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What's the Narrative?

I never was a particularly good student. Daydreaming and a thoroughly doodled book were my most effective methods for not taking in the teachers’ ramblings. Recently, I discovered that there was some merit in the lessons they taught, but seeing as my memory fogs up at the thought of what was said I believe that it is information I didn’t need at the time. English is a hard topic to pay attention to when it is delivered dryly and without any seeming relevance to you especially when you’re young and couldn’t care less. Now, as I find myself in need, I have a new teacher called friends and Google with the topic driven by my own curiosities.


Let me tell you where this particular curiosity started. My issue first appeared as I finished a new song titled Let it Fall. This was the song I wrote after reading Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist. My mind was relaxed, releasing the formalities of song writing I had just learned from Pat Pattison which had disabled my process in the same way as trying to learn a new language while in a country that doesn’t speak yours would. At first, it’s difficult if not a little humiliating but as you immerse yourself in it, you pick up on the language until you’re fluent (FYI not yet fluent). As I wrote Let it Fall, I allowed the story to settle into a Third Person narrative:


He wore his heart like a rag on his sleeve

Gathering up the wind and everything between…”


It wasn’t until I had finished and was going over the song when my new process (used to ensure I have a couple of things in order: a clear progression in the story, a consistent narrative and the appropriate rhythm for each sentence) identified a few issues. I realised I had changed the narrative in every single chorus to Second Person Narrative:


“Let it fall down,

Let it wash away your fears and let you go…”


This was terribly disappointing and blaringly obvious upon review. To be honest, this wasn’t the only song I wrote with mixed narrative however it was the first I had written since the song writing course. My bulb of newly found knowledge shone a bright and unflattering light on the situation, something I lacked before and blissfully ignored. Fortunately, instead of throwing a tantrum I decided to get technical on this bitch. I went through the song and wrote it out in Third Person, Second Person and Mixed Narrative which gave me the following (I have only noted the key phrases of the song, verse one, chorus and the bridge):


Third Person

“He wore his heart like a rag on his sleeve

Gathering up the wind and everything between

When it rained he wouldn’t tuck it away

He’d let the rain fall, wash everything clean

He dreamed of a place where the days seemed bright

Let it fall down

Let it wash away your fears and let you go

On your own

Free of nightmares, where you can breathe and feel the sunrise set your heart

on fire”

BRIDGE

“Look at him giving his heart

Look at him giving his heart, did you know he’s a dreamer?

Look at him giving his heart, did you know he’s a dreamer?

Did you know he believed her? Did you know he’s a dreamer?

Did you know he believed her?”


Second Person

“You wore your heart like a rag on your sleeve

Gathering up the wind and everything between

When it rained you wouldn’t tuck it away

You’d let the rain fall, wash everything clean

You dreamed of a place where the days seemed bright

Let it fall down

Let it wash away your fears and let you go

On your own

Free of nightmares, where you can breathe and feel the sunrise set your heart

on fire”

BRIDGE

“Look at you giving your heart

Look at you giving your heart, did you know she’s a dreamer?

Look at you giving your heart, did you know she’s a dreamer?

Did it hurt to believe her? Did you know she’s a dreamer?

Did it hurt to believe her?”


Mixed Narrative (Main: Second Narrative)

“You wore your heart like a rag on your sleeve

Gathering up the wind and everything between

When it rained you wouldn’t tuck it away

You’d let the rain fall, wash everything clean

You dreamed of a place where the days seemed bright

Let it fall down

Let it wash away your fears and let you go

On your own

Free of nightmares, where you can breathe and feel the sunrise set your heart

on fire”

BRIDGE

“Look at him giving his heart

Look at him giving his heart, did you know he’s a dreamer?

Look at him giving his heart, did you know he’s a dreamer?

Did you know he believed her? Did you know he’s a dreamer?

Did you know he believed her?”


As I read through the stories, each was clear except for the Mixed Narrative. However, in the song I had a deliberate change in the music and in this context, the Mixed Narrative also had a place to fit. It was at this point, when I knew my foggy memories were not going to come clear that I turned to Google.


I followed my initial instinct to look up Second Person Narrative and make sure I had used it correctly. I found articles on Grammarly and The Balance Careers the latter being more interesting in that while confirming my understanding of the narrative style, it mentioned how authors Charles Dickens and Jane Austen would address their audience directly which some have confused with Second Person Narrative. The idea that their stories could use a mixed narrative which included Direct Address piqued my senses so I tried to see what opinions were on Mixed Narrative.


I stumbled through a few websites and landed on a forum at Mythic Scribes where a writer had asked a similar question about mixed narrative. It was here that I found the answer I was hoping for. A few of the posts said that mixed narrative could be used successfully if it was made abundantly clear to the reader. A post by Christopher Wright said:


“For example, let's say your protagonist is an unreliable narrator. He lies to himself, to his friends, and to the reader. You could make a rule that in first person, the explanations he gives to the reader about his motivations are ALWAYS some variation of a lie, and he only provides them after he's made the decision--any scene where he has to make a specific decision is always told in third person omniscient, and must occur first. So the third person narrator would tell the reader what actually happened, and then after switching to first person the protagonist would lie to the audience about why he's doing what he's doing. The audience, however, would already know the truth, so his explanations would be character development--the audience would see just how willing he was to come to the truth in each situation.”


After I had read this, a friend, Steve Graham, who I had also asked for help sent me a link to an article by Song Chops which gave me some brilliant exercises to consider, ensuring the story was still clear.


So, this is where I made a few assumptions to make my decision.


While it felt like a stretch to jump between narratives on paper, when I performed the song I much preferred the Mixed Narrative: the storyline is all Second Person Narrative until the Bridge where it switches to Third Person Narrative before switching back. I allowed myself this leniency by relying on the change in the music. Where a writer could use the personality of a character to establish the change in narrative a songwriter could theoretically use music to establish a different narrator in the same way. For example, in a horror movie they use ominous music to strike fear in the viewer at specific moments. Admittedly, horror movies use the music in correlation with the filming style, colour grading, cut scenes etc however, the effect the music has depends upon the level of which they want people to be fearful for example: a horror designed for experienced adults will be particularly haunting whereas a horror designed for teens will be a touch gentler on their audience.

After going over the song in person with a final confidant, Brooke Austen, I decided that the change in the piano, vocal line and rhythm allowed me the space to change the narrative without it being a jarring experience. As Pat says, only do it if it strengthens the narrative (roughly quoted) and I believe it has.


EDIT: So, I'm 99% certain I have even got the narrative wrong here. The good news is that this blog has been on my mind and I've pondered over it with a nice cup of hot tea and a couple of warm conversations. The conclusion? My song Let it Fall is definitely in Second Person Narrative but it swaps to Direct Address and not Third Person Narrative at the Bridge. It's the use of "you" in the bridge I had ignored which is what makes it Direct Address to the audience. Look at me go! I'm learning every day.

Listen to Let it Fall:


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