So you are going to write a novel. Will it be from the narrative point of view? Epistolary? First person, third person or the seldom-used second person? Alternating viewpoints? Subjective or omniscient?
You really, really do have to make a decision about point-of-view before beginning to write or writing much anyway. It is intrinsic to producing effective fiction. But the list above probably does not seem helpful. It is more a set of diagnoses drawn up from previously written books. Most writers, we would bet, let their plot and subject matter determine point-of-view.
So, herewith, a series of blogs on point-of-view, starting with first person and looking at how a writer might chose to write from that perspective.
First person is the I/me-voice. It is limited to what the narrator, the I, knows, experiences and feels. The narrator has to be a character in the story and is to some degree observer and/or participant in everything that happens. This narrator can be trustworthy or not. But he/she cannot see into other characters’ heads. Their thoughts are walled off except when they revealed by facial expression or gesture. Plots of first person books can only unfold to the extent that the narrator is aware of them.
First person novels may be limited but the really good ones have seared themselves into our memories with characters so vivid we think of them as friends.
We have invited some of them to a cocktail party. You can catch snippets of their conversations below. Do you recognize them? All, but one, are classics.
1) “I see the narrow stile with stone steps; and I see–Mr. Rochester, a book and a pencil in his hand: he is writing. Well, he is not a ghost; but every nerve I have is unstrung…”
2) “I remember that I am invisible and walk softly so as not to awaken the sleeping ones. Sometimes it is best not to awaken them; there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers.”
3) “I always go to the Persian Room after 4 to see my friend Bill He is a busboy in the night and goes to school in the day and his eyes water…”
4) “I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible.”
5) “I read about your tale in a book, Exciting Tales of the Exotic East, that I found on the pavement, back in the days when I was trying to get some enlightenment by going through the Sunday secondhand book market in Old Delhi.”
6) “Now when I say I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I begin to be hazy about the eyes and over conscious about my lungs, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger.”
7) “I set down, one time, back in the woods and had a long think about it. I sez to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why don’t Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork?”
In Tuesday’s blog: material that lends itself to the first person.