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

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Old September 22 2013, 10:57 PM   #46
Greg Cox
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Re: First-person narratives

Ah, the danger of writing sex scenes in first-person . . .

True story: Many years ago, I was at a convention when somebody praised me for including a gay sex scene in my most recent story. This puzzled me since I didn't remember writing one (not that there's anything wrong with that). Then I figured it out:

That particular story had been written in the first-person and I guess I hadn't made it clear enough that that the narrator was a woman, so when she hooked up with a guy at one point, the reader had assumed that "I" was also a guy . . . perhaps because the story was by a male author?

Which just goes to show that first-person is trickier than it looks!
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Old September 22 2013, 11:16 PM   #47
Stevil2001
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Re: First-person narratives

Christopher wrote: View Post
^Fair point. Although a lot of first-person stories are presented as someone's actual written or narrated account.
True. But third-person stories often used to be presented as someone's actual written or narrated account, too-- for example, George Eliot's Adam Bede is told in the third-person with access to characters' inner thoughts, but the narrator occasionally says things that make it clear he's a real person that "exists" in the narrative. That's a lot less popular now than it was in the nineteenth century, though.
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Old September 23 2013, 12:01 AM   #48
JarodRussell
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Re: First-person narratives

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
Ah, the danger of writing sex scenes in first-person . . .

True story: Many years ago, I was at a convention when somebody praised me for including a gay sex scene in my most recent story. This puzzled me since I didn't remember writing one (not that there's anything wrong with that). Then I figured it out:

That particular story had been written in the first-person and I guess I hadn't made it clear enough that that the narrator was a woman, so when she hooked up with a guy at one point, the reader had assumed that "I" was also a guy . . . perhaps because the story was by a male author?

Which just goes to show that first-person is trickier than it looks!
That's because you never go into the details!
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Old September 23 2013, 12:02 AM   #49
Allyn Gibson
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Re: First-person narratives

Christopher wrote: View Post
The thing is, just talking about it as a device out of context, it can't help but feel contrived. It's the wrong way of approaching the question. You don't start with a device and then concoct an excuse for using it. You start with the story and use whatever storytelling mode works for it. If the story needs to be told in alternating first-person chapters headed by the characters' names, then it wouldn't feel awkward (probably). Otherwise, it just feels like an imposition.
Pulling the camera back beyond POV, there are novels and stories that exist because the author wanted to experiment with a narrative device. For instance, David Nicholls' One Day exists because of its narrative device (the story is told in vignettes a year apart on the same day). David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas was built around its narrative device -- the narratives are nested like a Babuskha doll. Perhaps building a story around its narrative device is more common in literary fiction than it is in science-fiction, but it's certainly wrong to say that novelists "don't start with a device and then concoct an excuse for using it." I can't think of a work that was built around its POV in the same way, but that doesn't mean it's not out there. (And I have a hunch there's something very obvious that I'll smack myself in the head for not thinking of.)

On the other hand, I did not intend to write a short story in the form of a Socratic dialogue. It was the right decision, but I didn't plan to do that, and I have a not-terrible draft of the story that was written in the mode that I had envisioned the story (which was a Fritz Leiberesque fantasy, specifically something like "Lean Times in Lankhmar").

In short, writers have different reasons for deciding how they want to write. Some start with the story and decide on the device to get them there. Some start with the device and then decide on the story to use it. And some are given assignments in college creative writing classes where they have to use unexpected narrative elements -- like multiple first person narrators.
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Old September 23 2013, 12:04 AM   #50
Jarvisimo
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Re: First-person narratives

I think what I appreciate most in a first person narrative at its most playful and challenging (when well written) is two-fold. First of all, a psychological veracity or inner perspective mostly inachievable with an omniscient third-person perspective (this can be very simple - a tone and vocabulary distinct from an author's usual conventions). And part of this, yet also separate from it, is the deliberate creation of one or more unreliable narrators. Both of these aspects are on show in, for example, Mary Shelley's onion-layered construction of narrative in Frankenstein, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Gene Wolfe's challenging writer-narrators in his Book of the New Sun and the Soldier of the Mist books, etc.

But I also love it when an author challenges or undermines the omniscient narrator too - I think the tones Una adopted at both the beginning of the Never-Ending Sacrifice (semi-childish or confused) and Brinkmanship (rhetorical) served to challenge the sense of writerly authority in each text well.
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Old September 23 2013, 12:27 AM   #51
Kinokima
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Re: First-person narratives

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
Ah, the danger of writing sex scenes in first-person . . .

True story: Many years ago, I was at a convention when somebody praised me for including a gay sex scene in my most recent story. This puzzled me since I didn't remember writing one (not that there's anything wrong with that). Then I figured it out:

That particular story had been written in the first-person and I guess I hadn't made it clear enough that that the narrator was a woman, so when she hooked up with a guy at one point, the reader had assumed that "I" was also a guy . . . perhaps because the story was by a male author?

Which just goes to show that first-person is trickier than it looks!
LOL well to be fair I have also noticed a lot of readers (and TV/Film viewers) have comprehension issues that have nothing to do with what the author has written.

Also sex scenes are often awkward for me to enjoy in first person or third person. It's a bit TMI for me.
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Old September 23 2013, 12:30 AM   #52
Greg Cox
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Re: First-person narratives

JarodRussell wrote: View Post
Greg Cox wrote: View Post
Ah, the danger of writing sex scenes in first-person . . .

True story: Many years ago, I was at a convention when somebody praised me for including a gay sex scene in my most recent story. This puzzled me since I didn't remember writing one (not that there's anything wrong with that). Then I figured it out:

That particular story had been written in the first-person and I guess I hadn't made it clear enough that that the narrator was a woman, so when she hooked up with a guy at one point, the reader had assumed that "I" was also a guy . . . perhaps because the story was by a male author?

Which just goes to show that first-person is trickier than it looks!
That's because you never go into the details!
Yes, obviously it wasn't a very explicit sex scene!

And, yeah, I kinda wonder how that reader missed the fact that the narrator was nicknamed "Tiger Lily."

(Obviously not a Peter Pan fan.)
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Old September 23 2013, 01:15 AM   #53
Stevil2001
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Re: First-person narratives

Allyn Gibson wrote: View Post
Christopher wrote: View Post
The thing is, just talking about it as a device out of context, it can't help but feel contrived. It's the wrong way of approaching the question. You don't start with a device and then concoct an excuse for using it. You start with the story and use whatever storytelling mode works for it. If the story needs to be told in alternating first-person chapters headed by the characters' names, then it wouldn't feel awkward (probably). Otherwise, it just feels like an imposition.
Pulling the camera back beyond POV, there are novels and stories that exist because the author wanted to experiment with a narrative device. For instance, David Nicholls' One Day exists because of its narrative device (the story is told in vignettes a year apart on the same day). David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas was built around its narrative device -- the narratives are nested like a Babuskha doll. Perhaps building a story around its narrative device is more common in literary fiction than it is in science-fiction, but it's certainly wrong to say that novelists "don't start with a device and then concoct an excuse for using it." I can't think of a work that was built around its POV in the same way, but that doesn't mean it's not out there. (And I have a hunch there's something very obvious that I'll smack myself in the head for not thinking of.)

On the other hand, I did not intend to write a short story in the form of a Socratic dialogue. It was the right decision, but I didn't plan to do that, and I have a not-terrible draft of the story that was written in the mode that I had envisioned the story (which was a Fritz Leiberesque fantasy, specifically something like "Lean Times in Lankhmar").

In short, writers have different reasons for deciding how they want to write. Some start with the story and decide on the device to get them there. Some start with the device and then decide on the story to use it. And some are given assignments in college creative writing classes where they have to use unexpected narrative elements -- like multiple first person narrators.
Martin Amis started with the idea of a story told backwards before coming up with a plot where that would be of benefit in Time's Arrow, or The Nature of the Offense.

The real question is, have there been any second-person Star Trek stories other than the "Which Way" books?
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Old September 23 2013, 01:19 AM   #54
Greg Cox
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Re: First-person narratives

Allyn Gibson wrote: View Post
I can't think of a work that was built around its POV in the same way, but that doesn't mean it's not out there. (And I have a hunch there's something very obvious that I'll smack myself in the head for not thinking of.)
Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca, maybe? The fact that the nameless narrator is, in fact, nameless was no doubt a deliberate choice, since it emphasizes the way the narrator feels eclipsed and overshadowed by the long-dead Rebecca.

You wouldn't have gotten the same effect in third-person:

"The previous night, Mary Sue Smith had dreamed of Manderly again."
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Old September 23 2013, 02:42 AM   #55
Stevil2001
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Re: First-person narratives

Actually, I joked about the second person, but I don't think Bright Lights, Big City could possibly be the same novel in the first or third persons.
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Old September 23 2013, 03:27 AM   #56
Timewalker
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Re: First-person narratives

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
JarodRussell wrote: View Post
Greg Cox wrote: View Post
Ah, the danger of writing sex scenes in first-person . . .

True story: Many years ago, I was at a convention when somebody praised me for including a gay sex scene in my most recent story. This puzzled me since I didn't remember writing one (not that there's anything wrong with that). Then I figured it out:

That particular story had been written in the first-person and I guess I hadn't made it clear enough that that the narrator was a woman, so when she hooked up with a guy at one point, the reader had assumed that "I" was also a guy . . . perhaps because the story was by a male author?

Which just goes to show that first-person is trickier than it looks!
That's because you never go into the details!
Yes, obviously it wasn't a very explicit sex scene!

And, yeah, I kinda wonder how that reader missed the fact that the narrator was nicknamed "Tiger Lily."

(Obviously not a Peter Pan fan.)
By any chance, are you referring to the time travel novel we discussed in PM? (the one about pirates)


The first-person novels I'm most familiar with are () the Gor series. Most are written in first-person, and the one that isn't... well, I haven't gotten to that one yet, and am curious to see if there are as many "walls of text with a few semi-colons thrown in" as most of the others.

(Okay, it was my grandmother who got me started on those books; she saw the front cover of one of the earlier ones and thought it was something like Tarzan, which she approved of. It came as quite a shock to her when my grandfather read one and declared "Dis is da fil'tiest book I ever read!"[imagine a Swedish accent] I was in high school at the time...)

But on the other end of the scale, there's Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. That couldn't possibly be told in anything but first-person; we don't even find out the main character's name!

Steve Mollmann wrote:
The real question is, have there been any second-person Star Trek stories other than the "Which Way" books?
There's a Fighting Fantasy gamebook called Starship Traveler, that's obviously based on Star Trek. Even though it's a solo play book, the player controls the Captain, the Science Officer, Medical Officer, Security Chief, and two Security Guards. To this day I have not managed to solve that book (and don't anybody tell me the solution, either!).
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Old September 23 2013, 03:43 AM   #57
Greg Cox
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Re: First-person narratives

Timewalker wrote: View Post
Greg Cox wrote: View Post
JarodRussell wrote: View Post
That's because you never go into the details!
Yes, obviously it wasn't a very explicit sex scene!

And, yeah, I kinda wonder how that reader missed the fact that the narrator was nicknamed "Tiger Lily."

(Obviously not a Peter Pan fan.)
By any chance, are you referring to the time travel novel we discussed in PM? (the one about pirates)
Oh, definitely not. The Pirate Paradox was a young-adult novel. No sex allowed!

This was a cyberpunk spoof, "Hanna and His Synapses," that I wrote for Aboriginal SF magazine at least twenty-five years ago. Back when a cyberpunk spoof would have still been timely!
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