Narrative

Yesterday I wrote about different kinds of novels and the difference between linear and non-linear storytelling. I also mentioned point of view and indirectly, narrative, something which I have a lot of interest in.

Narrative is a very important part of a story. The voice a story is told from can make or break a story and it’s something which makes translating a novel into a screenplay rather difficult. The Hunger Games, whilst revered by many, also lost some of its magic (or so they say) because being put on the screen meant that the viewpoint couldn’t be honoured in the same way.

As many of you will already know, there are three main narratives; first person, second person and third person.

First person seems to be very popular in storytelling, it makes sense because it’s very personal to the character telling the story. You get to know what “I” think about the story and how the main character experiences the world that they are in. The only problem is that it makes it difficult to look at other character’s experiences, unless you include several viewpoints in the story.

Third person is just as popular, it gives a more umbrella view of a world looking at it from the eyes of “he” or “she”. You can include aspects of a person’s thoughts or feelings, though it works differently from first person. It allows for more character’s viewpoints to be explored. It does sometimes lose the personal “I think…” aspect of first person, however.

Then there’s second person. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book written in second person narrative. I’d really like to, but it’s not very popular. How often do you read a novel that talks about “you”? It is, however, a useful tool for non-fiction books. I think that as a novel written in second person, it would probably be very intense. It almost puts the reader at the centre of the story, something which may feel too intense for some people.

I think that all three narratives have their uses in fiction – yes, even second person. It all depends on what story you want to tell, who you want to write about and what experience you want the reader to have. The epistolary novels I mentioned yesterday create a different environment to that of prose and dialogue. So is true of narrative.

The Harry Potter series was written in third person, whilst the story is generally from Harry Potter’s point of view, the way it is written allows for some aspects of others’ experiences to be included in some capacity. Had the story been written in first person, the stories would probably feel very different.

Many stories written as epistolary novels, such as Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and The Colour Purple, are written in first person. Pulling them out of first person and into third person would change them completely. We would lose so much of that personal feeling and thought that the stories would be unrecognisable if they were rewritten in a different narrative. The Color Purple is a very personal story about one woman’s life and horrific experiences, so to recreate the story in third person, much of that would probably be lost.

As someone who has spent a lot of time reading and writing fanfiction for a portion of my life I think that first and third person are miles apart. In fanfiction, for me, it feels like it’s too personal for a story to be written in first person. I doubt any fan knows a character well enough to write their innermost thoughts and feelings, as much as we might like to think that we do. Which is why I believe first person in fanfiction isn’t the way to go. Third person gives just enough distance for it not to be a problem.

In novel writing, however, I believe the author knows their character better than anyone else and that’s why first person works so well. You are enough of your character for you to be able to be the “I” you’re writing.

I think I’m part of a minority that enjoys second person. Being in a world where fanfiction is popular, I’ve written second person from time to time. It’s easier to create short pieces in this narrative because it doesn’t matter how intense the story becomes. Some believe anything more than a short piece would be too much written in second person. I’m not so sure and I’d love to have a go. I believe that the intensity of second person would give a unique stance on many stories.

Second person, though, isn’t popular. I’m not sure how many novels there are in the world that contain second person narrative. I wonder, however, how many have snippets written in such a way. Perhaps that’s a more acceptable way of writing second person narrative, to interlink it with first or third person so that a story is made up of multiple narratives.

There are other versions of these three main narratives, usually involving tenses. First person past tense, first person present tense, etc. But for the sake of ease and not confusing things, I have talked mainly about the three different ‘person’. Whichever narrative you choose for your writing, it has to fit for you. What’s right for me isn’t necessarily right for someone else, and what’s wrong for me might actually be everything a person needs to make their writing everything they’d hoped it would be.

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