Grand Hotel: Dialogue and Engagement, Part 1: Principles

People are funny when it comes to the mechanics of things they do without thinking. Take language. How many times as a missionary in Haiti or English teacher in Taiwan have I heard that some language I'm struggling to master has no grammar? Too many! Of course Haitian Creole and Mandarin Chinese have grammars. They wouldn't be languages without them--and they wouldn't be so hard (or interesting) to learn if we could just slap their vocabulary onto our native languages' morphology and syntax.

Well, like language and everything else down to particles and beyond, narrative has grammar. You need to accept this if you don't want to sound like an unwashed drunken barbarian with his tongue cut out.

One very important area of narrative grammar is Engagement. We make and tell stories for other people. That means our stories have to make sense, of course, but all the sense in the universe is of no importance or effect if nobody's paying attention. Attention is held through engagement.

So far, I've identified six Modes of Engagement. Three are personal: Empathy, Belonging and Fascination. They connect the audience to the characters. I'll cover them briefly here and thoroughly somewhere else. Today we're interested in the other three: Orientation, Interpretation and Prediction. They're participatory. They connect the audience to the plot.

Let's take a look at Personal Engagement.

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