1. ianfort

    ianfort New Member

    May 31, 2009
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    Trouble with main character as the narrator

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by ianfort, Jul 9, 2009.

    I am about to start a novel, however, I'm a bit hung up on a certain issue. I want the story to be told in first person from the point of view of the main character, but there are many ways I can go about doing this, and I can't decide which one to use. I want my story to be told through a believable medium, by which I mean journal entries or autobiography or something else along those lines. I don't want the story to be simply presented to the reader without any explanation as to why the main character is telling it.

    That is pretty clear to me, but the problem is that most realistic mediums rarely give word-for-word accounts of conversations. I think "He approached me and told me to follow him." is much less appealing than "He approached me and said, 'Come with me, Tom. I'll show you what I mean.'" I think true quotes add a lot more humanity to the characters, and allow the reader to get to know them better. The problem is that people rarely remember this much detail when recounting events, unless they are writing it while the conversation is taking place, which I doubt would work anyway. How should I go about believably including accurate recounts of conversations?

    I am also very torn as to what medium to use. A journal would provide a good means of displaying how the main character is feeling as the events are unfolding. On the other hand, the plot might become a bit too fragmented, as entries are generally much shorter than your standard chapter. An autobiography would solve the fragmentation problem, however, it might also move too slowly and concern itself too deeply with the character's personal backstory at the expense of the actual plot. It also won't help with the quoting issue. There are other possibilities too, but most mediums I can think of present the same problems. What do you think the best medium would be for my purposes?

    One more thing: I am considering alternating between two narrators over the course of the novel. I might not do this, but its a possibility. If I do use this method, each of the main character's narrations will be done through separate books that exist within the fictional universe of the novel. The novel itself, of course, will remain one book which includes these two works. The easiest method would be to change narrators every other chapter, but I was considering the much more unconventional method of devoting the entire first half of the novel to one character and the second half to the other. Would that method be worth it, or would it be too gimmicky and unnecessarily demanding? Would I simply be better advised to stick to one main character?

    Any advice will be greatly appreciated.
  2. arron89

    arron89 Banned

    Oct 10, 2008
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    Well, you can't write an autobiography, since its fictional, but critics often hold the opinion that the closer a first-person novel is to an autobiography, the more accurate it is (ie that the autobiography is the ideal of the first person novel).
    I don't see why you would need a good reason for the character to telling the story. You are an author, its your responsibility to tell stories; you don't need any other pretense for it, and when authors do use one (eg in Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov), it usually places more emphasis on the fictional nature of the novel, rather than less (deliberately, of course).
    As for characters remembering things they couldn't possibly remember...a lot of critics and readers never think about this, or choose not to challenge it as it is difficult to theorise reasonably. The only succesful attempt I've read involved the creation of an impersonal narrative voice that replaces the voice of the character (in first person) in order to reveal information beyond the character's own knowledge and experience. For instance in your book (and countless others), the MC recounts in perfect detail conversations he could not possibly be expected to remember in such detail. There are only 2 assumptions we can make as readers: that he is making it up, and is therefore an unreliable narrator, or that the author has slightly shifted the focus so as to show readers something beyond the normal capacity of the MC (the use of the impersonal narrative voice).
    As far as the form is concerned, I'd steer well clear of journal entries - they are one of the reasons the idea of first person sends people running. First person novels need to be as deep and rich as any other novel, and that level of depth is very difficult to achieve in a journal entry format, besides which to write a journal consistently would be very difficut - consider a typical journal: how often do opinions change as the days go by? How does the style of writing develop? What kinds of things dominate the writing at different points of time? It is highly unlikely that a single unedited journal would provide a reader with a fluid, continuous narrative realistically. A memoir style novel but again there are certain connotations this style has, and particular features that would make it difficult to write, perhaps. For instance, the narrator would be recounting the events of his life from a late point with the specific intention of making the reader feel a certain way about his life (whether he is boasting, looking for sympathy or trying to inspire readers). Therefore, it is likely that the perspective will be heavily biased (in a realistic memoir) and that is something you would have to take into consideration in your writing.
    Both of those would be ruined by a second narrator as well, and would destroy the sense of realism you seem to be desperately aiming for. Writing from more than one perspective can be done (Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis does 1st-person-multiple-narrators exceptionally well) but I can't see it working in a memoir or journal format, so it would have to be one or the other in my opinion.
    Anyway, that was a long and rambling post, but I hope you found a few useful things in it...
  3. Dcoin

    Dcoin New Member

    Sep 2, 2008
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    This thread has some information that I thought to be insightful and appropriate for your question above.

  4. sprirj

    sprirj Senior Member

    Feb 2, 2009
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    Why can't your narrator tell the story to someone? A friend? A solicitor? Over the phone? This other person can allow the story to unfold and give exactly the details you might require by forcing the narrator to answer questions....:confused:
  5. CharlieVer

    CharlieVer Contributor Contributor

    Mar 2, 2009
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    Raritan, NJ
    I think it depends on your story.

    I remember one novel -- I recall almost nothing else about the novel -- where the narrators (there were several, each with separate chapters/sections of the book, and in the audiobook each was done by a different voice-actor/actress) was telling his/her version of the terrible events preceding to a police detective, as the police detective was interviewing various witnesses.

    This would seem to be what you're talking about -- although I know nothing about your story, so whether a police-detective interview is appropriate is unknowable to me.

    If you include dialogue -- you can do that -- you have to make it believable within the first person narrative. The first person narrator would likely intersperse his or her commentary.

    Let me use your example.

    He approached me and said, 'Come with me, Tom. I'll show you what I mean.' So now, I didn't know what to think. Yesterday, he didn't even want to talk to me, and today, he's dragging me off somewhere trying to prove his point. So, I told him, 'I already know what you mean!' He said, 'No you don't. Seriously,' and he kept insisting that I come, so finally, I did.

    Problem you say? Turn that to your advantage. Your narrator can remember detail... accurately and inaccurately, and your narrator can also lie. Only you, the author, know whether the quote is accurate, inaccurate or an outright lie.

    You can even have two character/narrators recount the same event, in two chapters, each using quotes, and in each case, the quote is different from the character's perspective, to dramatic or humorous effect.

    (The above scene can later be reversed, for example: "So I told him, 'Come with me, Tom. I'll show you.' And he said, 'Lay off me, man! I know what you mean.'" Same scene, quotes a little different, because it's from a different perspective.)

  6. bluebell80

    bluebell80 New Member

    May 20, 2009
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    The books written by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, while considered general fiction bordering on chic lit, are done in the first person narrative from up to 5 characters in one book. Each of the characters play a supporting role for each other, as well as main story telling characters. She switched each chapter between the characters as the story moved along and time in the fictional world moved along.

    If I were going to do a FP POV with more than one character, I would do it that way. I like the change of perspective from one main character to the other, gaining insight into each of their lives.

    At the moment I am working on a FP POV told from only my MC perspective. I'm not changing characters, it's all told by her. Who is she telling it too? I haven't any idea. But, I am treating it as if I were writing the story from her lips to my keyboard.

    I think your idea of using journal entries as, well I'm not sure what they are called... but they are used throughout the book to show a consistency with the character, a habit, or something they do every day. I know there is a word for it...it's not sign posts...but something like that.

    Opening each chapter with a short journal entry from your MC (only on one MC though not both if you do two of them) would set a rhythm with that character. I've used it before in short stories, and I have a letter in my current story written by my MC's dead husband. I think if it were in the book the letter would have to be hand-written-like script on the page.

    I don't think I have ever thought about who a FP POV story is being told to. I've always just read them and never really contemplated that.

    And as for people not able to recall exact conversations...that is part of the fictionalization process. If I were to take someone's autobiography and fictionalize it, I would do less telling and more showing through dialog and actions. It wouldn't matter if the person recalled the exact wording, a general ballpark is all that is needed to create fictionalized material.

    Since you are working with a fictional piece, it obviously isn't an autobiography, but it could be if the person telling the story (your MC) was writing their own autobiography. When real people write autobiographies, they "fill in" gaps of what they remember with their imagination...as long as it sticks pretty closely to the story. So why can't your character be either writing their own autobiography, or telling their story to a ghost writer who is writing it for them, in the first person of course?

    Better yet, just write it. See what you come out with, change it if need be, as long as you are getting something on the page, it really doesn't matter what form it is in for the first draft.

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