Selecting a narrative style is a really important step in the writing prep process. Many times, I start down a path and get to a certain point and decide that the narrative perspective just doesn’t work. Some people say that writing in first person smacks of the “first-time novelist.” But then you see best sellers utilizing this narrative voice. So what exactly is the ideal voice and how do you choose?
First of all, I don’t know that there is an ideal voice. First person, third person, omniscient, they all bring something interesting to the table and provide a unique perspective. But, you can make informed decisions about what’s best for your story that will potentially keep you from having to backtrack and rewrite.
The Green Lady started out as a first-person short story and then morphed into a first-person novel which then needed to be changed to third person. Withered World, on the other hand went through the opposite path of metamorphosis. It started out as a third person novel and moved to first. In fact, the story had an additional 20,000 words of a completely different character’s perspective that showed the process of how the Curare became enslaved. After I wrote it, I decided that it was boring. So I dumped it.
Anyway, it’s clear that I myself have had issues with deciding what narrative voice to choose for my projects. After completing Withered World, I’ve learned that first person is really hard and I hope I never write another story that way. One of the most difficult things about writing from this perspective is that you can’t reveal physical details about the narrator that they can’t see themselves For example, you can’t talk about eyes dilating to express fear because there’s no way the narrator can see this unless he or she is looking in a mirror (and that would be really weird). A character can’t sense that sort of physical change in him/herself. The writer then has to work REALLY hard to come up with other ways to reveal emotions to readers.
Another difficult part of first-person narration is you can’t get into other characters heads. In my writing, there are a couple of places where I did this and got questions back from beta readers asking ‘how does she know this?’ You have to be very mindful of what you’re doing if you choose the first person style.
Despite the difficulties, first person narration was ultimately a good choice for Withered World. My narrator is a seventeen-year-old girl, so I had the challenge of being up in her head, which at times was endlessly frustrating, but also was really revealing and great for the awkward and budding relationship she has with Leo. You get to see her in all her awkward internal monologue glory.
Right now, I’m trying to decide on the best narrative perspective to use for NightWind. Originally, I was thinking a dual plot line with back and forth chapters between the title character, Rion, and the lead male character. Third person is definitely the order of the day. The struggle right now is, what story will I be telling from the man’s perspective? He’ll be, basically, a POW for the majority of the story. Is there much that I can do with him that advances the actual narrative itself? I’m not sure yet. Obviously I have more to think about with this.
Ultimately, I think selecting the right narrative perspective or storytelling mechanisms comes down to prep work. If I do enough prep work, then I’ll know the right narrative perspective to use and I won’t end up having to redo my work and change to a different path. As you approach your own projects, be sure to take time to think about what perspective makes the most sense. What narrative will be the most interesting and the most revealing? What makes sense for the story you’re trying to tell? These and other questions will help you along the way. Good luck!