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Plot and Narration in a Story by Ambrose Bierce

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Jeff Clapp

on 2 October 2013

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Transcript of Plot and Narration in a Story by Ambrose Bierce

Plot and Narration in Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"
The "plot" is the journey the writer invents, NOT all the events which happen in the story.
Plot in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"
In fiction, a story is TOLD to you. The character who tells the story is the NARRATOR.
Narration in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"
Stories as Journeys
Journey stories are one of the oldest, simplest kinds of stories.

In a journey story, events occur as the characters move through time and through space.

Usually, they are presented to the reader in that way, in order.
Not all stories are journey stories.....
But the writer of a story still takes the reader on a kind of journey, from the beginning of the story to the end.

Along the way, the writer makes all kinds of decisions about where to take the reader, what to show them, and what to say about everything.
The terms "plot" and "narration" describe
how the writer shapes a story into a journey.
Famous Journey Stories
Plots can be tangled up and complicated, rather just than one event after another.
Still, many plots have the same basic structure.
Different Plots, One Story
1) "He woke up, ate breakfast, went to school, came home, ate dinner, and went to bed."
2) He woke up, went to school, and came home. He ate both breakfast and dinner at home.
3) He ate lunch at school, but he ate breakfast at home, and he ate dinner at home too.
4) Breakfast before school, and dinner after school were both boring. But he had corncake and jellyfish at lunch.
Complicated Plots
Changes in Sequence
Changes in Pace
Multiple Journeys
Through flashing forward or backward in time, writers often tell stories out of order.
Often writers use many words to describe a small amount of time in a story; often they spend few words on a large amount of time.
Sometimes plots tie together multiple series of events. A "subplot" is a series of events only partially related to the main plot.
Making decisions about plot is the writer's
most powerful tool
for creating meaning in stories.
The Genius of Gustav Freytag
Most people have about one really good idea in their lifetimes. This is Gustav's.
"Freytag's Pyramid" describes the most frequent plot structure in Western narrative.

Original Version:
Original Pyramid, as in the anthology
The Reader's Time
Modified Pyramid
Rising Action
Falling Action
Remember that ALL the words in a story come from a narrator--NOT directly from the author.
Narration is what distinguishes fiction from other kinds of stories,
like movies, plays,and most videogames.
Types of Narrators
First Person Narration
A first-person narrator describes himself as "I."
Often, but not always, first-person narrators are actually characters in the story.
Generally, authors choose first-person narration when they want to show directly how an experience feels.
Third-Person Narrators
A third-person narrator does not describe him or herself. Third-person narrators are not part of the world of the story.
Third person narrators may know everything about the story-world, or they may be limited in their knowledge.
Generally, authors choose a third-person narrator when they want to show a series of events objectively.
Why have a narrator?
The distinction between author and narrator is one of the most complicated parts of written fiction. So why do it? Why can't authors just tell stories?
The narrator can tell us what characters think. But the narrator can also offer us thoughts about those thoughts.
The narrator creates a story's "point of view." Narrators can be honest or dishonest, objective or subjective, reliable or unreliable.
Narration gives authors the almost magical ability to make a written story seem like a real world with people in it.
The Reader's Time
Plot in Ha Jin's story
Finding out about Mu Ying, and the village
Mocking and
punishing Mu Ying

Examining the corpse of Meng Su
Hanging around
the station
Seeing Mu Ying
at the bus stop
The whole plot, listed in order
Part I: 85 lines of text (about 2/7)
Part II: 39 lines of text (about 1/7)
Part III: 184 lines of text (about 4/7)
exposition of setting; entry into Farquhar's mind; the ticking of the watch; stepping off the board.
exposition of Farquhar's background; arrival of news about possibility of burning bridge;revelation of scout's identity
details of falling into river; freeing himself; shot at by the guards;escaping the river; traveling home, arriving in his wife's arms; death.
Graphing Bierce's Plot
The Reader's Time
Part I
Part II
Part III

Finding out
that it was
a scout
Arriving home!
Even with its complicated shape, Bierce's plot still follows the basic stages: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, end.
The narrator of Bierce's story is a very common type: a third-person, limited narrator who is not part of the story's world.
The narrator maintains an objective, matter-of-fact tone which contrasts dramatically with the tense events of the story.
But Bierce also allows the narrator to move from physical descriptions to extended examinations of Farquhar's inner thoughts.
Plot and narration work together
Plot increases a story's tension by increasing its level of conflict.
Narration increases a story's tension by increasing its level of detail--by spending more TIME on fewer events, thoughts, or objects.
Sharp physical conflict combine with the narrator's vivid details to make this passage particularly intense.
"In Broad Daylight" fits the pyramid beautifully.
Watching Bierce Plot: The Times of the Story
Part II: a few minutes
Part I: one minute
Part III: one or two seconds
Imaginary time: at least 18 hours
Full transcript