Using Deadpool to Teach Narrative Voices (1st & 2nd person, etc.)

by | Dec 7, 2018

We are all storytellers! And yet, many people—young and old alike—feel intimidated at the prospect of sitting down and writing a short story, novel, or comic book script. That’s understandable! Writing is fun, but it’s also undeniably hard work. After all, there’s a lot to consider before even putting pen to paper or applying fingertips to keyboard.

From a teaching perspective, it’s interesting to note that most student writers know what their story they tell will be about… they just don’t know how to tell it. That’s why the preparation phase of writing is so important. It is essential to convey to students that while it might not be the most enthralling part of the process, before beginning any serious writing, it’s best to determine the answer to a few crucial questions, like… who will be relating the information to the reader, and how? Will there be one or more than one perspective throughout the course of the book? When will the story take place in relationship to the action—before, during, or after the fact?

The good news for your students is… they already have the tools they need to tell a story. We all do, because of the way we casually tell stories to one another! Think about it—we instinctively know how to tell stories based on whether something happened to us, or we’re relating events that happened to someone else.

In writing, this is called narration. Narration is how writers convey information, and it can be broken down into a few component parts.

 

  1. Narrative point of view, meaning the perspective of the story—is it first person (“I went to the store,”), second person (“you walk down the dark alley, unaware of the man behind the dumpster”) or third person (“She was a talented martial artist”).
  2. Narrative form/voice, meaning how the information is conveyed, such as through letters, a guy sitting at a bar talking to the bartender, or a more god-like relating of an event.
  3. Narrative time, meaning is the action occurring grammatically (and emotionally) in the narrator’s past, present, or future?

 

If this all sounds overwhelming to teach (much less to do!)… well, you’re not alone. Teaching narration has long been something teachers have struggled to do. Whether you’re a teacher facing a classroom of aspiring writers, or are just trying to inspire a love of reading in your students, narration can be a tricky thing to teach. But, Pop Culture Classroom is here to help! While there are certain classic texts that have been hallowed by time and honored by usage when it comes to teaching narration, we’d like to suggest an alternative…

There’s a certain superhero known for his playful approach to narration, whether it’s in his comic series, or his two hit motion pictures. He willy-nilly switches perspectives, form/voice, and plays with our sense of time, making him an ideal way to get students talking about narration. Who is this masked man? Well his name, of course, is Deadpool.

Deadpool first appeared in comics in 1991, as a parody of the overly serious, gritty, prickly, strong-jawed anti-heroes that defined the comics of that decade. Heavily inspired by such cult figures as Wolverine and Spider-man, even Deadpool’s actual and superhero names—Wade Wilson and Deadpool, respectively—are tweaks of the character Slade Wilson, AKA Deathstroke, a villain in the popular Teen Titans series.

But the Deadpool that comics (and now film) fans have come to know and love, didn’t emerge until later in the 90s, when he started to be a bit more playful of a character. Deadpool became famous for “breaking the fourth wall,” a narrative conceit where a character speaks directly to the audience.

“Breaking the fourth wall” has its origins in theatre, where the “fourth wall” refers directly to the absent “wall” in a theatre; the invisible barrier that separates the audience from the performance. When an actor “breaks the fourth wall”, he or she directly addresses the audience, acknowledging their presence, and the actor’s own role as a character in a work of fiction. Breaking the fourth wall has become common enough that it now refers to the conceptual barrier between the audience in any work of fiction.

Under writer Joe Kelley, Deadpool began to come into his own as more than just a nose-tweak of more serious anti-hero comics. But it wasn’t until Gail Simone’s run of Deadpool in the early 00s, that Deadpool started to get in on his own joke, mainly, realizing that he, himself, was the star of a burgeoning, popular comic series.

While Deadpool began his life as a mercenary hired to kill the New Mutants and Cable (the time-traveling son of Cyclops and Jean Grey), as his popularity rose, he got his own series. In the mid-00s, Deadpool teamed up with his former enemy Cable (Cable & Deadpool) and then got his own narrative in Secret Invasion (Deadpool Volume 2 #1-3). Once the main character of his own series, he seemingly betrayed Earth when he joined ranks with a team of Skrull Invaders, only showing his heroic side when he double-crossed the aliens, training their Super Skrulls in high jinks and jokes instead of warfare, as he had promised.

As his popularity grew, so did his morality. Though once a villain, Deadpool has shown himself to have a strong moral core, as in Uncanny X-Force, when it is revealed that “the Merc with a Mouth” never cashed a single check when he was working with Wolverine.

The narrative style of Deadpool has also famously been about poking fun. Deadpool, who, unlike his craggy anti-hero inspiration, is disgusting to look at and sometimes even foul-smelling, famously compared himself as a cross between Ryan Reynolds and a Shar Pei in Cable & Deadpool #2 (making it even more amusing when Mr. Reynolds was cast as Deadpool in the 2016 blockbuster adaptation). The unifying factor is his disregard for the status quo and his shifting sensibilities. He doesn’t follow the rules, let alone narrative ones, because he is all about subversion and upending familiarity. He is a trickster figure through and through—even Loki, God of Trickery himself, has laid claim to being Deadpool’s father in Deadpool Volume 1 #37-45. It’s actually pretty amazing that everyone’s favorite foul-mouthed, irreverent anti-hero made it into the recent round of blockbuster superhero movies.

But this playful attitude toward storytelling goes well beyond Deadpool’s love of addressing the audience, however. Breaking the fourth wall may the most famous of Deadpool’s narrative quirks, but he’s an excellent object lesson when it comes to teaching the art of narration for a number of reasons.

Let’s look at the 2016 Deadpool film for a moment. Even the first sequence of the film displays an awareness of narrative technique beyond the straight storytelling seen in other superhero films like The Avengers.

When first we see Deadpool, he’s riding in a cab to try and thwart the man who made him into a monster. It’s fairly straightforward storytelling (if a bit bizarre, as is typical for Deadpool, but it’s done via dialogue—that’s the scene’s narrative form. Instead of using, for example, a voiceover, or an “opening crawl” (as we see famously in Star Wars), we receive all the information about what’s happening through a rambling conversation between Deadpool and his cab driver.

We then switch over to the man Deadpool is looking to mess up: Francis, the villainous scientist who made Deadpool into a monster… or superhero. The point of view switches to give us insight into the action that is happening concurrently. This happens a few times, actually—back and forth between Deadpool, and people in another location: the school-cum-mansion in which the famous X-Men live: Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

Why do this? Well, for one, it builds tension. We know Deadpool is headed to a place to do some violence, and his antagonist will be there. But switching the narrative point of view to the X-Men, that adds an additional wrinkle to the expected action. We know the X-Men will try to stop Deadpool as Deadpool is trying to stop Francis.

And then, just as Deadpool skewers a man with his swords, we get another narrative trick: another switch. While we have been watching the action unfold, it’s all been third person. Then it switches to first person, when Deadpool takes a break in the action to break the fourth wall, as we discussed above. Deadpool directly addresses the audience—cheekily—in order to give us a bit more information about what’s been going on.

Deadpool’s final line of this narration brings us to our last device that authors, be they novelists or scriptwriters, utilize to tell a story: narrative time. Deadpool tells us, “I gotta take you way back.” The action, we realize, has been taking place in the present, but we have to go back in time to about two years ago, to discover what led to this moment in time. Everything going on would be considered “present tense” of the film; when we go back, we’re switching to a form of “past tense.”

Like another red man in a suit, Deadpool always has a bag of toys that he likes to whip out to delight his audience. Sometimes those are weapons, sometimes they’re narrative tricks like narrative point of view, narrative form, and narrative time. And here at Pop Culture Classroom, we think your students will enjoy stories like Deadpool even more once they know how cleverly they’re being told.

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