t any way to include everything here. I obviously could not include close to all that’s necessary to fully embody a character on the screen. But, seeing, here, our goal isn’t to create a finished role for a performance, it’s to infuse this type of reality into your writing. I do hope I offered enough to allow you the opportunity to incorporate such an idea into your work.
I’m really interested in seeing who takes this second challenge on. The ultimate goal would be to truly transform your first person poetic narrative, bringing to it, and to the character inside, a reality all its own. This reality would not be simply a case where the truth of the figure or the fictional character is brought to life as written or as understood through historical research, but to infuse your own experiences, your own senses, thus making this character much more alive then he or ever could have been dreamed of.
There are so many variations as to how one can attack this challenge, so instead of including examples, which would be nothing more than one subjective way amongst the countless choices and possibilities available to consider, I thought it would be most beneficial to simply let the poets decide how they will use what I’ve provided her tonight. Can’t wait to read what you all come up with.
Heres How It Works:
• Write your poem and post it to your blog
• Add a link to your poem via the ‘Mr Linky’ below
• This opens a new screen where you’ll enter your information, and where you also choose links to read. Once you have pasted your poem’s blog URL and entered your name, click Submit. Don’t worry if you don’t see your name right away
• Read and comment on other peoples work to let them know it’s being read
• Share via your favourite social media platforms
• Above all- have fun!