Text messages and The Rhetoric of Fiction

I’ve just started The Rhetoric of Fiction (again). I’m only a chapter in, but it’s quite good so far. I’m fascinated by how narrative structure works, so this should be a good read.

There was an interesting example that occurred to me recently – how text messages are dealt with in movies. House of Cards, a TV show, and Chef, a movie, both show text messages onscreen, as floating bubbles of text. I actually first came across the question in a piece by Noah Gittell over at the Atlantic on the use of text messages in Chef, and once I started looking, it seems like it’s a question people have spent some time thinking about.

There’s a nice video by Tony Zhou outlining some of the different approaches (and why reading a phone screen isn’t great), and arguing that there isn’t a clear or useful convention for representing a person’s experience of the internet. There’s a piece over on Wired thinking about text messages in Sherlock.

Those questions – how to represent a particular piece of information to the viewer? – are a nice reminder that while in television, good narrative technique can feel invisible, like you’re just in the room, there’s actually a wealth of decision making going into not just the plot of a story, how but to tell it. Just take House of Cards; it uses its own conventions for asides (leading to multiple parodies), which is different to most TV shows I’ve seen.

There’s a whole wealth of complexity in how the narrative arcs between a storyteller and an audience, and I’m looking forward to reading a little more.


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