Thoughts On Thoughts

By | Saturday, May 12, 2012 Leave a Comment
Here's a Peanuts strip from many years ago...
Charlie Brown's comment at the end is not directed toward any of the other characters, but to the readers. It's an aside from the actual story, and meant to convey information about the situation that might not be readily apparent with a strictly naturalistic narrative. That is, the humor isn't evident in the actions themselves but Charlie Brown's interpretations and feelings about the actions.

The basic idea actually goes back thousands of years, easily dating back to at least ancient Greece. Classical Greek plays used what is known as a Greek Chrous, a group of 12-50 actors who comment on the play as it's being acted out, but don't directly interact with the other performers. The concept is so old, in fact, that use of the Greek Chorus began falling out of favor 2,000 years ago.

Comic books and strips picked up the same idea and used it throughout much of the 20th century. In many instances, it got over-used to the point where characters essentially narrated exactly what they were doing while they were doing it. The practice began noticeably dropping off in the 1980s, and it's pretty rare to see it in comic books these days.

The immediate preference seemed to be to move internal monologues into caption boxes. Initially, they acted identically to thought balloons and open narration, just without a tail visibly tied to the speaker. Generally, these have also fallen by the wayside (at least to some extent) and creators are finding more interesting and dramatic ways to convey that type of information.

Interestingly, though, it hasn't completely vanished. Here's an episode of Apartment 3-G from earlier this week...
All but two words of dialogue here are essentially internal narration. It's unlikely that a real person in Margo's situation would actually complain about Scott out loud on a busy street corner to no one in particular. The initial groan might be audible, but her thoughts probably wouldn't be nearly so grammatically salient. Just a jumble of emotions (frustration, concern, bitterness, etc.) that likely wouldn't congeal into coherent sentences. Because, while she's clearly upset, she has no one to express her feelings to and wouldn't take the time to organize and express herself verbally.

One more comic. Today's Zits...
I find this fascinating. They've taken the same basic idea of an internal monologue, and applied it to a 21st century teenager. He might be sitting alone on the couch but with his cell phone, he has his entire group of friends readily available to complain to. Furthermore, doing so via a text message means that, unlike Margo, he does have to organize and formalize his thoughts and feelings. So the internal monologue makes sense in an external manner.

Doubly fascinating, I think, is that Margo is in THE EXACT SAME SITUATION! She's frustrated from the messages ON HER PHONE but, instead of texting her friends or tweeting about it, she speaks out loud. Having Margo use the very device she's already holding would make sense narratively AND would allow for a more natural-sounding expression of her emotions. But that is ignored for a more "traditional" and klunky approach.

TRIPLY fascinating is that the text messaging icon used in Zits is a word balloon! The very graphic device that Charles Schulz used in a less sophisticated narrative manner above is, in fact, what's been appropriated by many texting and tweeting applications to convey and differentiate one person's messages from another's! The word balloon in that last panel isn't a word balloon as we normally see them in comics; it's a graphic of a word balloon that Jeremy is seeing on his phone!

It's not an uncommon narrative device to put some plot information into media that's consumed by the characters. Newspaper headlines, TV reports, etc. But it's interesting that we have devices now that allow for what could essentially be a return to using an internal monologue, just with the caveat that it's a monologue that could actually be shared around the character's world.
Newer Post Older Post Home