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Trek Literature "...Good words. That's where ideas begin."

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Old September 20 2013, 01:25 AM   #16
KRAD
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Re: First-person narratives

Kinokima wrote: View Post
But you can technically have more than one character narrating in first person at different points in the book.
You can sure, but it's an even bigger pain in the ass because you have to switch character voices all the time, and it's also much more difficult for the reader. At least with third-person, you have a more-or-less consistent narrative voice. If you're doing multiple first-person narration, you have to change the entire narrative style every time you switch. (Or you can not change the narrative style, and you get garbage like Robert A. Heinlein's Number of the Beast, where you have four first-person narratives THAT ALL SOUND EXACTLY THE SAME.)
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Old September 20 2013, 01:33 AM   #17
Kinokima
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Re: First-person narratives

KRAD wrote: View Post
you can sure, but it's an even bigger pain in the ass because you have to switch character voices all the time, and it's also much more difficult for the reader. At least with third-person, you have a more-or-less consistent narrative voice. If you're doing multiple first-person narration, you have to change the entire narrative style every time you switch. (Or you can not change the narrative style, and you get garbage like Robert A. Heinlein's Number of the Beast, where you have four first-person narratives THAT ALL SOUND EXACTLY THE SAME.)
I am not saying it is not challenge but it can make an interesting book and it's not like it hasn't been done before. If you have different first person narratives you can tell the same story from different perspectives.

Would your different characters see the same events in the same way?
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Old September 20 2013, 01:57 AM   #18
Greg Cox
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Re: First-person narratives

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True confession: I hate writing first-person, especially at book-length. I had to do it once on a ghost-writing job and it was a misery. Maybe I just have a short attention span, but I hated being stuck with only one POV for an entire novel. And it was logistically clumsy, too. I kept wanting to cut away to another character or location, but I couldn't, which meant that important stuff had to happen offstage.
But you can technically have more than one character narrating in first person at different points in the book.
I suppose, if you're writing an epistolary novel like Dracula., but that strikes me as off-putting and potentially confusing since the identity of "I" would be changing throughout the book.

Easier to just write "Kirk beamed down to the planet" than "I beamed down to the planet" and have to make it clear who "I" is in each scene.
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Old September 20 2013, 01:59 AM   #19
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Re: First-person narratives

I'll try not to give away any spoilers, but I'm currently reading The Crimson Shadow and there have been a couple of "letters" that are in the first person which are done really well---unfortunately I'm finding the transitions back into the third person narratives quite difficult and sometimes they feel forced.
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Old September 20 2013, 02:19 AM   #20
Greg Cox
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Re: First-person narratives

The thing about first-person novels is that they have a higher degree of difficulty. Certainly, they can done well, but they're easier to screw up as well. David Hartwell, who was one of the original TrekLit editors, once advised young writers to stay away from first-person until they were more experienced. At the time, I was young and mouthy and debated this point with him, pointing out umpteen classic novels and stories that were written in first-person. David conceded their existence, but still maintained that new writers attempted first-person at their own peril.

Like I said, I disagreed vocally at the time, but, three decades later, after having waded through way too many slushpiles, I see his point. First-person contains many traps for the unwary . . . .

Other issues:

1) The narrator can come off as indistinct compared to the other characters, who can be described in vivid detail. Indeed, having a narrator describe themselves or their expressions or body language is always problematic. You can only have them look in the mirror so many times . . .

2) In my experience, first-person makes it easier for the author to indulge in long-winded internal monologues, perhaps to excess. It's easier to get carried away with that sort of thing when writing from deep inside the narrator's head.

And speaking of long-winded monologues, I've clearly thought too much about this over the years!
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Old September 20 2013, 02:31 AM   #21
Timewalker
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Re: First-person narratives

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
Easier to just write "Kirk beamed down to the planet" than "I beamed down to the planet" and have to make it clear who "I" is in each scene.
If the reader is several chapters in and still has trouble remembering who "I" is, either the reader has a severe attention-deficit problem or the book would be awfully damn boring.

Marion Zimmer Bradly combined first-person and third-person povs in her novels Heritage of Hastur and Sharra's Exile; the chapters alternated between the third-person pov of Regis Hastur and the first-person pov of Lew Alton (described as "Lew Alton's narrative"). It was an interesting technique.
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Old September 20 2013, 02:38 AM   #22
Greg Cox
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Re: First-person narratives

Timewalker wrote: View Post
Greg Cox wrote: View Post
Easier to just write "Kirk beamed down to the planet" than "I beamed down to the planet" and have to make it clear who "I" is in each scene.
If the reader is several chapters in and still has trouble remembering who "I" is, either the reader has a severe attention-deficit problem or the book would be awfully damn boring.
.
Well, I was addressing Kinokima's suggestion of having multiple first-person narrators throughout the book. In which case, the identity of "I" would be changing every few chapters.

Like I said, first-person isn't bad, but it's trickier than it looks. And multiple first-person narrators? You could end up with a tour de force . . . or an unholy mess.
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Old September 20 2013, 03:48 AM   #23
Kinokima
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Re: First-person narratives

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
I suppose, if you're writing an epistolary novel like Dracula., but that strikes me as off-putting and potentially confusing since the identity of "I" would be changing throughout the book.

Easier to just write "Kirk beamed down to the planet" than "I beamed down to the planet" and have to make it clear who "I" is in each scene.
Well like I said I am not saying first person isn't a challenge but when done right it can make for an interesting read.

I personally love when first person creates an unreliable narrative. You know just because the person is telling you "this is what is happening" doesn't make it the actual truth.

As for multiple first person narratives again I am certainly not saying it isn't challenging but it has been done. Of course you have to find a different voice for the different narrators but it's a fun way to tell a story from different perspectives.

Now I certainly wouldn't want to read only first person stories, but there are some really good ones out there.
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Old September 21 2013, 05:02 AM   #24
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Re: First-person narratives

I've been reading a lot of Urban Fantasy lately, and most of them are in first person, and I've been really liking it. I think a lot of it depends on what kind of story. Is it a smaller story about 1 person specifically, or is it a big story that really needs a wide scope to tell it? If it's the former then I think it first person is OK, but for the former I think third person works better. Which probably why you don't find a lot of first person stories in Trek, they tend to be bigger in scope than just one person's experiences.
As for the multiple first person narrators, I didn't realize how tough that would be. I'm working on a first person story right now, and I briefly considered adding a second narrator, but then I ran into the problem mentioned up thread. I just wasn't sure if I was comfortable enough to try to come up with a second narrative voice, especially since I'm still trying to solidify with the first one. There's also the fact that pretty much the whole story revolves around the first character anyways, so there really wasn't anything worthwhile that a second narrator would add, other than the brief novelty of getting into that character's head.
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Old September 21 2013, 09:05 AM   #25
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Re: First-person narratives

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
True confession: I hate writing first-person, especially at book-length. I had to do it once on a ghost-writing job and it was a misery. Maybe I just have a short attention span, but I hated being stuck with only one POV for an entire novel. And it was logistically clumsy, too. I kept wanting to cut away to another character or location, but I couldn't, which meant that important stuff had to happen offstage.
Actually, none of those are really limitations. After all, Dracula is written in first person, but it tells the story from several different characters' points of view and from several locations. All you have to do is write, "I walked onto the bridge" instead of "Kirk walked onto the bridge."
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Old September 21 2013, 01:23 PM   #26
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Re: First-person narratives

Tiberius wrote: View Post
All you have to do is write, "I walked onto the bridge" instead of "Kirk walked onto the bridge."
If you're doing multiple first-person POVs, that's not all you have to do. You also have to establish right up front that you've changed to a new character's viewpoint, so you don't confuse the audience. Say, for instance, you've just been in Spock's POV and you switch to Kirk's. You'd have to make sure the first sentence was something like "I walked onto the bridge, tugging the hem of my gold command tunic, and turned to Spock." But that can quickly get awkward. As Greg said, it's not something that should be attempted unless you're experienced. And the potential advantages of it are elusive. It's easy enough to get into multiple viewpoints from an omniscient third-person perspective, since you can still eavesdrop on your viewpoint character's thoughts; and there you have the advantage of using the character's name rather than just "I," so it's clear to the reader who the viewpoint character is. So why not just use that? Multiple first-person viewpoints seems more like a gimmick than something that would really be useful to a story. The only value I can see for it is in an overtly epistolary narrative like Dracula.
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Old September 21 2013, 01:33 PM   #27
Kinokima
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Re: First-person narratives

^ I believe multiple first person view points were used in the story: In The Grove

For those unfamiliar this is one of the stories the Japanese film Rashomon was based off of & if you know that film you can understand how multiple first person povs might work & even add to this story.

Of course when writing first person you have to get the voice down and writing multiple you would have to get several voices down. But I suppose a simple way to establish what character is talking is to name the chapter that. GRRM does this with his 3rd character povs.
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Old September 21 2013, 03:37 PM   #28
Greg Cox
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Re: First-person narratives

JD wrote: View Post
I've been reading a lot of Urban Fantasy lately, and most of them are in first person, and I've been really liking it. I think a lot of it depends on what kind of story. Is it a smaller story about 1 person specifically, or is it a big story that really needs a wide scope to tell it? If it's the former then I think it first person is OK, but for the former I think third person works better. Which probably why you don't find a lot of first person stories in Trek, they tend to be bigger in scope than just one person's experiences.
.
That's very much the case. First-person is probably better suited to smaller, more intimate, possibly more introspective stories than, say, an epic about the Fall of Rome. In the case of Star Trek, where you have an ensemble cast and are usually cutting back and forth between various A, B, and C plots, third-person is usually the most sensible choice.

It's all about using the right tool for each job--and what you can do with that tool that you can't more easily do with another.

In the case of the "In the Grove," the whole point of that story was to illustrate how different people view the same event differently, so first-person was ideal there.

I find that a lot of YA books are written in first-person these days, with the Harry Potter books being a notable exception. Not entirely sure why that is unless adolescents prefer a tight focus on one character and his/her feelings. (See Twilight, which I believe is written in the first-person.)
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Old September 21 2013, 03:47 PM   #29
JarodRussell
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Re: First-person narratives

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
Telling novel-length Trek stories in first-person is tricky, since it means you're stuck in one head the entire book and can't, for example, cut back and forth from the bridge to the away team, or to the B-Plot involving Scotty or O'Brien . . . .
Unless you re-tell what was reported to you later on. And exaggerate. And shuffle around.

And this, cadets, is the story of How I Became Captain of the Enterprise.
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Old September 21 2013, 04:09 PM   #30
Greg Cox
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Re: First-person narratives

It's funny. I recently wrote a young-adult novel (Riese: Kingdom Falling) in which, ultimately, all but two short scenes were told from the POV of the main character. So, yeah, I could have conceivably done that book in first-person, but, personally, I still find third-person more comfortable and less awkward to write in. And I still think that describing a character from the outside makes them more distinctive and easier to visualize than some amorphous "I."

And third-person doesn't stop you from getting into the heads of your protagonists. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson is written entirely from the POV of the last man on Earth, but it's written in the third person . . .
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