EVENTFULNESS, NARRATABILITY, AND IMMERSION
Narrative analysis often foregrounds the importance of events as a defining feature of narratives. Any change of state (and any action) in a narrative can be considered an event, but some theorists suggest the distinction between different types of event (cf. Hühn 2011; Schmid 2003). My analysis in this chapter will only concern itself with those events, sometimes referred to as type II events, which require additional evaluative components beyond a simple change of state. Type II events are characterized by their relevance, unpredictability, persistence, irreversibility, and non-iterativity (Schmid 2003, 26–29). These events can also be generally described as “breach[es]”
of “canonicity” (Bruner 1991, 11) or deviations from the “normal, expected course of things” (Hühn 2011, Paragraph 2).
A change of state does not need to exhibit all of these features in order to be considered an event. Instead, the features that make an event eventful are “gradational and can be realized to varying degrees” (Schmid 2003, 24), which means that, depending on the distribution of these features, an event can be considered more or less eventful. As these events need to deviate from what is considered canonical or normal, their eventfulness is tied to the degree of this deviation as well (cf. Hühn 2011, Paragraph 34). An event that appears, even in comparison to other events, to be an exceptional instance of deviation would also be considered more eventful.
As is implied by the use of terms like deviation, normality, and canonicity, eventfulness is considered to be context-sensitive (Hühn 2011, Paragraph 25; Hühn 2008, 143–44). For narrative fiction, the features introduced by Schmid concerning the relevance or predictability of an event, for example, are first of all viewed in the context of the fictional world. An event can be extremely relevant for one character but insignificant for another. More importantly, this discrepancy can be expanded to the reader as well and thus necessitates the inclusion or at least the consideration of additional contexts, both within and outside the text (Hühn 2008, 143–44). As Hühn explains, “[w]hat for a hero is an unpredictable event can for the reader be a central part of a genre’s script” (Hühn 2011, Paragraph 28) and what in the context of the story can be a breach of canonicity can be par for the course for the reader, thus leading to a discrepancy in what either party considers eventful (cf. Hühn 2008, 148).
As one consequence of this context-sensitivity, eventfulness is often dis-cussed in connection with the “tellability” (sometimes also “narratability”) (Prince 2008) of a narrative. Tellability concerns the question of what makes a story worth telling by asking what the “point” of a given narrative is. Tellability is not solely determined by narrative events, of course, but a story’s eventfulness can be a factor in determining whether it is considered to have a point (cf. Hühn 2011, Paragraph 5). The importance of an event in a text can be foregrounded through “evaluative devices.” These include the reflections of characters, the repetition of events, and the “use of dis-narrated events—explicitly referring to what did not take place but could have,” in order to underscore, foreground, or emphasize certain aspects of the narrative (Prince 2008, 23–24).
Just like eventfulness, narratability is considered to be context-sensitive (cf. Prince 2008, 23–25). Whether an audience considers the breach of can-onicity in the narrative eventful may also influence whether the audience considers the story itself worth telling. But due to its context-sensitivity, this evaluation may not translate to another context and the events fore-grounded in a text as eventful may not be considered tellable by their audi-ence (cf. Hühn 2008, 148). As Prince points out, “claiming that (sequaudi-ences of) events are unusual, extraordinary, bizarre, unfortunately does not suffice to make them so” (Prince 2008, 24).
One approach to mitigating the gap between the evaluative framework of the fictional world’s ontology and the readers’ own ontology is the rein-forcement of those qualities of a text that foster the audience’s immersion in a text. Immersion (Ryan 2003), or transportation (Gerrig 1993; Hogan 2013) refers to the ability of a reader to become “lost in a book” (Gerrig 1993, 3). Readers are transported to a narrative world as part of the process of reading a text. They leave their own world behind and “adapt willingly to local conditions,” as Gerrig calls them (Gerrig 1993, 9). This adapta-tion funcadapta-tions by way of a process that Ryan calls “recentering,” in which “consciousness relocates itself to another world” and in which the virtual
world of the fiction becomes the actual world for the reader (Ryan 2003, 103). Both metaphors describe the bridging of a distance between the read-er’s world of origin and the fictional world of the text. This bridging of the distance is made easier by a process of projection that revolves around what is called the “principal of minimal departure”: “[W]e will project upon the world of the statement everything we know about the real world,” only making “those adjustments which we cannot avoid” and only when texts actively discourage this projection (Ryan 1980, 406; Gerrig 1993, 13).
The concept of transportation is based on the process of mental simula-tion as established by cognitive research (cf. Hogan 2013, 56; Ryan 2003, 110). Simulation as it pertains to literary texts and literary transportation involves a “hypothetical imagination” stimulated by the “words of the sto-ryteller” (Hogan 2013, 56–58). Through the interaction of the text and the imagination of the readers, guided by the principal of minimal departure, the story world that readers are transported to is based on a combination of the text and their own ideas, experiences, and schemata that they project into the world on the basis of the “presumed identity” of the storyworld and their own world (Hogan 2013, 62–63). Simulation thus needs to be considered in connection with the assumed continuity between what Hogan calls a “presupposed” world, a world shared by authors and readers, and the world of the text. There is an ongoing interaction between the two, and it is through this interaction that fiction can affect the readers’ sense of the pre-supposed world, for example by calling into question the norms and values that dominate that world (Hogan 2013, 63).
A successful immersion or transportation thus appears to be a good way of overcoming the context-sensitivity of eventfulness. If readers are suc-cessfully transported into a text and recenter themselves with regard to the norms and values of that world, the significance of the events in the sto-ryworld should be clear to them, and they should be more likely to agree with their eventfulness. Conversely, the evaluative devices that foreground eventfulness can aid in the process of immersion, for example, through the generation of a general interest in subsequent events in the narrative.
Furthermore, since the evaluation of the significance of an event depends on the “consciousness of a perceiving subject” (Hühn 2008, 148), the presenta-tion and evaluapresenta-tion of an event can bring readers closer to the characters in the story. The evaluation of eventfulness can also help to explain the world of the text to readers, thus making it easier to accomplish a recentering with regards to that world. By highlighting and explaining how a currently ongoing event in the story is a breach of canonicity and a deviation from the norm, the text can provide information on what is normal and canonical within the storyworld, thus potentially bridging the distance between the readers’ ontology and the fictional ontology.
With these preliminary considerations out of the way, it is now time to take a brief look at the genre of horror literature and the status of events within the genre.
COMMUNICATING THE EVENTFULNESS OF