Have We Killed the Narrator?


Last week, The New York Times  published an interesting article by Steve Almond titled “Once Upon a Time, There Was a Person Who Said, ‘Once Upon a Time’.“ He writes about the changing role of the narrator in contemporary literature.

While teaching creative writing classes, Mr. Almond noted a shift in his students’ writing from stories with narrators to stories without. Long strings of scenes without narration confused Almond. He describes them as stories long on vivid camera work and short on coherence. They prompted him to ask, “Where are we?” and “Is it possible I’m missing a page?”

Initially, he blamed the shift on the long-suffering mantra of writing teachers: “Show, don’t tell.” But as he pondered more deeply, Almond decided that his young students were mimicking, aware or unaware, “the dazzling visual media of film and television.”

He writes:

“The rise of visual media, in fact, changed our very conception of storytelling. Traditionally, stories represented an active collaboration. Listeners and readers were called upon to create the world described by the artist. Film advanced a new model of collaboration. An array of artists (screenwriters, actors, cinematographers, set designers, etc.) worked together to invent an ultra-vivid artificial world. The audience’s role became increasingly passive — to absorb and react, not to imagine . . . On a grand scale, we’ve traded perspective for immediacy, depth for speed, emotion for sensation, the panoramic vision of a narrator for a series of bright beckoning keyholes.”

So, what do you think? Are today’s authors killing the narrator? What affect do films like “Memento” and TV shows like “Lost” and “The River” have on student writers?

To read the entire article and Steve Almond’s conclusions, click HERE.



Filed under Aspiring Writers, Publishing Trends, Uncategorized, Writing craft

2 responses to “Have We Killed the Narrator?

  1. Hi Jean –

    That’s a fascinating and very logical theory! When you think about how we played as youngsters and how kids play now, it makes sense.

    We could entertain ourselves with a large cardboard box. It could be a dollhouse, a fort, or anything we desired. Kids don’t have to improvise today or use their imagination. It’s done for them.

    How sad that readers have been reduced to passive consumers of words instead of immersing themselves in the storyworld.


  2. I agree with Susan – this is an interesting theory. I’ve considered it in general terms, as I see how my teen students handle their assignments. I know that films and media have an impact on the younger generation, especially. (Wait, that makes me sound old, right? Oops.) Anyway, I can sometimes see a difference in students who’ve read a lot, particularly fiction, versus those who do not.

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