NaNoWriMo: Text, Story, Fabula

Mieke Bal in Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative distinguishes between text, story, and fabula as a way of understanding narrative. What do these term mean and what import do they have for NaNoWriMo?

In Bal’s explication, fabula refers to the chronological sequence of events that underlies the narrative. Story refers to the way in which the fabula is presented—all the choices made about narration, dialogue, sequence, etc., all the artful choices that shape the way the fabula is revealed. And text is the final form through which the story reaches its audience, which in the case of NaNoWriMo is a given—a novel.

The distinction between story and text is initially unclear, I think, when Bal defines story as “a fabula that is presented in a certain manner,” because the word manner seems like it could encompass aspects of both story and text. One way to think of it is that a story of, say, the sequence of events that we know as Cinderella, that was decided to be completely done through dialogue and in chronological order still could result in a variety of texts including a puppet show and a play, or even an opera. The text is only the concrete form in which the story reaches the audience, it seems.

Theoretically speaking (and I say that because I have never done NaNoWriMo before and am not speaking from experience), the  implications for NaNoWriMo seem to be that if a writer does not know the fabula before beginning, but is letting it develop simultaneously with the story, the scope for crafting the story in ways that are quite distinct from the fabula (such as, starting in media res and other approaches that take the story telling out of chronological order) are limited, as is the ability to lay groundwork earlier for what happens later, and the ability to present material in order to create an effect.

Add the admonition to “forge ahead” without rewriting, and it seems to me possible that a NaNoWriMoer could pour a lot of effort into a draft that will be closer to fabula than to story.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has thoughts about this.