Subject: Framing devices

Charles Butler hannibal at
Sun Apr 6 17:39:43 EDT 2003

I've poured scorn on the first-person-present-tense technique, and even
vented a bit of spleen too, so perhaps I'd better confess to a weakness for
the journal/epistolary form - which tells the story in at least a loose
approximation to real-time. I loved _Pamela_, for example, and though I
still haven't quite got round to_Clarissa_ I'm going to take a chance and
say (future tense narration) that I will love that too in due course.

Not that these forms are without their own problems - the idea that Pamela
is busy writing to her parents, describing how she feels about Mr B
hammering on the door of her chamber even as he is doing so, is an open
invitation to satire (as I think Fielding showed). On the other hand, in
addition to the 'immediacy' you get by virtue of the narrator not knowing
how the story is going to turn out, it opens the way to daring postmodern
techniques: the letters/diary can be discovered and read by others, for
example, and enter story in its/their own right.

In DWJ the obvious example is _Black/Aunt Maria_, where Maria does just that
with Mig's diary. I liked that of course, though there was something
slightly awkward in Mig's final admission that she'd expanded the journal
from its original form (because, as Chris pointed out,  she couldn't have
written that much in the time available). A variation on the theme is _The
Homeward Bounders_, where Jamie's witness to his own experiences - which is
the book itself - becomes a kind of spell against the power of Them. He
becomes a martyr in the etymological sense.

Then there's _Deep Secret_, where Rupert and Maree's narrations take the
form of after-the-fact reports to the Upper Room. (cf The Merlin
Conspiracy.) This sacrifices something in terms of immediacy, but the bonus
is that by combining two different pov's you can get a nice triangulation on
events, especially if the narrators are able to see and comment on each
other's contributions. I mention this particulary because I first came
across the technique in _The Pigman_ by Paul Zindel, who died the other day.

Was I going anywhere with this? I can't remember. That's the trouble with
real-time narration, you can't expect neat endings...


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