1. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    1st Person Narrator is not the Protag'

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by OurJud, Jul 26, 2016.

    I only write in 1st person and on a couple of occasions, once I've got into the meat of a story, it slowly starts to dawn on me that 'I'm' not the protagonist of the story - or at least the secondary character is the more interesting.

    I'm not sure if this is a sign I should be writing in 3rd, and nor am I asking how to avoid it. What I'm asking is could it be done successfully? Has it been done successfully?

    Obviously the problem with this is that in a 1st person narrative, unless I was witness to everything that happened to my protagonist, I couldn't really tell his story. Nor do I know how they're feeling or what they're thinking.

    As an example I'll use the story from my future-set road novel. It deals with a secondary character (the narrator's best friend) who fell on hard times, got into debt with a nasty loan shark, and went on the run. As his best friend, the narrator goes with him, but do you see what I'm saying? So far all the trials and tribulations are centered around this secondary character. I didn't plan it that way, it just happened. I didn't even realise I'd written it like that until now.

    I'm not even sure this means my second character is the protagonist.
     
  2. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sherlock Holmes.

    Watson was the first-person narrator.
     
  3. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've not read any SH, so it's difficult to know how he went about it. How does he get inside Holmes' head? Or doesn't he?
     
  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Great Gatsby does it.

    I'm pretty sure Sherlock Holmes does it, although it's been a long time since I read any of that.

    Maybe Wuthering Heights, although again I haven't read it recently.

    In some ways, To Kill a Mockingbird - Scout certainly has her own stuff going on, but the big story is in the adult world and she just observes.

    ETA: You could google First Person Peripheral Narrator for more insight.
     
  5. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    You would generally use this technique when you don't want to get inside the protagonist's head. If there's a twist ending that the protag has been working on, it would feel like a cheat if the protag had been the POV character but we hadn't seen any signs of preparing for the twist. Or if the narrator is a sort of Everyman trying to figure out the protagonist or whatever. In Sherlock Holmes I think Watson is a sort of translator between Holmes' genius and the reader's averageness.
     
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  6. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I'm not sure how to go about answering this. I'm crappy at explanations. When I write in First, there is no doubt 'I' am my protagonist, regardless of what's going on with any of the other characters. My First reads very much like an anecdottal account. That's the whole point of me writing in First. I keep that focus very tight. Events might be happening to others, but the reader is getting all that info through the lens of my protagonist. It's biased info, for sure, but that's okay. If it is the case, and it serves my purpose, I can find a way to let the reader know. In the case of anything my protagonist is not privvy too, I find another way to relate the info, even if I have to construct a small scene to do so. It does need to slot in organically though, so it doesn't feel like forced exposition coming through the dialogue, or whatever.

    An example.

    My protagonist has a friend. He has died. My protagonist wasn't there to witness it. I might pack him off, down to the corner shop for a jug of milk, where he bumps into a mutual acquaintance who fills him in. Then on the way back home he ruminates about what has happened from his perspective. I don't know that I ever really feel the need to plunder the secondary, although still important, character's head. If I wanted to write like that, I'd rather go with Third Omniscient, and save myself jumping through hoops.

    @BayView's suggestion is spot on too. I generally find myself weighing up just how much a prospective reader will need to know. If I can't slot the info in somehow without it overly drawing attention to itself, I'd go with Peripheral narration.
     
  7. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    The thing is - and he's yet another hold up that's going to stop me writing - now that I know this is a bonafide style and technique (First Person Peripheral Narrator) I'm not sure I want to do it this way. I've kind of adopted this style by accident, meaning I've written in a style I didn't intend to.

    I think I'd rather my 1st person narrator was the protagonist, but now I'm asking myself if I even know how to do that?
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Moby-Dick. Ishmael is the first-person narrator, but the story is really Captain Ahab's. Given that Ahab dies, he's not around afterwards to tell his own story. Ishmael fills in admirably.
     
  9. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    So does using a First Person Peripheral Narrator mean you don't discuss yourself at all? You don't share your feelings or surroundings? Your thoughts?

    I don't understand how you balance things out. If I start talking about myself, won't the reader start to wonder if I'm the protagonist?

    Tom had major problems. He was chipped, had a blood-thirsty loan shark tracking him down, and now the ATM has just told him his account is empty. I squinted at the sun glaring down on us, and wondered if we were ever going to get out of this mess. Why I'd ever agreed to this is beyond me. We were friends, good friends, but bla bla bla bla more about 'me'....

    Who's the protagonist here??
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2016
  10. BayView
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    The first person narrator can talk about herself some, sure. We know a good bit about Nick Carraway, we know a good bit about Watson, we know loads about Scout. As I recall we know lots about Ishmael, too.

    But if you know what the central conflict of your novel is, the first person narrator won't be at the centre of that conflict. That's all.
     
  11. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    What do you mean by "yourself?" You mean the narrator, right? Not you, Jud?

    A FPPN can absolutely share their feelings and thoughts and talk about him/herself. If it's another character's story, readers won't be confused about who the MC is no matter how deep into the FPPN's head you get.

    You can download the Kindle version of Sherlock Holmes for free and read it on PC/tablet if you don't have a Kindle:
    Apparently that version has been Americanised (ham and eggs instead of bacon and eggs etc) but the POV hasn't changed, so you can see how it's done.
     
  12. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, the narrator.

    I edited my last post to include this example, but it was probably missed in doing so, so I'll post it again.

    Tom had major problems. He was chipped, had a blood-thirsty loan shark tracking him down, and now the ATM has just told him his account is empty. I squinted at the sun glaring down on us, and wondered if we were ever going to get out of this mess. Why I'd ever agreed to this is beyond me. We were friends, good friends, but bla bla bla bla more about 'the narrator'....

    Who's the protagonist here??
     
  13. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    You can't tell a protagonist from a paragraph. :D Bay probably put it best - is the main conflict of the novel Tom's, and the narrator is a sidekick? Or is it the narrator's?
     
  14. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have no idea. Probably both in equal measures. Tom's because of his predicament, and the narrator's because of his predicament caused by Tom's predicament.

    In my head, the narrator is carrying Tom, if that clears anything up.
     
  15. OurJud
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    I think this thread has been useful, as it's helped me realise my 1st person narrator is the protagonist after all - which is what I wanted. He's the strong one - the one who's life has been affected by his friends situation. He's the one on the journey and the one who needs to make things happen.

    So he's the protagonist, yes??
     
  16. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Yes...if you think it's so, that is most likely the case.
     
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  17. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, but it seems to me that Tom's predicament is the story. The narrator's predicament is only incidental to Tom's.

    Do you mean physically carrying? If so, that just serves to justify the narrator's proximity to Tom, and hence his ability to tell the story.
     
  18. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Whaaaaa! I've just convinced myself the narrator is the protag.

    No, metaphorically.
     
  19. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Here's a good example. Who's the protagonist in Rain Man (talking about the film, not read the book, assuming it was adapted from such)
     
  20. Sack-a-Doo!
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    No problem finding out. All of Conan Doyle's work is now public domain and you can download it here.
     
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  21. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I'm not so sure that the predicament much matters, if your narrator is the one dealing with consequences beyond his control....he is a much more interesting concept to me than the other dude. He put himself in that position. The narrator didn't. Personally, I'd rather see the narrator as protagonist, but that's just me.
     
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  22. Sack-a-Doo!
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    The Tom Cruise character. He's the one who learns a lesson.
     
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  23. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, this thread has helped me come to the same conclusion, and it's not just because I want the narrator to be the MC.

    It's something I need to be aware of, though, and keep the focus consistent.
     
  24. EdFromNY
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    That's easy. It's Charlie. He's the one with conflicts (his resentment of his father, his struggle to develop a relationship with his brother, his sorting out of his own values). He's the character whom the story most alters over the time of the story.
     
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  25. EdFromNY
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    Well, you have the advantage, here. You know the whole story. We've only seen a snippet.

    Then, I think you have to ask which character is being changed the most over the course of the story. In Rain Man, both Charlie and Ray are changed. Ray becomes a little more social, a little more expressive, a little more independent, all within the limits of his disability. But Ray was never conflicted, aside from the conflict created by Charlie's entrance into his life.
     
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