Sunday, June 21, 2009

My writing week 2(25)

Hi all,

Conjunctivitis is not the greatest thing for a writer to catch. It’s a virus that irritates the eyes, and the ointments and drops used to remedy it tend to blur the vision. I had it all last week and had to live like a vampire as my eyes didn’t like bright light. Fortunately they have just about recovered, but I did little editing and writing, and no reading or critiquing last week. I had a mild dose of the flu at the same time.

Satima Flavell, one of my Facebook pals, mentioned that literary agent Nathan Bransford had collated a few writing articles on his blog. I had been a regular reader of Nathan’s blog until lack of time intervened, so I went and had a look and found a blog post on first or third person. For a while now I have been trying to find out why writers choose to write in first of third person. After posting that question on forums, I reached the conclusion that most writers just choose what they read. If they read a lot of fantasy, which is usually written in third person, they would start writing in third person.

When I started writing I had read a lot of high fantasy, so I choose third person. I changed to first person for the novel I am currently writing because I wanted the reader to immediately know that the only pov they were going to get during the novel was that of the main character’s and they were never going to find out what was going on in the mind of the other major character. They were only going to get the main character’s perspective of what the other major character was up to.

Nathan says:

The really compelling first person narrators are the ones where a unique character is giving you their take on something that is happening, and yet it's clear to the reader that it's not the whole story. You're getting a biased look at the world, which is central to the appeal of the first person narrative.

One of the great tensions in a first person narrative, then, is between what the narrator is saying and what the reader senses is really happening beyond the narrator's perspective. This doesn't necessarily have to mean that the narrator is unreliable, it just means that we're seeing the world through a very unique character's eyes -- and only through that character's eyes. A protagonist might really convince herself, for instance, that she isn't sad that her mother died, but the reader senses that there's more to the story. Not necessarily unreliable, but it's also not the whole picture.

This is what I am doing in Stalking Tigers. I want the reader to occasionally question whether the pov character is telling the whole story, not necessarily attempting to deceive, but to be aware that the trauma he experienced at the start of the novel may have affected the way he views the world.

Nathan goes on to say:

The other great essential element of a first person narrative is that the narrator has to be compelling and likeable. I may get a lot of grief for the "likeable" part, but hear me out. Nothing will kill a first person narrative quicker than an annoying narrator. Now, this doesn't mean the narrator has to be a good person, and hopefully the narrator is well-rounded enough to be a complex character. But the narrator has to pass the "stuck in an elevator" test. Would you want to be stuck in a room with this person for six hours? Would you want to listen to this person give a speech for six hours? If the answer is no, then you might want to reconsider.

I can think of a lot of other people I might want to be stuck in an elevator for six hours with than the main character of Stalking Tigers, as the trauma he has been through means that for much of the novel he is not a happy camper. But if he decided to open up and tell me the story of what happened to him then the six hours would fly past as I marvelled at what he went through.


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