Tag Archives: narrator

In the First Person

Many of you already know from the sample chapters provided on this site that my novel is told in first person. In fact, other than the prologue, the novel alternates between four points of view: Kylie Baines, Ben Carrick, Colette Baptiste, and Matt Tracy. I chose to tell the story this way because while the characters’ fates are intertwined and rich in history, they all drift in their own particular orbits. I needed four narrators to move the plot along as well. And I hope with this last edit that I’ve sharpened each narrative voice so that it’s entertaining for the reader, not distracting.

They all bring different qualities to the table. Kylie is leading a double life and the story revolves around her family, romantic relationships, etc. It’s completely neccessary that the reader see her perspective. Ben is more lighthearted and tells anecdotes about the friends in high school. Kylie would never tell an anecdote for sheer amusement but Ben seems genuinely interested in getting the group back together (like the good ole days) and therefore he easily dips into an idealized, slightly romanticized past. Colette, as Kylie’s cousin and the daughter of kingpin Denis Baptiste, is essential to the plot. She provides insights into the Baptiste family and fills in some of Kylie’s background (the time after high school but before the start of the novel). But Colette is spoiled rotten so she has none of Kylie’s seriousness.

And then there’s Matt Tracy. He was the last narrator I wrote into the story. I did so at the behest of a writer’s group I attended with C.K. when we lived in Santa Monica. Perhaps because Matt was the last narrative voice to take shape or perhaps because adding him was not my idea, he’s been the most difficult narrator for me. With the other three characters, I hear them in my head easily. Sometimes it takes a few hours to get a dialogue down and then several more to tighten it up but I always know what Kylie’s, Colette’s, and Ben’s take on the situation is going to be. Kylie will feel the gravity of the scene intensely and over-analyze her own part in it. Colette will dismiss anything that would require emotional maturity then feel guilty for doing so, all while cracking jokes about the other characters. Ben will feel the scene more acutely than Colette but he really doesn’t have much at stake. He’s happily engaged and about to start his Masters program. But Matt is a strong, silent type. It’s challenging to give a voice to someone who would prefer not to chime in.

I say all this because three of the full manuscript requests came back as “thanks but no thanks.” Actually, I shouldn’t make it sound so cavalier. The agents took the time to give some great feedback that extended beyond “it just didn’t fire me up to sell it.” One of the main critiques is about the narration. One agent said that towards the end of the book, my narrators seem fashioned from the same cloth. It’s a fair critique and I worked hard these past few weeks to rectify it. I think I owe this agent a thank you. I believe I have a more polished book now. But another agent said that she didn’t like the first person narrators switching all the time. She wanted to invest in one person and hear the whole thing from his/her point of view.

 

All this got me wondering: should I have written this book in the omniscient third person? Or even limited third person and used Kylie’s POV?

Personally, I like first-person narration. It’s one distinct voice. I don’t have to like the narrator or want to talk to him/her. But I’m more excited to read the book if I do sympathize with the narrator. I also enjoy the changing perspectives. The Help and Gone Girl are good examples. For the former, I loved all three narrators. For the latter, I’m only a few chapters in but I don’t like anyone yet. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like the story so far.

Third person narration is fine but in my reading experience, the author needs to chose one character to focus on. Furthermore, the limited third person often clumsily dips into other character’s minds. Even the goddess of novel writing, Jane Austen, does this. I taught Pride and Prejudice several times at high school level and reread it each time. In the beginning of the novel, when I’m supposed to dislike Darcy along with everyone else in Meryton, I get glimpses of his feelings for Elizabeth and I feel a little cheated of the big reveal.

 

But I digress. I’m really writing this to find out what other readers think.

Do you like first-person narration or third? And why? 

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A “Colette” Chapter

I’m almost done rewriting a Kylie chapter in the voice of her cousin and confidante Colette. Colette is my carefree party girl of the book. She’s the daughter of the head of a crime organization (the same person Kylie works for). She enjoys the perks of the lifestyle: hanging out at her father’s clubs, throwing parties for her friends, going out to nice dinners, lots of shopping, some college, and lots more shopping and partying. She rarely sees the side of the business that her cousin Kylie does as both Denis’s niece and employee. She plays a good foil to Kylie’s sober, temperant maturity. However, it’s Colette who shows Kylie that she’s being to hard on Matt and on herself. In between Colette’s many drunken quips and laid back attitude lies an intelligence and an unfettered honesty. She’s one of my stronger supporting characters.

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Revision, Interrupted

The progress I made last week on the second draft of my book has come to a halt. I’ve finished rewriting the first four chapters: A Son’s Victory, Deep Breaths, Diet Coke, Anyone?, and Old Friends & New Lives. And when I’m done with this move (we are currently moving out of the corporate apartment and into our own little place), I will start the revising process once again. I think I’m going to make myself do a half-hour a day. It’s a little goal but once I start writing I usually don’t stop at the half-hour mark. But I set the small goal because I can’t get myself to do it some days. And I’m not usually a procrastinator.

Food for thought: I’m still deciding if I should put the narrator’s name at the beginning of the chapter. If I had three 1st-person narrators, it would make perfect sense (especially for a commercial novel). I’m not trying to confuse anyone here. But I have two 1st-person narrators and a 3rd person omniscient narrator. Obviously, I’m not going to put “3rd-person omniscient” at the beginning of a chapter. That would look dumb.

I say all this because I got some great feedback from an agent (a friend of a friend at Mahalo). He thought the novel was a good story but worried about the challenge of changing narrative voice so often. I’ll be honest: I can’t figure out another way to tell this story. Without the different voices, you can’t get all the story lines. There are so many characters and connections. Without 3rd-person narrator, I can’t link it all together. Without Kylie, you miss out on the main character’s thought process. Without Ben, you miss out on the anecdotes and laughter.

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