Tuesday, April 6, 2010

'Think about narrative in the broadest sense'

I just came across this piece from Michael Pollan on Nieman Narrative Digest, and it's the freshest take on narrative I've read in a while. (Even though it was published a few years ago).

I haven't read anything by Pollan, though he's going on my list now that I've read this. He talks about expanding your view of narrative to go beyond "people doing things." This essay is about nature writing, and he has great ideas of how to think about narrative in non-human things -- a system (like how water gets from one place to another), or a process, or an animal, or a life-cycle, for example.

He talks about ecology as a way of thinking, and something that "provides you with all your transitions" because something is always happening down the line. He talks about how Rachel Carson, in "Silent Spring," wrote deeply about neurotoxins and what they actually do: "Following a thing through a system is a powerful tool. It accomplishes something your editors are always driving you crazy about: Why should readers care?"

He talks about when/how to use first person; about how you can make learning into a useful narrative tool; and about building suspense.