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  1. Sokay
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    Sokay New Member

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    How to present action in first-person narrative

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Sokay, Apr 27, 2010.

    I'm having trouble finding out how to present first-person narrative action to the reader. How does one go about doing this?

    For example, if I wanted my preface to read something like this:

    'Knock, knock! Aww, I hope I didn't scare you! My name is Jake, and I'm about to tell you the story of my lifetime up until now. I'm going to rock your world. There won't be any clichés, because I really hate those. It's nothing you could ever imagine happening to a teenager.'


    That's just a sample I came up with on a whim. I would like to present the 'Knock, knock' in a physical form, and not the narrator "speaking" to the reader. Common sense has told me not to use asterisks, like that of an IM message. :p

    I've written non-fiction my entire life. My agent recently got me a "deal" to write a coming-of-age novel. I've had one planned for years, but never wrote it up. Now I'm stuck at the preface. It's sad, isn't it?

    Well, I hope you guys can help me, because I would very much appreciate all the help I can get.

    Thank you,
    Sokay


    P.S. Please excuse any errors I've made in this post. I haven't slept in nearly 24 hours and I'm prone to making mistakes with such low levels of concentration! :(
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Addressing the reader directly is viewed as somewhat hokey and intrusive in current writing, although you might get away with it in a humorous piece. I'd lose the knocking (on what? a door? the inside of a glass CRT? the reader's balding pate?) entirely.

    If you want to see an effective use of the narrator indirectly addressing the reader, look at the alphabet novels by Sue Grafton, particularly the early ones like A is for Alibi. Her stories are essentially case reports, but she only makes that clear in the beginning comments, and when she closes the novel with "Respectfully submitted, Kinsey Millhone."

    I don't recommend first person writing to new writers, because of the limitations of that viewpoint, but if you are resolute about writing in that voice, Ms. Grafton's novels are worth studying.
     
  3. Sokay
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    Sokay New Member

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    I figured as such. As I said, it was just an example. I can't even remember where I had seen it in a book, but I must be confused with books that have a diary-esque feel to them. However, to answer your question, it would be knocking on the reader's head. It's a strange concept.

    I have a few of her books. I'll try to find out where I've kept them, and skim through them a bit.

    New to fiction, you mean? I've written non-fiction for various publications. Yes, first-person narrative does has have its limits, but for the purpose and nature of the novel, it really cannot be written in third-person narrative.

    This is completely off-topic, but I chose a random birth date when I registered. It's about six years off. Who do I contact to fix it. If you have the ability, I would be happy to PM you my DOB so it can be corrected.

    Thank you, Cogito.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Only Daniel can fix your birthdate. Send him a PM, but it may take a while before he gets around to it.
     
  5. Sokay
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    Sokay New Member

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    Done. Thank you.

    I spent some time thinking after you had initially posted on whether I should write it in first-person or third-person. I understand that third-person allows me, the author, to describe a richer world, things my character does not see, things he or she will not see before they discover them, like in first person, and more.

    It's a young-adult novel, but it also falls under a niche in the young-adult category. Because of what the book is about, I could write it in third-person, because it gives me more room to play with and is easier, but I chose first-person because I want the reader to feel what the main character feels.

    Although, I did give thought into writing the first few chapters twice. Except, I would edit the second copy and redo it in third-person. Then compare both of them and see which one works. I'll most likely do this.

    I would be happy if I could get your personal opinion via PM, if that's okay with you. I just got done reading some of your short stories, and I have to say they're really good. It's like reading a Ludlum work. :)
     
  6. zaffy
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    zaffy Contributing Member

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    Sokay, you have written non-fiction for various publications, you have an agent, you have a commission to write a novel. Why all the questions? You have cracked it. You can do it. Go for it.

    For me, if only.
     
  7. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you're running into problems because that's not only in 1st person, it's also entirely in reported speech. Jane Eyre is in 1st person, but it still opens:
    There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been
    wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but
    since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold
    winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so
    penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.​
    And shortly after
    I wonder if he read that notion in my face; for, all
    at once, without speaking, he struck suddenly and strongly. I tottered,
    and on regaining my equilibrium retired back a step or two from his
    chair.
    In other words, you describe action in 1st person pretty much as you would in 3rd person. The only restriction is that it has to be action that your narrator is aware of, and as your narrator understands it. You can have "he struck suddenly and strongly", but you can't have "he suddenly changed his mind" because the narrator can't know that (you can have "he seemed to suddenly change his mind", because that's how it appears to the narrator). You can have "he struck suddenly and strongly", but you can't have "his uncle in Africa started to write a letter", because the narrator won't know that (unless it's set in the modern day and you've established that there's a video link to uncle in view).
     
  8. Sokay
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    Sokay New Member

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    Yes. Thank you.

    It seems great, right? It took me nearly 6.5 years to get noticed. I just worked very hard on my non-fiction works. It's all trial and error, confidence, and skill.

    Getting into the fiction world is harder, IMHO, but I hope to be somewhat successful.

    Isn't that also called "free indirect speech"? I remember reading an article about Jane Austen, and how she was one of history's novelists who refined it.

    I understand what you've pointed out. But since this is just a preface, or rather a letter that the narrator of the book, my character, would say to the read of the book. Then when the book actually starts with chapter one, the narrator will tell their story without the reported speech.

    There are limits of what you can write in first-person, as you pointed out. I know you can't switch viewpoints or say something like:

    'From the corner of the room, a large spitball made its way toward Jake's left temple.'​

    If Jake doesn't see it, I can't use it. I also certainly cannot make a connection unless there's a link. I could use this:

    'I saw Tommy placing small bits of paper in between his lips. I pretty much knew what the bastard was going to do. I saw him place a straw he got from the cafeteria in his pant pocket. The idiot was going to blow a spitball right at me. He had been eying me up and down all day long. The thought of another guy's spit on my face made me gag. I sighed while thinking about what I could do to avoid the spitball hitting me. I wasn't planning on making a scene.

    "Mrs. Thompson, may I please go to the bathroom?" I asked mumbling out the words. Mrs. Thompson was the best teacher in school.'​

    I should have clarified this morning. I was foolish not to. Is free indirect speech something I should avoid using for the purpose of the book?
     
  9. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think so. Free indirect speech is indirect speech that has some features of direct speech, or vice-versa. The first-person narration is effectively direct speech (even though it's not surrounded by quote marks), as told to a diary, a bystander, the reader (so I was a bit off the mark in challenging your original on the grounds that it was direct [reported] speech. The issue is more the actual narrative style the narrator is using).

    Free indirect speech (FIS) is a mixture of direct speech (DS) and indirect speech (IS). Typically it has the grammatical structure of IS but some of the "'production flavour' and deictic qualities" of DS (Short, Exploring the language of poems, plays and prose). Short quotes John le Carré:
    "So that was the first part of the story. Czech troops out, Russian troops in. Got it?"
    Smiley said yes, he thought he had his mind round it so far.​
    Is that "yes" Smiley's word, or the narrators? It's pretty clear that it's Smiley's (and "mind round it so far" almost certainly is, too), so this looks as if it should be direct speech, but he thought he had his mind around it, so it clearly isn't a report of what he actually said (Smiley isn't in the habit of referring to himself in the 3rd person). The result is too much like IS to be DS, and too much like DS to be IS. It's FIS.

    In that case, the FIS appears at first sight to be IS. What Austen is noted for is going the other way; FIS that appears to be DS. Here's an example from Persuasion, also cited by Short:
    "The child was going on so well -- and he wished so much to be introduced to Captain Wentworth, that, perhaps, he might join them in the evening; he would not dine from home, but he might walk for half an hour."​
    The quote marks suggest that this is DS, but it's the speaker who wants to be introduced to Captain Wentworth, not the child, so the pronouns and tense are all wrong for DS. Although it's in quotes, it isn't really what's said, it's a report of what is said. That mix of DS and IS makes it FIS. I think it's interesting to note that a modern editor would almost certainly flag the Austen example up as an error, but at least some Austen scholars consider it a clever way of managing her distance from unpleasant characters.

    Short acknowledges that the boundary between FIS and IS is not always clear. With DS the focus is at the character, with IS it's at the narrator, with FIS it's somewhere in-between, but as the focus moves away from the character towards the narrator it's not always clear at precisely what point you can say that the change has happened.
     

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