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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » What makes for a good 1st person narrator? (Page 1)

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Author Topic: What makes for a good 1st person narrator?
robertq
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Hey all,

I read somewhere that Conan Doyle has one Sherlock Holmes story written from Holmes' pov. I read in the same place that it doesn't work. (Maybe because Holmes makes the reader feel stupid, hence Dr. Watson is a better choice.)

So...who are your favorite first person narrators, and why do you think they "work"?

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MartinV
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I would like to see how Holmes' POV makes a reader feel stupid. Some people actually can keep up with dear old Holmes, I imagine.
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babooher
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Nick Carraway is such a good first person narrator it often becomes easy to forget that Gatsby is first person.

First person has, to me, always seemed like a natural block to reader immersion. The filter from the narrator tends to be blatant and thus psychic distance is greater. Fitzgerald's use of first person works so well because Nick isn't all that involved in the story. Yes, he's there, but normally only as an observer. He fades away and lets the reader see what is going on instead of crying "look at what I'm doing!" He is conspiratorial with the reader and my benchmark for good first person.

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C@R3Y
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I know this isn't on the same level as your choices, but truthfully, I like James Patterson when it comes to first person narration. I feel as if he can really relate to the reader. He keeps me engaged and makes me feel apart of the story, more so than other author's can.
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Robert Nowall
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Two. "The Blanched Soldier" and "The Lion's Mane"...there are two third-person Conan Doyle Holmes stories, too, and a couple of the novels have omniscient narrators for stretches.

For the Academy Award for Best First Person Narrator, I'd pick P. G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster---you have this idiot telling this tale, and very skillfully, but leaving no doubt in your mind that he's also an idiot. (There were a couple stories narrated by Jeeves, too.)

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Crystal Stevens
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The first one to come to mind is the Dresden Files books. Jim Butcher makes you feel like your hearing a story told by your very best friend... like you know Harry on a deep, personal level. It's a style I truly like and can get in to so deeply that I find it hard to put the book down.

Second would be Robert Asprin's Myth series. I wasn't real fond of the later books, but the earlier ones came across real well when told from Skeeves POV. I think the key here is because Skeeve is the modest type and likes to praise his friends rather than himself... which makes the reader feel more sympathy for Skeeve.

I know there's another one I wanted to mention, but you think I can think of it now? Crap, but I hate when that happens. Well, maybe later.

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robertq
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Hi all,

babooher's comment strikes me as interesting. There seems to be a subtle distinction between the "immersive" first person narrator, where we as the reader pick up the cadences and rhythms of another person's mind, and the "observer" narrator. (I posted this because there was this story I read on another workshop, and the 1st person narrator was so dreary I wanted to off myself half-way through reading it.) Babooher---question for you. Do you think some readers just can't stand first-person? Robert N., thanks for the Bertie Wooster recommendation. I'll have to check that out.

Thanks all!

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robertq
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Crystal, THANKS. I'll have to check those out. I like Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. But I haven't really thought much about why the character is so appealing. Possibly the Jersey "voice" combined with the intimate knowledge of "the Burg."
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extrinsic
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Strong narrator identity is one feature of well-crafted first-person narration. Two, author surrogacy quality appropriate to audience age group tolerance. Author surrogacy goes by other names: Mary Sue and Marty Stew for viewpoint character self-idealization and self-efficacy that call undue attention to the narrator's centrality to the action. In other words, flawlessly faultless and eminently, easily capable of surmounting all problems. Also, first-person narrators are prone to excessive artless summary and explanation recital telling readers what's happening. Those are reasons why narratives like Sherlock Holmes in first-person are challenging to write.

First-person that works exceptionally arfully establishes narrator identity through idiosyncracy, idiom, identity markers, and passionate interactions with other characters and settings, and stays away from telling and faultless nobility and easy problem-solving capability. Mark Richard, pronounced Raychard, he's a bayou beau, writes extraordinary first-person narratives. His best known work is a short story collection: The Ice at the Bottom of the World. "Her Favorite Story" is my favorite.

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rcmann
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Conan Doyle made First Person work well, IMO, in The Lost World. He did it in the form of journal entries and correspondence, which is as old as the Bible. Which by the way, is another book where First Person POV is carried off effectively.

In The Lost World, he isn't talking ot the reader directly. We are eavesdropping on a conversation that Malone has with his editor, and/or sneaking looks into his personal journal.

Come to think of it, Watson writes First Person in all of the other Holmes stories too. We are just so used to it that we don't think about it. I read a ACD story with Holmes as narrator. It doesn't work because we know that Holmes has the answer immediately, but he deliberately conceals it from us and admits it to the reader so as to keep us reading. It reads more like technical writing, like an inspection report where the writer is deliberately taunting you.

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MattLeo
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Well, first or third person, the narrator has to be somebody we enjoy listening to. And the narrator should narrate the POV which serves the story best.

Holmes as a narrator has problems on both these counts. First, unlike Watson, he's not a very likable fellow; Watson's narration has a charm and warmth that Holmes lacks. This is compounded by the second problem, which is the Holmes's is not the right POV to tell the stories from. Watson can be mystified, doubt the explanation, raise objections that the reader would have. Holmes has to *proffer* the amazing explanation to the reader himself, in which case we get the full force of his intellectual arrogance unfiltered.

I've said many times that the best first person narration I can think of is Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody detective stories. Some might not like Amelia's Victorian sensibilities. There's a certain arrogance to her point of view, but unlike Holmes she is very fallible, which is what makes her likable. Amelia is an honest but unreliable narrator. She paints the picture of herself she has in her head, but the fun is deducing the picture that is behind her monumental lack of self-awareness.

In any case, I don't think there has to be such a big stylistic gulf between first person and third person limited narration. Third person limited has some practical advantages, first person allows you to speak in the character's voice more vividly than you can in free indirect speech. But in any case most narrators are blander than they ought to be, so the difference is less than it might be.

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babooher
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"Babooher---question for you. Do you think some readers just can't stand first-person?"

Yes,some people can't stand it. If I have two equally attractive stories to read, but one is 1st person pov while the other is 3rd, I'd almost always choose the 3rd person pov first. I've written in both, I read both, but I prefer 3rd.

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LDWriter2
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My first thought was Butcher but Crystal did a better job of explaining it then I would have.

However Butcher does remind me that most UF is First Person. I like C. E. Murphy's Walker Papers. And Laura Anne Gilman's Cosa Nostradamus Novels. Two series. I don't know about her Vineart world books.

Then there's Seanan McGuira's first series. She just started a second. Great stuff.

And Lisa's Shearin's fantasy series-Raine Benares

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robertq
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Hello extrinsic,

when you say,

Mary Sue and Marty Stew for viewpoint character self-idealization and self-efficacy that call undue attention to the narrator's centrality to the action.

I need a bit more clarification, perhaps an example or two. Thanks.

Robert

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extrinsic
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Mary Sue and Marty Stew (or Stu) came out of fanfiction, where a writer inserted him or herself into a well-known milieu of a famous writer. They were invariably characters who had no flaws, no problems, and no troubles, thus no plot to speak of and flat characters. I think of them as tourists visiting milieus in person through writing themselves into episodic scenes that aren't well-developed either.

Mary Sue is the sweetest girl, drop-dead beautiful, of course, who loves kitties and puppies, aah, oooh, and fuzzy-wuzzies, and is everyone's best friend, including girls who are less fortunate than her and she nobly helps better themselves, and has loads of flawless handsome boys vying for her affection that she's platonic in returning and no one's feelings are ever hurt. She has personal charm that melts any being's monstrosity away like it was snow on a summer day. She's always in the right place at the right time and everyone looks to her for direction and gladly, eagerly follow her lead without resistance or complaint. She always comes up with the best plans and everyone compliments her on her smarts. Her way is always the best. And so on. Marty Stew is the male counterpart.

[ June 09, 2012, 02:38 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MartinV
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Twilight in a nutshell. And yet I hear those books sold well.

Sometimes trying to be a good writer doesn't mean that much to readers. I think we worry too much about making the plot interesting.

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MattLeo
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Well,I read *Twilight* with an open mind. People dismiss it too readily because it's not their cup of tea. My sense is that Meyer is a talented writer who needed a few more rounds of rejection to force her to improve her craft (particularly her dreadful dialogue). She suffers from just the problem extrinsic is talking about: the writer's personal wish-fulfillment bleeding through into the characterization.

This gets back to narrating a POV we want to share. Bella Swan (!!!) is obviously the kind of larger-than-life character many readers would like to imagine themselves as. Where would be without wish fulfillment? The problem with Bella isn't that she is *perfect*; the problem is that she is so unaware of her defects. So apparently is her author, who provides Bella with nothing but affirmation for her self-centeredness.

The problem with such secure characters is that it's hard to give them meaningful character arcs. Perhaps worse, readers with a mature self-awareness and sense of irony can't join in the fun of suspending disbelief, which is why the backlash against *Twilight* is so visceral. When I read *Twilight* with my objective critiquing hat on, I saw a promising but ham-handed manuscript that needed a little work to make it less obvious.

Fiction is like stage magic. You want to produce the illusion, even for people who are paying close attention.

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Robert Nowall
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Have you ever read Laura---not the movie with Gene Tierney, but the novel by Vera Caspary? The narration trades among several different first-person characters, each of whom has his or her own voice as he or she tells his or her part of the story. (It's reported out of print again, but you might be able to scrounge up a copy. The movie's pretty good, but it won't tell you what you want to know.)
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extrinsic
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I felt Meyer writes Bella with a few shallow defects that reveal more about her narcissism than her genuine character. She views herself as the ugly duckling beauty taming the savage beast. She feels guilt for keeping secrets from her parents. She's torn between Edward and Jacob, who doesn't quite float her boat and is guilty about not giving him what he wants, and other suitors. She gets into sticky situations from her daring flaunting of parental guidance but is an easily rescued damsel in distress. Oh, save me from myself! Eyelids flutter, romantic-minded women fein faints, tears gush, gentlemen offer handkerchiefs.

I liked one feature of the novel, and I assume the saga: the mixed messages many self-ordained moral authorities reject, that of it's okay to strive for social elitism as long as you go about it nobly. Ha ha ha. A perfect cognitive dissonance for the target audience to reconcile.

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LDWriter2
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I've heard of Mary Sue for seven years or so but this is the first time I recall hearing about Marty. And extrinsic that was one of the better definitions of her that I've read.


I haven't read Twilight--I like to say that I rejected it before it became well known--but if the comments here are accurate then I think it is a good example.


And extrinsic
quote:
I liked one feature of the novel, and I assume the saga: the mixed messages many self-ordained moral authorities reject, that of it's okay to strive for social elitism as long as you go about it nobly. Ha ha ha. A perfect cognitive dissonance for the target audience to reconcile.
I wonder how many readers really dig into it that much so they have to reconcile it.
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extrinsic
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LDWriter2,

Thank you for liking my Mary Sue definition.

The genius of artful persuasion delivers a message without calling undue attention to it. A target audience doesn't have to reconcile selfish striving for elitism with selfless nobility, though Meyer sets a solid example through Bella of how one might go about it.

[ June 09, 2012, 01:23 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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Wow, extrinsic, you make *Twilight* sound like Henry James' *Washington Square*. ,-)
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redux
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quote:
Originally posted by MartinV:
Twilight in a nutshell. And yet I hear those books sold well.

Sometimes trying to be a good writer doesn't mean that much to readers. I think we worry too much about making the plot interesting.

Its fanfic counterpart 50 Shades of Grey also comes to mind as a book with poor writing but that sold well. A creature of curiosity, I partially listened to the audio book on YouTube. At one point, the protagonist reads out the infamous contract - the entire thing - word for word! I couldn't believe my ears! That actually shocked me more than its prurient content.

Anyhow...going back to the issue of first person...my opinion is that it is rarely done well, but when it is, it is a gem of a story. And how does one do first person well? It requires a very strong narrative voice, one that is preferably not obsessed with starting every single sentence with "I."

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
Wow, extrinsic, you make *Twilight* sound like Henry James' *Washington Square*. ,-)

Twilight does have some redeeming literary merits.
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robertq
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MattLeo states:

Perhaps worse, readers with a mature self-awareness and sense of irony can't join in the fun of suspending disbelief, which is why the backlash against *Twilight* is so visceral. When I read *Twilight* with my objective critiquing hat on, I saw a promising but ham-handed manuscript that needed a little work to make it less obvious.

So some of the problems one sees in first-person-done-poorly are as follows:

-the author preaching through the narrator
-the ridiculously perfect narrator
-the narrator with too much or too little self-awareness to be useful in creating plots (?)
-the narrator that you wouldn't want to be partnered-with at a job, much less sharing the intimacies of their thoughts, feelings, and decision-making

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robertq
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Hey extrinsic,
I've ordered "The Ice at the Bottom of the World."

Robert N. I've ordered "The Code of the Woosters" and am intrigued by Laura.


MattLeo states:
Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody detective stories. Some might not like Amelia's Victorian sensibilities. There's a certain arrogance to her point of view, but unlike Holmes she is very fallible, which is what makes her likable. Amelia is an honest but unreliable narrator. She paints the picture of herself she has in her head, but the fun is deducing the picture that is behind her monumental lack of self-awareness.

That's quite intriguing. I read a Locus review of a book about this pre-adolescent boy who thinks the magician has hired him to be an apprentice, and it's obvious to the reader that the kid's just supposed to be a servant, so that's much of the fun of the story.

MattLeo also states:

In any case, I don't think there has to be such a big stylistic gulf between first person and third person limited narration. Third person limited has some practical advantages, first person allows you to speak in the character's voice more vividly than you can in free indirect speech.

Interesting. As I said, the reason I posted this was reading a first-person manuscript whose narrator was so blasted dreary and nasty I felt slimed. This was an "immersive" first person. I'm wondering if there's a way to do first-person without being so immersive? I'd think you lose the advantages of first person, which is an intimacy that is impossible in real life.

Robert

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MattLeo
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quote:
Interesting. As I said, the reason I posted this was reading a first-person manuscript whose narrator was so blasted dreary and nasty I felt slimed. This was an "immersive" first person. I'm wondering if there's a way to do first-person without being so immersive? I'd think you lose the advantages of first person, which is an intimacy that is impossible in real life.
I often find that writers are bad because they take a superficial approach to obtaining some effect and never look back. If they want horror, they throw buckets of blood at you. If they want the story to be romantic, they give you clinical depictions of sexual acts.

In other words they write stupidly. A great writer gets to the heart of the emotion he's trying to evoke.

Take John Bellairs' fantasy novel *The Face in the Frost*. In one scene he makes a cloak hanging on a hook more horrifying than any overtly ghoulish scene I've ever read, because he understands that horror is the product of not being sure of what you're dealing with. Is it alive or inanimate? Is the shadow empty or does something lurk there?

So I suspect the story you're talking about is aiming for a certain response but going about it in the wrong way, at least for you.

I'm not sure what you're talking about when you say "I'm wondering if there's a way to do first-person without being so immersive?" Perhaps you are asking whether the narrator can convey things which he doesn't want the reader to know? Or lead the reader to opinions he does not want the reader to have? I'd say yes, and yes.

One of the great examples of this is Browning poem "My Last Duchess" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Last_Duchess), in which the persona reveals himself to be unself-consciously vicious, yet somehow also contemptibly banal. He's tell the servant of his intended bride's father how he murdered his last wife (and finds her excellent portrait more than adequate substitute). He doesn't neglect to mention the matter of dowry he expects to receive, which he will no doubt turn into more art acquisitions. He is more revealing than he intends to be because he mistakenly assumes his audience will see the things he talks about the same way he does.

This kind of thing is quite common in real life, where someone tries to persuade you in one direction but without realizing it pushes you in an entirely different one. It comes from things like presuming the hearer will automatically feel the same way about things that you do, or failing to see the obvious hypocrisy in what you are saying. It comes from giving the hearer enough information to come to a different conclusion than the one you present to him.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I tried to post here yesterday, but the keyboard on this laptop is weird (to me, at least), and I hit some key that lost everything I'd typed. Bleah!

Anyway, it never ceases to amaze me at how differently others see Bella Swan in the Twilight series. The author did not intend for her to be whiny or wishy-washy or self-centered or narcisstic. How do I know? Because of a segment of the first book that Meyer wrote from Edward Cullen's point of view, which she posted on the internet, and in which she had Edward talk about his realization that she doesn't EVER think about her own safety or her own desires, and in fact, she is extremely self-sacrificing. (Consider: she moves from her beloved, sunny Arizona to dreary, rainy Forks so that her mother can have private time with her new husband and not have to be distracted by a daughter, for one example.) And I saw her that way before I ever read the segment from Edward's point of view.

The problem with a first-person narrator is that a person who is actually self-sacrificing is never going to think of themself that way, so that information has to come to the reader through more subtle methods. This is true of any first-person point of view character with any kind of truly noble characteristics. It's easy for a first-person narrator to brag, but it's extremely difficult for one to be believably humble.

I consider it very sad that Meyer failed in conveying Bella Swan's true nature to so many of her readers. I confess that I only realized it after I read THE HOST (with another self-sacrificing first-person pov character) though I liked Bella even so. Meyer may not have been very skilled at characterization, at least in this way, but I think she is an amazing storyteller, and I think that's what has appealed to her many readers.

[ June 11, 2012, 04:08 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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robertq
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury

The problem is that a first-person narrator is that a person who is actually self-sacrificing is never going to think of themself that way, so that information has to come to the reader through more subtle methods.

Thabks Kathleen. Koontz does a nice job of this in "Odd Thomas."

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Robert Nowall
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I didn't hear the term "Mary Sue" or "Marty Stu" until I tried my hand at Internet Fan Fiction myself---up till then I would have thought of it as autobiographical writing, but I see the point. I avoided it myself, except for one oddball scene I gave to somebody's "fragments" site...it contained the kernel of an idea I might develop sometime, but not with fanfic.

*****

Most of the Wodehouse commentators think Joy in the Morning is Wodehouse's masterpiece, but The Code of the Woosters is also among his greatest works and a good start. You might check out a collection of Jeeves & Wooster short stories, too...

*****

Kathleen: Almost you make me regret I haven't read Twilight...

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extrinsic
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Self-effacement is one method for showing character flaws in any grammatical person. In introspection or conversation mode, challenging to pull off though, too easy to come across to readers as fishing for compliments, which spoils the effect. Though that has artful potential if that's the intended effect.

Unintended self-effacement from situational irony actions, now that's a method that's not as challenging and potentially artful. Say Mary Sue has a flaw she tries ever so hard to conceal, but trying to conceal it makes it more pronounced. The meaning is the opposite of intent. That's situational irony. Or whenever Mary Sue tries to stride confidently into a room full of partygoers, her high heels slip and she stumbles. Marty Stew might brag about his prowess and then when prompted to prove it, as he logically will be, he awkwardly fails.

One first principle of fiction drama is a guiding aspect: put characters in passionate opposition; contention, clash, confrontation. I think that's one shortcoming area Meyer let down in developing Bella's character. She has few difficult interactions with those closest to her, who through more passionately clashing with them, Bella's character could have been more richly developed, more rounded. For first-person this is especially useful. A narrator can't hold her or himself out for judgment, but others can and logically will.

Twilight is for me an exceptional narrative for dissecting what works and what doesn't, lots of both to masticate on, but is nontheless a successful narrative. For those reasons alone, I think it's a worthwhile read.

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MattLeo
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Well, Kathleen, I'm not one of those people who make hating *Twilight* a litmus test of literary taste. I aware of both its merits and shortcomings.

When we first meet Bella, she's a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. A certain cocksure, judgmental callowness is normal and forgivable in a character that age, and I thought the set-up for a terrific coming of age story that didn't quite materialize, because Meyer didn't see the shortcomings in the character she created.

I hadn't thought about this, but the villain in my current WIP is very much like a more cunning and aggressive Bella. She thinks she's doing good when she's doing evil, because she doesn't question the rightness of her point of view. She judges other people and assigns them roles in a story she has in her head featuring herself as the virtuous, self-sacrificing heroine. Her intent is to be self-sacrificing, but she doesn't give the people she is sacrificing for any choice in the matter, nor is she moved by the sacrifices she is imposing on people she's cast as bit players.

Of course Bella isn't like this at all because Meyers has contrived the universe so that Bella's juvenile understanding is substantially correct -- or at least never wrong in a way with serious moral consequences. This combination of being correct and self-righteous makes Bella the morally best person in her universe. But take that same attitude and put it into a character who has the misfortune to be seriously wrong and that character must either grow up or become a villain. That's a different kind of story though, and appeals to different kinds of readers.

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MartinV
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Gods beneath us, what have I done? From Mary Sue to Twilight and now the whole thread is polluted.

AARGH!!!

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Crystal Stevens
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quote:
Originally posted by robertq:
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury

The problem is that a first-person narrator is that a person who is actually self-sacrificing is never going to think of themself that way, so that information has to come to the reader through more subtle methods.

Thabks Kathleen. Koontz does a nice job of this in "Odd Thomas."

Ah HAH! Odd Thomas! I knew there was another excellent example of 1st person that slipped my mind. I loved all the Odd Thomas books by Dean Koontz.

I'll admit right up front that I never read the books, but Bella didn't even come close to coming through as self-sacrificing in the movies. On the contrary; she appeared to be nothing but a spoiled brat with her father indulging her every whim (I only saw the first two and should've stopped on the first one.).

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MattLeo
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quote:
Gods beneath us, what have I done? From Mary Sue to Twilight and now the whole thread is polluted.
I find discussion of Twilight fascinating. Say what you will, they are books that elicit strong reactions one way or the other. Most manuscripts I see and indeed most published books are unlikely to be loved or hated by anyone but their authors. They'll generate either mild liking or indifference. They won't *matter* enough to anyone to debate.

So I'd say Meyer did something right for some people and something wrong for others. The really interesting question is whether those things are one and the same. I think most people on either side of the debate simply assume they are fighting over the same things when they may well be just talking past each other. When you assume your reaction to a book is objective and authoritative you preclude learning anything from it or being able to discuss it in any useful way.

People who want to be writers and not just fans need to be able to set aside their feelings when they study a work, to separate their reaction from their understanding of craft.

Which is not to say feelings are useless in critique -- it's *unexamined* and *unanalyzed* feelings that are useless, whether those feelings are positive or negative. I make extensive use of my feelings when giving critical feedback, but I never just hand an author a verdict as if it means anything to anyone but me. Even if I *like* something, I might like it for a reason which doesn't suit the author. If I dislike something, maybe I dislike it for a reason that doesn't apply to the audience the author is addressing.

I approach a critique of a book almost as a critique of myself, which is what makes the exercise valuable.

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LDWriter2
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This may have been covered in different words but when I Kathleen's post about the person being self sacrificing will never admit it in First Person, I thought First person can also show that the person that is sacrificing self may not be completely altruistic. There could be hidden motives the person thinks but no one else can see.

There could also be a hint about why the person is willing to sacrifice. Or the fear that comes close to or actually did paralyze the person for a moment.

Martin I thought about saying so you're the one to blame but I decided not to.

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extrinsic
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What an exciting topic first-person is, and a dynamic discussion to boot. Lest it be overlooked, another of first-person's challenges, strengths, or shortcomings touched upon above here and there is its subjectivity. It's subject to question and challenge and bias. A first-person narrator must maintain a degree of credibility or be subject to incredulity, either of which or both when artfully managed has potent potential. Though not exclusive to first-person, first-person narrators can be artfully biased to some degree great or small. First-person is a voice of bias since the reporting comes from a frail individual's questionable perspective.

Do I trust the narrator or not and is the intent and meaning of the narrator's biased reporting or portrayal trustworthy and meaningful within the context of the narrative? I don't know which I favor more; a somewhat biased narrator striving to conceal faults but revealing them nonetheless, which signals a visionary writer facile with situational irony, or a somewhat unbiased narrator who's visionary and mystical, mystically transcending bias to explicate an artful truth of the human condition. Maybe both. I mean explicate in the sense of develop new knowledge through creative writing's persuasive application.

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rcmann
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I have tried writing first person in several stories. To me, it's harder to pull off when writing as an observer than when you are writing as the protagonist who is reporting past events. In other words, it's harder for me to write a good Watson than a good Malone.

Does anyone else have that problem? Or its reverse?

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Foste
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Today: "Good 1st person recipe" with your affable chef Foste.

The theory recipe:

-Good voice
-A pinch of unreliability
-A likable personage

The practical recipe

-Write a novel in 7 days
-Feel smug about your accomplishment
-Read the sodden thing
-Realize you are an idiot and made too many mistakes
-Utter a classic Kurtz-esque "THE HORROR!" and learn from your mistakes.

Thanks for tuning in.

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MattLeo
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quote:
To me, it's harder to pull off when writing as an observer than when you are writing as the protagonist who is reporting past events. In other words, it's harder for me to write a good Watson than a good Malone.

Does anyone else have that problem? Or its reverse?

Well, like I said I don't find first and third person all that different, since when I write in third person I do third person limited. Omniscience isn't a factor one way or the other.

Advantages of Third Person Limited (in my experience):

* I can tell you things because I want to tell you them; in first person the *narrator* has to have a motivation for saying everything on the page.

* I can distance myself from the POV character and slip an occasional editorial opinion under your nose.

* I can introduce information outside the protagonist's knowledge by writing scenes from other character's POV, or even information that has no POV at all (sparingly).

Advantages of First Person:

* I can write completely in the voice of the protagonist, if that is interesting. Note that I like to write in the voice of the POV character even in third person, but I feel I must use a slightly more formal tone so you don't notice and wonder why I didn't use first person.

* I have another layer of meaning to play with. In third person limited I've got only what the POV character thinks, and what actually *is*. In first person I ALSO have what the narrator *wants you to think*. In third person limited the narrator can report mistaken opinions but he can't *lie*.

I'd say conclusive reasons for using third person limited over first person would be if you need to have scenes from more than one POV, if you need to editorialize independently of the protagonist, or if you need to introduce other information that would be outside the protagonist's knowledge and remain so in retrospect.

A conclusive reason to use first person is if you have a narrator who has a compelling voice (Huck Finn), or if you need the narrator to be deceptive but caught out by attentive readers.

There's only one thing that is much, much harder to do in first person: create suspense or anxiety over the fate of the protagonist. Still, some authors manage to do this, so it's not impossible. Otherwise I'd say if there's no compelling reason to choose one style of narration I'd go by how interesting I think the protagonist's voice would be.

One thing I have found is that early drafts of first person narratives come out with smaller word counts for me. Has anyone else experienced this?

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
I have tried writing first person in several stories. To me, it's harder to pull off when writing as an observer than when you are writing as the protagonist who is reporting past events. In other words, it's harder for me to write a good Watson than a good Malone.

Does anyone else have that problem? Or its reverse?

I rigidly avoid first-person due to its challenges and subjectivity. I think developing third-person close first is an effective method to learn artful first-person. But readers who've read my third- and first-person, and second-person, by the way, some fourth-person, say I have a stronger first-person voice. Tense too. Fiction's delightful immediate past-present for its objectivity and firmness is my strongest voice. Though I'm working on implementing present tense for its subjectivity and uncertainty strengths. If I could only get a stronger handle on my, at times, overly burdensome progressive present.

My first-persons have low word counts for raw drafts. But they start to shine and expand during rewiting and revision when I add missing conversation context to dialogue and recast indirect discourse as direct discourse, especially from converting summary and explanation recital to mimesis.

[ June 10, 2012, 10:07 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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LDWriter2
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I've been doing a lot of First Person lately, perhaps because I'm reading so much of it. Most is in UF but not all. And with me even some SF has been done in First. It's almost become my new default style.

I don't find it any harder than Third but than again if it's like the rest of my writing I'm probably making all types of mistakes that I'm not seeing.

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redux
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http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v32n2/roxburgh.pdf

The link is to a very good article about the Young Adult Novel which also discusses first person PoV.

I hope you find it as informative as I did [Smile]

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shimiqua
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Matt Leo said,

quote:
She suffers from just the problem extrinsic is talking about: the writer's personal wish-fulfillment bleeding through into the characterization.
What's wrong with wish fulfillment? Half of the reasons people read is to escape, and live in a world where things make sense. Good conquers evil. Happy endings. That kind of thing.

Wish fulfillment sells. I don't see it as a problem.

I like first person because of how deep it immerses. I prefer it when done well.

I think the secret to doing it well is to write honest characters with honest voice. If a writer can't do that, then they should stick to third.

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MAP
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quote:
Originally posted by shimiqua:
Matt Leo said,

quote:
She suffers from just the problem extrinsic is talking about: the writer's personal wish-fulfillment bleeding through into the characterization.
What's wrong with wish fulfillment? Half of the reasons people read is to escape, and live in a world where things make sense. Good conquers evil. Happy endings. That kind of thing.

Wish fulfillment sells. I don't see it as a problem.

I like first person because of how deep it immerses. I prefer it when done well.

I think the secret to doing it well is to write honest characters with honest voice. If a writer can't do that, then they should stick to third.

I agree with you that a lot of readers like a little wish fulfillment with happy endings and all that. But if an author is too attached to the MC, the author doesn't let the MC really suffer, and a character who suffers earns sympathy while a character who everything always works out perfectly for can become annoying.

I think this was the problem with Bella (especially in the last book). She never really had to suffer (well, except for her pregnancy). She never had to make tough decisions or deal with the consequences for her choices. She becomes the perfect vampire without the blood lust. She gets the baby, the husband, the eternal life and beauty, and still gets Charlie in her life. She chooses Edward and Jacob is fine with that because he imprints. No one she loves ever dies or gets seriously injured. Everything just works out so perfect for her, and I think that is why so many people find her annoying, and why she comes off as a Mary Sue.

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redux
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Poor Bella, she is isn't the only victim of wish fulfillment novels. One could make the case that Percy Jackson suffers a similar fate. Who wouldn't want to discover that all those school problems are really the result of being the son of an Olympian god? But the real icing on the cake is that he's the child mentioned in the Prophecy with a capital P.
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robertq
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I think I'm going to start a Twilight Thread.
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extrinsic
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The ancients favored tragedy over comedy. Aristotle claims tragedy is the pinnacle of dramatic arts. Freytag does too, though he allows comedy has merits and might in his culture's future, our present-day culture prevail, which it has. Prophetic.

I like beautifully tragic outcomes. Though I root for a protagonist to go from the misery of bad fortunes to good fortunes, I like for the outcome to be in doubt until at least the transformation crisis, if not the denouement act. Too many dramas telegraph comedy outcomes, favorable outcomes fulfilling wishes, leaves me wanting tragic outcomes, hoping a heroine or hero will have to make a noble sacrifice in order to achieve a greater good. I especially like when a hero makes a noble sacrifice for a greater good, survives the sacrifice at a degree of significantly worse for the wear, but privately experiences a profound personal growth as the final outcome. That's tragically beautiful comedy.

Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games gets a two out of three rating from me for Katniss almost managing that. Not much in the way of personal growth transformation in the denouement act.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by redux:
http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v32n2/roxburgh.pdf

The link is to a very good article about the Young Adult Novel which also discusses first person PoV.

I hope you find it as informative as I did [Smile]

Outstanding critical analysis. One point I would add: Craft and, therefore, causation, plot, character, and voice, is fundamentally based on a problem wanting satisfaction.

One minor-minor grammatical contention I have with academic writers: They are prone to leaving off the comma that follows a sentence adverb or adverbial clause. This is a feature of journalism's space consciousness that claims a preceding dependent clause of fewer than five words may and should omit the comma, regardless of whether the clause is restrictive or nonrestrictive. Not in my book, for writing elegant, easily accessible prose.

[ June 11, 2012, 04:34 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
I have tried writing first person in several stories. To me, it's harder to pull off when writing as an observer than when you are writing as the protagonist who is reporting past events. In other words, it's harder for me to write a good Watson than a good Malone.

Does anyone else have that problem? Or its reverse?

The interesting thing to me about Watson as a first person narrator is the reason I think Doyle chose to write the Sherlock Holmes stories that way. To my mind, whenever you have a main character (and/or protagonist--I believe there are differences between the two) who is "larger than life" or for whom you want your readers to feel awe and/or to consider mysterious, you need an "everyman" narrator (whether first or third person pov) who also feels awe and mystery toward that character. (I hope that made sense.)

Watson tries to figure out what's going on, and he's not stupid (one of the things I love about the recent Holmes movies--and which I believe are in the recent SHERLOCK BBC series, though I haven't seen any but the first episode). But Watson is a mere human, like the rest of us, and Holmes is "larger than life."

Choosing an "everyman" pov helps the reader to feel impressed by the "larger than life" character. I submit that this is also what Tolkien did in keeping the pov in LORD OF THE RINGS with the hobbits as much as possible, so that the readers would be more in awe of the elves and of Gandalf and of Aragorn and so on. While there are times when the reader is in Aragorn's point of view, they are times of struggle and uncertainty for Aragorn. Once he commits to his path and moves forward, the reader is never in his head again.

I hope this helps a little with the idea of writing a Watson-like character, at least.

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