I noticed Corey  (Quintessential Editordo a blog about The Power of POV, and that got me thinking about it.  Now some people use POV (Point of View) and a few other terms.  The most classic term used is narrative.  Once I read his blog, I thought  I’d dig a little deeper.

As I’ve learned about writing over the years, I’ve become familiar with the more commonly used types of narrative.  Now most people talk about what they are, but I don’t know that anyone’s taken the time to explain what they do well and what they don’t do so well.

I experienced this writing my fifth book, The Nick of Time, which is the story of a little girl who finds herself tracking down a legendary artifact in an effort to help her father save the world before it’s scheduled to end.  When I sit down to work out that story, I’m going to end up switching the narrative because the one I chose wasn’t working.  It’s a solid idea, but the narrative you use to write a story changes how effective it is.

So a quick google shows varying results when you search “types of narrative in fiction.”  I’m going to stick to three, because, like Corey said, those three are the ones with which most people write, and they’re also the ones with which I’m most familiar.  They would be First Person, Third Person, and Third Person limited (which I call POV).  As I started typing this post, I immediately realized there’s too much to cover in one blog, so this will be the first in a series of three.

first-764971_960_720

First Person:  Confession.  This is my least favorite type of narrative, but don’t let that fool you.  It’s not my least favorite because it’s just bad.  Narrative is a tool.  I don’t like it because I see it done badly the most.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t great examplcover_277es of first person narrative.  Let’s check out a few.

The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss:  Rothfuss is probably the biggest name in the game right now.  The Name of the Wind took the fantasy world by storm and fans will devour the next book when it comes.

51JKlgjAvpL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher:  Butcher’s Dresden Files have been a great staple in urban fantasy for almost 20 years now.  It was even a series for one season, which I wish they’d go back to and work on again.

Wastelander, by Corey Truax:  You’re darn right I’m talking about this story before it’s even done drafting.  I’ve read it.  It’s a perfect reason to use first person done by a compelling character.  You won’t have to take my word for it.  Just read the first chapter when the book is released; you’ll thank me later.

These are perfect examples of first person narrative done well, so let’s look at what it does for writers:

Pros:

Intensifies relationship between the main character and the reader:  Readers connect to characters, and none of these narratives do so better than first person.  The narrator is the main character, and he’s talking to me (the reader).  It’s only natural to grow closer to someone you talk to on a regular basis.  I wasn’t hooked on Dresden after book one, but I kept reading because Harry was a cool guy to listen to.  When the story intensified, I was all the more invested because Harry was sharing his story with me.

stage-1015653_960_720Comedy and breaking the fourth wall:  First person breaks the fourth wall regardless of which effect you intend, but it’s magical when you use this for comedy.  Deadpool and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off are wonderful examples of using first person narrative and breaking the fourth wall for comedic effect.  This technique makes every joke an inside joke.

Cons:

Limited scope:  I see first person narrative done most often in mysteries, and there’s a reason for that.  It’s just so darn easy to keep readers in the dark when they only know what your main character knows.  Beware using first person for other types of stories.  It can frustrate readers to not know what’s going on.  Mystery readers expect to not know; readers of other genres can get antsy when they’re kept in the dark.

Baffling perspective:  There’s really no other way to describe it.  During my writers’ grouptube-710083_960_720 meeting a few weeks back, we had a huge discussion about when the main character is telling his or her story.  Consider Dresden talking about horrible events after they happened.  Wouldn’t that affect his ability to discuss painful memories?  Isn’t it more likely that people put a positive spin on things in hind sight?  I know I never told my parents exactly how stuff was broken in the house.  This creates a paradox that I don’t like trying to puzzle out.  Dean Koontz handled it well in Odd Thomas.  I just struggle with the idea of someone writing a story after it’s happened.

Isn’t the point of a story for the main character to progress?  Won’t the person tell the story inherently be very different than the person he or she was before his or her journey started. (In case you haven’t noticed, I’m one of those jerks that refuse to use “they” as a singular personal pronoun.)

Summary:  For my taste, first person narrative is most effective for stories that are limited in scope.  They should have incredibly sympathetic characters.  Mysteries are a bonus, but so long as the reader doesn’t need to know anything more than the main character, the story won’t suffer.

Did I miss a well told first person narrative?  I know I left a lot out.  I just don’t have the time an energy to post that many links to that many stories, but they’re out there.  (Well, I have to at least mention the John Cleaver series by Dan Wells.  Anyone who hasn’t read his stuff is missing out.)

Feel free to comment below.
Thanks for reading

Matt

Advertisements

51 thoughts on “Narrative: The pros and cons of 1st person narrative

  1. This is great post on 1st person narrative. From a readers perspective, I sometimes enjoy 1st person and I sometimes hate it. You mentioned Dan Wells and the John Cleaver series as being a good example, I agree with you. The Devil’s Only Friend got me started on the series, and I know I have borrowed some story telling functions from his work. I’m pretty sure you turned me on to that series.

    You also touched on some of the pros and cons, and I feel like you hit the main issues right on the head. Especially when you talked about he cons.

    As someone who is writing in 1st person, the struggle is very real. Trying to find creative ways to provide the reader information is a challenge, trying to make sure the voice is consistent for the duration of the work is also a pain. I know when I go back through for rewrites there are going to be times when Drake’s (my protagonists) voice is his, and other times (when I was tired and writing at 1 am) that his unique voice is lost. Write first, edit later.

    My “solution” to baffling perspective was to write the book as if it is a journal of sorts. If the writer of the journal is recording his thoughts close to when events happen, the emotions and feelings of that place and time should ring true. The way I thought about it is if you got in a fight with someone, went home, and then wrote about it, your account would be very different than if you waited a month to do so.

    Thanks for sharing this post and thanks for including me in it. Good luck with your Caught edits!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The edits are going well. Thanks for the encouragement. Thanks for offering solutions to the perspective issue. I don’t know that I’ll ever be comfortable with it, but I think the point is to just acknowledge the issues and address them in some way. Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I agree with QuintessentialEditor. I moved from 3rd Person narrative on my first attempt of novel to 1st and so far it seems to be working better with my BRs. It’s easier for them to understand the characters motivations because you can just tell them in way of thoughts. However, as I moved the story further, it’s difficult for me to explain that something happened elsewhere without having to provide a lot of details rather than showing them. It’s becoming really hard !

      Liked by 3 people

      1. That’s okay though. Problems are opportunity. It frustrates me sometimes when my narrative choice puts me in a bind, but more often than not, those frustrations lead me to new, interesting aspects of my story. I’ll never WANT to write in first person. It is hard, but growth cones from struggle. Consider using dialogue or setting as ways to offer that information. Hopefully, having more tools won’t make you feel as if you’re boxed in with exposition.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks. Dialogue is indeed the way to do it. As in the movies. I’ve found that writing tv scripts or movies help me there. I am a fan of3rd person, but I am doing my best on 1st for my YA novel

        Like

      3. Yes, plus I’ve found ppl are used to 1st person already, and its difficult for them to grasp 3erd person. I’ve known many ppl who had only read novels in 1st person.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. This might seem more appropriate for commenting on your eventual post about third person; but I thought it might also add a twist as well as a bridge between first and third person. The author who comes to mind here is Robert E. Howard, specifically his Conan stories. While he wrote these stories in third person, Howard once wrote in a letter that the stories nearly wrote themselves, as he had the feeling that Conan was in the room with him, relating his own memories and stories to him.

    Then the man Conan seemed suddenly to grow up in my mind without much labor on my part and immediately a stream of stories flowed off my pen or rather, off my typewriter almost without effort on my part. I did not seem to be creating, but rather relating events that had occurred.” – from a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, 1933.

    I don’t adhere to the group who think Howard was a madman; thus I don’t think he intended this literally – but it does add another dimension to the interviewer narration style, which occupies the bridge between first and third person.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s a fantastic anecdote and good information. Thanks for sharing that. For me, I feel like I hear (not in the, “I need psychological help” way) my characters as well. I see glimpses into their lives, and connect those freeze frames through narrative. I’d be surprised if other authors don’t feel a more personal connection to their characters.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It doesn’t sound crazy to me at all – I have actually found myself wondering, as a result of this conversation, what the relationship might be between this phenomenon and the believability of religious stories from the dawn of human history. I think it would be difficult for an author (or storyteller in general) to ‘sell’ a story that wasn’t even believable to him or her (my nod of respect to M.L.S. Weech’s disdain for using ‘they’ as a singular personal pronoun). Since the greater corpus of human religious beliefs are found in stories, I think it would make for an interesting study.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. I don’t see it as a lie, though . I differentiate between a work of fiction and a lie. I apply this to religious stories, as well. A fiction, to me, is a story about ‘what could be if’ – it is meant to supplement our notion of reality, rather than supplanting it like a lie is intended to do. Religious stories, at their best, are meant to do much the same. I have written before that a lot of my personal faith has been influenced by Charles de Lint’s “Dreams Underfoot,” a work of fiction that manages to include a lot of subtle truths about how the world works 🙂 In fact, it would not have surprised me at all if there would have been a chapter in that book about Conan reciting his stories to Robert E. Howard – it certainly would have fit 😉

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I don’t think it’s crazy at all. My goal is to create real characters, so why wouldn’t they sou d real. I often tell my friends to that a lot of what I write is based on how loud the characters in my imagination are.

        I’d totally read a study that looks for a correlation between believability and readership. I think the results would absolutely show that’s the link, especially in first person stories. If your main character isn’t interesting, a first person approach would be impossible. First person narration is essentially the author “betting it all” on that character being so compelling, the reader won’t want to leave that character’s side.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I do not particularly care much for first person narration either. It has its uses though, like monologues and the reader being able to put themselves in the place of the narrator. It is actually one of the reasons why my prologue to my serial was written in first person. That, and I was still unsure about the format that I wanted.

    However, it is in my opinion that the benefits of first person narration can be captured i other forms. It is not too difficult to weave in a character’s thoughts into the dialogue, although it is more prevalent in Japanese media than in western media. I also feel that it limits the characterization of the narrator. Of course, this is not a hard fact since we can look at A Song of Fire and Ice, although that may be because there are shifting perspectives.

    This type of narration also tends to lead into my personal pet peeve, which is the self insert protagonist. This type of protagonist is not bad per se, but I find a story much richer when the character is an actual character and not a plot device. Along side this, as you said, it confines the story a bit too much. My serial is going to large in scale, so I changed how I will format the story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There will always be forms of narrative that one person is drawn to more than others. What I learned with Nick of Time is that some forms are just more fitting for some types of stories. What narrative did you decide to go with in your book? Why?

      Like

  4. I have to agree with you on first person narrative. I find most people who use this, use tense incorrectly. I am, by no means, a grammar Nazi…but, I find it harder to get into the story line. I chose third person omnipotent for my stories. I feel this narration seems to explain (POV) in a more balanced light. Great job on the article. I enjoyed it! I honestly think you hit the nail on the head and I couldn’t explain how I felt about certain narrative POV until now. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Jessica! As I discuss the other forms of narrative, my hope is that writers struggle less because they’re more empowered by information. Glad I could help in some small way.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. In my writers group I’ve sometimes advised those trying to write from a 3rd person limited POV but having problems to rewrite it in 1st person, then translate that back. It does wonders shaking out things like info dumps that the narrator couldn’t reasonably know, the author’s own comments intruding, etc. But me, I write all over the place, not preferring one over the other as a general thing but using the POV that seems right for a particular story (sometimes omniscient 3rd person too, or sometimes partially so — deliberate author intrusions as in a “told” story like a fairy tale).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never thought of that approach before. It’s something to consider. It would take some pretty epic patience for someone like me, but if one is stuck, that approach could help in a number of ways. I also agree with choosing narrative based on what is right for the story. The main reason I have to rewrite Nick of Time is because I was too set in my ways in 3rd person limited, so it boxed me in. Thanks for the insight!

      Like

  6. A classic example of writer’s perspective in the first person is H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow over Innsmouth.Not to spoil it but the story teller’s perspective of the events at the end is completely different from how he felt in the beginning. And he is obviously telling the story after it happen. Yet he writes it in the beginning from his original bias.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think I’ve only read on book from Lovecraft, and I couldn’t even tell you what that book was. I constantly feel like I’m not reading enough and Corey is the only person I know who reads more than I do. Part of this is because I was late to reading. I didn’t start until junior high.

      I haven’t read the book you mentioned, but that is a great example of a problem I can never reconcile in writing. Though I didn’t end up liking how Patrick Ness handled the issue in his Chaos Walking trilogy. He wrote in present perfect, first person. This works because the reader learns the information at the same time as the character. I don’t actually LIKE present perfect, but it absolutely worked there. I’ll throw my review on that trilogy up here on the blog later this week so you all see my thoughts on it.

      Like

  7. I’m a proponent of first person narrative but mostly because I am not sure how to narrate in 3rd person or POV. Then again I’m one of those…who uses “They” as a singular person pronoun 🙂 so lots to learn. I look forward to your series to pick up a few critical pointers. Reblogging this one!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I noticed the reblog, and I can’t tell you how much that means to me. Any time someone thinks to share some of my rambling really motivates me. I’ve talked to a lot of people about a few of those posts. Sometimes, in my honesty, I can come off the wrong way. I certainly have opinions, but I think all the forms are valuable. I just think those methods are strongest when they’re used to their best effect. Sojourn in Despair is going to be first person. I’m going to have to bring my a-game. I’m tempted to write it another way, but it would be wrong and cowardly of me. First person is the way to go with that story. If my blogs help people see what fits best for what story, I’ve done some cool stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would love to read it once it’s published! And I only reblog selectively and this is definitely one to save for future. Sometimes when your own views don’t match those of the person you’re reading or listening to or talking with, the other person may come across as insolent. I find it refreshing to read varying views and blogs with blunt honesty or those that talk about topics that are often contentious. Takes talent to do it and do it well. TY for the awesome post!

        Liked by 2 people

      1. I guess it was quite a special experience for you, and maybe the novel by now is finished! Writing in the 1st. person may put a lot of emphasis to the plot, you are able to express feelings in a deepest way which may surprise the reader (depending on the story you are writing). What I love is the possibility, as well for the reader, to “enter” into the character and get the chance to be in another reality…
        Right now, I’m trying to put the “io narrante” (as we call it in Italian), together with some “off voice” description… actually is a nice exercise albeit very hard. This is why it takes me ages to finish my novels!
        Sorry it is quite difficoult for me to express myself in a foreign Language 😉
        Have a lovely evening! :-)claudine

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s