Monday 15 February 2016

Two types of first person

Personal and point of view

I’ve been working with my students a lot on voice recently. I’ve linked this with point of view for my first years. Whose story is it? That is the fundamental question that keeps them on track. Then, which narrative voice is best for telling this story?  
We discuss the merits of the first person, third person – close, distant, omniscient or intrusive and even of the second person.
Then there is the question of tense – present of past.  Or what about future? Many first novels are told in the present tense and it’s getting a bit clichéd.

Problems with the first person

It’s unreliable they tell us. Well, yes, you can only get one point of view at a time but this is also true of the close third person. And at least it reliably shows your character.
For me a greater problem is that the reader cannot enjoy the growth with the protagonist. The latter has already had the growth.  The third person close is much more effective allowing us to enjoy the adventure with the hero.

A special voice for young adult literature

The first person is popular in young adult fiction, however. This is partly because the reader wants a close emotional relationship with the story-teller.  Rarely is the author a young adult but s/he must seem like one as the tale is told.  It becomes like a best mate who has a bit more of an adventure than the reader telling her all about it. That narrator has not rationalised the experience, though, and the writing of this book is partly an attempt to do so. So, when we have a series, such as Twilight, it is probably that the protagonist has the first adventure and tells the story of that before embarking on the second.
I’d like to call this voice the immediate first person.

The distant first person

This is what I’m using in my current work in progress. That probably means that my novel isn’t young adult or even new adult though may be enjoyed by both. It‘s being told from the point of view of an older adult looking back. Think of the voice-over on Fetch the Midwife or even on Hetty Feather.  What’s being described happened a long time ago and the narrator has rationalised it.  However, we can still leave the rationalisation to the reader. Show, don’t tell even here.       

No comments: