1. LongNovel
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    LongNovel New Member

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    Referring directly to the reader in First Person Narrtive

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by LongNovel, Sep 29, 2012.

    So I'm a first timer and I'm writing in first person.

    I wanted to know what the consensus was regarding addressing the reader during the course of the novel. Throughout my first 10 chapters, I trickle out information by telling stories about some things that happened (nest scenes within scenes, I guess). So I'll start out a scene, have some action/dialogue then I'll say something like, "I guess I should tell you about the accident now."

    Can people give me thoughts, tips, suggestions on this technique?

    Thanks!
     
  2. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Be careful about how that's done, because, if not careful, it can break the 'fourth wall' where a character basically admits they're fictional. The better way of communication is mixing it into your first person dialogue as things move along.
     
  3. LongNovel
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    LongNovel New Member

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    Hmm... Well part of the problem is that these experiences are completely internal and even secret to everyone. So I'm not sure I could use dialogue with most of them.

    Thanks for the input.
     
  4. LongNovel
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    LongNovel New Member

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    Actually, I now understand your point is referring to me addressing the reader as I transition into the story. But that is still kind of a problem for me to do. I don't want to break the fourth wall (I need to research that), but I want to tell them these private stories.
     
  5. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I'd look at 'The Hunger Games' for some examples since it's in first person and several of Katniss' background stories are held in there. The first person novels I've read, which I'll admit aren't too many because I'm not a fan of that style, have worked the stories into the narrative at the points where appropriate.
     
  6. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    Personally, I think it is entirely possible and even appropriate to address your reader directly, if done in the correct way. If your narrator is simply telling a story, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to avoid having him (or her) speak to me directly, as if sitting next to a close personal friend. It is a stylistic choice, and there are no mechanical issues that should prevent you from doing it. Just be consistent and be sure to stay within your character's personality. I often writer in first person too, and while I've never addressed the reader like that, I can't see a problem with you doing it.

    Personally, I feel the opposite to Captain Kate. I feel a first person account of a story - especially if very present and blunt like what you've described - can feel very, very realistic, moreso even than a story told in third. It can feel as if you are sitting next to your best friend having a conversation, and that aids in the bond between narrator and reader.

    I say do it. Just... do it well.
     
  7. LongNovel
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    LongNovel New Member

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    thanks for the replies.

    After looking back at it, I don't think it will be an issue for me. For some reason, I was just having trouble transitioning to the flashbacks. I think all I have to do is engineer ways to work them into the narrative/scenes and I'll be fine.
     
  8. Mark_Archibald
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    Mark_Archibald Active Member

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    One thing to look out for is making sure the segements of you addressing the reader aren't longer than the active scenes/what is happening to your character in the present.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    addressing the readers directly IS 'breaking the fourth wall'...

    and doing so is generally not recommended for any other than the extremely rare, exceptionally skilled writers who may be able to do so without annoying the readers... examples of those who've made it work in prose fiction are so few i can't even think of a single one...

    while it's often done on the stage and in film/tv, it's not really a good idea to do it in novels or short stories...
     
  10. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    It definitely annoyed me when Douglas Adams did it in "So long .... and thanks for all the fish".

    However, I think it works in Spike Milligan's "Puckoon". I don't think it works there because Spike Milligan is exceptionally skilled at prose, I think it's because Spike Milligan is Spike Milligan, and there's the expectation that he's not going to follow any of the normal rules, whatever he does. I wonder how I'd respond if I'd read the book not knowing that it was Spike Milligan who wrote it.

    I also think it works in Kurt Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions". However, that's a deliciously surreal book, and the author entering the book and talking directly to his characters adds to the surrealism, IMHO.

    Both of the above examples are primarily the author talking directly to the characters and participating in the action, not so much the author talking to the reader.

    The film Shirley Valentine shows how easy it is to make this work in film.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The reason breaking the fourth wall is not in favor is because it reminds the reader that he or she is a reader, not a participant in the experience. It breaks, or at least puts a strain on, the reader's immersion in the story.
     
  12. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's how I reacted to Douglas Adams talking directly to the reader.

    However, in film such as "Shirley Valentine", it made me feel that I was more of a participant in the experience. Different media: different rules.
     
  13. reviloennik
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    reviloennik Member

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    Adressing the reader directly is certainly unusual and you have to be careful how you go about it, but it can make your writing stand out from that of other authors. It's also a good way of bringing the reader right into the middle of the action, if that is what you're trying to achieve. If you want to keep a little distance from the reader, you could write it as if your protagonist is writing in a diary for example, or use a similar method.

    At the end of the day it depends on what effect you want to create. Don't use first person if you merely want to convey information about the story and don't use it for any other purpose, because then it can feel awkward and break the suspense.
     
  14. Oz!
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    Oz! New Member

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    It worked for CS Lewis in his Narnia books. I suppose it depends how important the suspension of disbelief is to the atmosphere of the scene. Realism requires walls to remain intact. Tall tales can allow a little peek through the gaps.
     
  15. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    To me, first-person is like the character is actually sitting next to me, recounting all the things that happened to him/her, so its expected that he/she may say things like, "And I don't need to remind you of xyz". To me, that's like a friend saying, "Remember the thing I mentioned earlier? Yeah, it's happening right now."

    However, do it rarely, like maybe once or twice. If the character keeps taking me out of his/her story to "remind me of xyz" or something or other, then I'll get annoyed.

    And, as others said, it's about how you use it. If it's arranged like the character is actually telling a story to someone else (you) in a "Okay, all this is long past, but I'll tell you what I can remember", then make sure to keep it that way.
     
  16. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unfortunately I can resist anything except temptation. And I'm now writing a story which is effectively an argument between the author and an aware-of-fictional-status main character. I haven't quite worked out how to include the main-character appealing directly to get the reader to take the main character's side in the argument.
     
  17. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    That sounds like a man arguing with his God, and I suppose he is in a way. It sounds intriguing and I for one would be interested in reading it.
     

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