Let's say it's the first paragraph of a book. Should it be written with definite articles:

The gun pointed to his brow, Mark stood silently looking at the table and the thickly carved turkey.

Or with indefinite articles(?):

A gun pointed to his brow, Mark stood silently looking at a table and a thickly carved turkey.

The logic behind the latter is that the reader doesn't yet know what: gun, table or turkey it is exactly.

Here's the first sentence from King's The Gunslinger

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

But the reader doesn't know which man in black, which gunslinger or desert.

How does such narration differ from what we, learners are taught. Which is, if it wasn't previously mentioned you'd use indefinite article.

  • The reader does know who "the man in black" is. This specific man in black is the subject of this sentence, and this specific gunsliger pursues him across this specific desert. This is not apposite to what you have been taught. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Sep 7 '16 at 20:00
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    Erm... We don't actually know the gun was pointed at Mark's brow (except through context that's not specified here). Exactly the same construction could be used if Mark were pointing his gun at someone else's brow. That ambiguity is inherently part of the way English works in this context. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 7 '16 at 20:02

Narration doesn't really change whether a particular article is used or even whether an article is used at all. It's the same rules whether the author is relating a story or doing some other form of writing.

When to use definite vs indefinite articles has been extensively covered in various other questions. Learners often confuse "definite" with "known". The definite article means there is a specific thing being referenced; not that there is only one or that the identity of that thing is already established or known.

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

In this case, there is one specific man fleeing and one specific gunslinger following.

A man in black fled across the desert, and a gunslinger followed.

This means roughly the same thing, but the change in articles make the identity of the two people less specific.

A gun pointed to his brow, Mark stood silently looking at a table and a thickly carved turkey.

Note that a comma would be more likely here since it isn't usual for "pointed" to be used as an active verb with an inanimate object like a gun.

This version just indicates one gun is pointed without specifically defining that there is a particular gun.

The gun pointed to his brow...

This would suggest there is a particular gun.

For table and turkey, there is most likely only one specific item to be referred to, so "the" would be typical.

"A gun pointed to his brow" sounds more natural and more dramatic especially since the gun isn't an established item.

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This is a stylistic matter.

There is a literary technique known in Latin as "in medias res". It means that the story opens in the middle of the action. It's a very old technique: Homer uses it for the Odyssey, so it is not particular to English.

Using "The" is part of this. It places us immediately in the middle of the story. We can assume that the particular gun will be made clear later. Similarly in the gunslinger example, it implies that the two men have a backstory, which we may find out in the forthcoming chapter.

If you are writing a story, it can be a powerful effect. For non-literary writing it would not normally be appropriate.

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  • It's quite a stretch to call the use of "the" at the start of a story "in media res", which has a fairly specific meaning indicating the story opens in the midst of the action and later fills in the exposition as by flashback or frame narrative. In media res might start with a line like above, but the use of "the" alone is not sufficient to determine that. – eques Sep 12 '16 at 14:12

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