First-person narratives

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Noddy, Sep 19, 2013.

  1. Timewalker

    Timewalker Cat-lovin', Star Trekkin' Time Lady Premium Member

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    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.
     
  2. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    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.
     
  3. Kinokima

    Kinokima Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    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.
     
  4. JD

    JD Admiral Admiral

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    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.
     
  5. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

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    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."
     
  6. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    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.
     
  7. Kinokima

    Kinokima Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    ^ 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.
     
  8. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    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.)
     
  9. JarodRussell

    JarodRussell Vice Admiral Admiral

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    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.
     
  10. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    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 . . .
     
  11. Kinokima

    Kinokima Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    ^ Even though I am sort of "defending" first person it isn't necessarily my favorite type of book to read either. I think a lot of times first person is strangely enough weak on characterization.

    For example I just read The Forever Wars, which is a great book and excels in its plot but its weak (in my opinion) in terms of characters.

    I think first person works best when there is something unique about that first person perspective. As I mentioned before when the narrator is unreliable. I also tend to like it when the first person is focusing on another character (Watson>>>Holmes)

    I am not really sure if I would like it for Trek literature or not (although I have read some Trek fanfic in the first person which I enjoyed). Of course what I read in terms of Trek lit is very selective in the first place.

    But I am thinking a Trek novel maybe told from the perspective of an Ensign can be interesting (and that way you could also still probably incorporate all the main characters).
     
  12. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    And though I'm "defending" third-person, I should make it clear that I personally dislike writing first-person, not reading it! :)

    Case in point: I really enjoyed Dan Wells' I Am Not a Serial Killer and its sequels, which (as the title implies) are written in first-person from the POV of a teenage boy who is trying very hard not to become a serial killer--despite definite tendencies in that direction. Since the books are, to a large part, all about him wrestling with his own inner demons, it makes sense that you would want to be inside his head the whole book--since that's where most of the conflict is!
     
  13. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    That's basically what Dreadnought! and Battlestations! were -- TOS told from the first-person perspective of a lieutenant in the Enterprise crew, sort of a proto-"Lower Decks."
     
  14. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

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    It's not awkward. Chapters titled with the name of the person who's experiencing it. The chapter from Kirk's POV is called Chapter 1: Kirk. Then Chapter 2: Spock. Chapter 3: Scotty. Et cetera.

    I do agree though - first person has it's places, and doesn't work for everything.
     
  15. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    The question is, what do you gain from doing that--aside from the novelty of it? First-person indeed has its uses, but if third-person would work just as well . . . and without the need for chapter headings . . . ?
     
  16. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Actually that does strike me as a little awkward. I mean, it's been done, but it's a little... self-conscious, it seems.

    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.
     
  17. JD

    JD Admiral Admiral

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    One of the things I like best about first person stories, is that you tend to get a lot more of the character's voice and personality in the narrative.
    You can get that some with some third person stories, but not to the same extent that you do with first person.
     
  18. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    Exactly. It's all about using the right tool in the toolbox. Sure, you can conceivably use a screwdriver as a hammer, but most of the time it's easier just to use a hammer! :)
     
  19. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

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    I agree with that. First person will be just a style choice. I can't imagine a story that can be told using first person that can't be told using limited third person (like the Harry Potter series).
     
  20. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

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    Sounds like you're agreeing with me. It just seems awkward to you because it's taken as a device out of context. By your own admission, if there was a story that suited the "Chapter 1: Kirk" style, then it would be perfectly reasonable and not awkward at all. :p