Once you’ve found your character, the next decision you’ll make regards narrative point-of-view. Think of your favourite novels. Do you favour 1st person (“I”) or 3rd person (“he/she/it”) books? Chances are, you’ll write more comfortably using the type of narrative point-of-view you prefer to read.
Today I’d like to blog about using the first person narrative point-of-view. If you chose the “I” narrative, or first person, your tale will be viewed through the eyes of one of your characters and events will be expressed in that character’s language and should reflect this character’s perceptions and opinions.
The first person can be very intimate and often allows access to the protagonist’s innermost thoughts, which is a helpful method of hooking the reader.
On the negative side, all that “I, me, my” can be akin to listening to a monologue – and may bore the reader, if you’re not careful. Additionally, you are limited as to what you can tell the reader, as you can only “know” what your narrating character “knows”. Finally, littering the page with “I”s – neither looks nor “sounds” appealing. For the above reasons, the first person is often more suited to short stories rather than novels. Having said that, there are wonderful first person novels out there and if you are determined to use a first person narrator, you really ought to read great examples of this narrative point-of-view to get a good handle on it:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemmingway
Also, a first person narrator could be a minor character observing a major character, which may remedy some of the pitfalls outlined above. Examples of this type of narrative include Sherlock Holmes and Wuthering Heights.
The Unreliable First Person Narrator
My personal favourite first person narrator is the unreliable variety. It has great comic/tragic potential. With an unreliable narrator, the story is told by a character that doesn’t really “get” what is going on. The reader guesses the true state of affairs, however, and the narrator becomes the butt of the joke. An unreliable narrator is often a child or a naïve or foolish person who does fully comprehend how the world works (think Forrest Gump). The resulting book/play/short story can be quite funny and/or very moving. See the following examples:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon
Good Behaviour by Molly Keane
Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding