Well, not much time to write today, so digging through the files I found my ‘how to build a pirate story’ document from a while back. Which set me thinking about how much narrative structure is pre-formed by subject matter in general…
So, in honour of general piracy, here’s Part One, dealing with Subtext and Key Narrative Strategies. Part two tomorrow, about Pirate Equipment and Characters…
Two basic ways of presenting the story. In both, the pirate represents a critique of a given set of social or moral values. Both are reliant on the pirate’s position as an outsider, an individual who has rejected conventional norms for better or for worse. Any pirate story must embody and explore this tension.
a) Pirate as liberator
An ironic inversion of moral values. The pirate becomes an exemplar of honesty and truth, breaking away from the pretensions / hypocrisies of a corrupted social setting. The important thing is the moral relationship between the pirate / society – character and setting could be widely varied, such as historical, fantasised or deep space.
b) Pirate as dark other
A distillation of fear. The pirate upsets the moral order of a given individual / group of individuals / society, and is used to explore the strengths of that order as the protagonist fights to restore it.
2) Key narrative strategies
An implicitly moral, oppositional story demands certain types of narrative strategy to achieve its effects.
a) Appropriate point of view
Point of view should be such to allow for effortless contrasting of pirate and accepted ethics / behaviours. At no point should the reader’s experience of such contrasts feel forced or difficult.
b) Clearly defined protagonist / antagonist
A dualistic relationship, where conflict allows for examination of the moral / ethical structures that drive each of the characters. This conflict is made explicit, not implicit.
c) Crime in motion
The narrative should be centred on a crime. The reader is expected to reach a moral position regarding that crime. The moral position they reach (approving / disapproving) defines the pirate either as a liberator or a dark other.
d) Crime and punishment
The pirate will either be punished or not punished for their crime. The nature and intensity of the punishment that he / she undergoes will further support moral judgements reached by the reader.
e) Battle of the sexes
Sex of the pirate is relatively unimportant. Sexual contact achieves plot significance in so far as it supports the subversive / conservative nature of the protagonist / antagonist / supporting characters.
f) Self support
The pirate should support him / herself by utilising the resources of the oppositional culture on terms defined by him / her rather than by the culture. The level of hazard / damage to the culture and its representatives, and any moral judgements resulting from these activities, are a key support for the moral judgements that the reader is expected to reach.