First-person narratives

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

  1. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    ^Yes, but the point is, just saying "It's not awkward" as a blanket statement doesn't fly for me because whether or not it's awkward depends on whether there's a valid reason for it. My thinking is that it would be awkward except in a narrow set of circumstances.
     
  2. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    Well, granting that ANYTHING is awkward if it is used poorly, I think it's safe to say that the unsaid "...if used when the situation calls for it" went without saying at the end of my claim that first person isn't awkward.
     
  3. Allyn Gibson

    Allyn Gibson Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2000
    Location:
    South Pennsyltucky
    I don't normally read a lot under the Urban Fantasy umbrella, but a few years ago I did read one. There was a book I saw on the shelf, I thought the back cover blurb sounded interesting (and some of the premise hit on some interests of mine), so I picked it up.

    First person present tense.

    I didn't like that, but I accepted it as a valid creative choice the novelist had made.

    And then the first sex scene happened.

    And my brain went, "What. The. Fuck."

    It was an Urban Fantasy, so obviously the protagonist is a twentysomething female. I asked myself, "Who is she telling this story to? Why would she go into this much detail about this and that and this with that person?" Because, here's the thing. The character was, upfront, a con artist who kept things about herself private for Mysterious Reasons(TM), so who could she possibly be telling this story to, in this much detail, including the sex scenes?

    Yes, there were more than one.

    And this wasn't a first novel. This was a seventh or eighth novel from the novelist. From a major New York publisher. I couldn't imagine how the editor didn't say, "Your POV choices are sabotaging your story." There was a good story underneath, but first person was the wrong way to tell it in this particular case.
     
  4. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2001
    Location:
    2010
    I don't believe that every first-person story implies someone is actually telling the story to someone else (As I Lay Dying would make absolutely no sense in that case) any more than I believe that every third-person story means someone out there can read anyone's mind at will.
     
  5. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    ^Fair point. Although a lot of first-person stories are presented as someone's actual written or narrated account.
     
  6. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

    Joined:
    May 12, 2004
    Location:
    Oxford, PA
    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! :)
     
  7. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2001
    Location:
    2010
    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.
     
  8. JarodRussell

    JarodRussell Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2009
    That's because you never go into the details! ;)
     
  9. Allyn Gibson

    Allyn Gibson Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2000
    Location:
    South Pennsyltucky
    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.
     
  10. Jarvisimo

    Jarvisimo Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2011
    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.
     
  11. Kinokima

    Kinokima Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2013
    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. :lol:
     
  12. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

    Joined:
    May 12, 2004
    Location:
    Oxford, PA
    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.)
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2013
  13. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2001
    Location:
    2010
    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?
     
  14. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

    Joined:
    May 12, 2004
    Location:
    Oxford, PA
    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."
     
  15. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2001
    Location:
    2010
    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.
     
  16. Timewalker

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

    Joined:
    May 26, 2007
    Location:
    In many different universes, simultaneously.
    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 (:alienblush:) 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!

    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!).
     
  17. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

    Joined:
    May 12, 2004
    Location:
    Oxford, PA
    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! :)