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bear by san

March 2017

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bear by san

Narrative

http://www.livejournal.com/users/pnew8/101941.html?mode=reply

Pam comments on Caitlin R. Kiernan's comments on narrative and POV choices, in which Ms. Kiernan mentions she isn't fond of first person, necessarily, and really dislikes it if there's no valid way for the narrator to be telling the story to someone, and doesn't wish to be forced to read 2nd person at all. And goes on to discuss the fact that she finds it irritating that people take her to task for being most comfortable in third-person present tense. She goes on to mention that she feels that accomplished/expert writers who feel most comfortable in first person do so because they're not stretching enough. (Forgive me, I may be misinterpreting her words: I'm restating to make plain the position I am arguing from.)

She also says that she got the advice from Neil Gaiman to write in present tense if present tense made her happy.

Now, I'm feeling a bit amused, as it seems likely that the first story Ms. Kiernan ever sees by yours truly is going to be first-person, self-conscious narrator, as she and I are going to be sharing anthology space with the estimable Mr. Gaiman in a Del Rey anthology forthcoming later this year. I hate to think my writing skills are being judged on the basis of my use of first person in a Rudyard Kipling/Arthur Conan Doyle pastiche that I felt rather demanded the POV choice.

So I'm going to weigh in on this one. I write in just about every POV and tense I can imagine, and blends of multiples of the above: I consider it a matter of pride to be flexible enough to find the voice the narrative demands. However, I respect writers who are more comfortable in a single or habitual POV (First person usage certainly didn't limit Roger Zelazny's skill or success, or J.D.Salinger's.)

Now, Silverberg (in the book I mentioned in a previous post) has some salient points to make about first POV. For example, that first-POV can be used by an inexperienced writer to justify infodumps, linguistic failings, and other awkwardnesses. On the other hand, it can also be used very effectively to inclue the reader (term stolen from Jo Walton) as opposed to "infobolusing" (a very short, concentrated, indigestible infodump).

As for second person... well, I don't use it much myself (although I may in fact have a second person flash story brewing... about Cthulhoid interstellar feeding habits, of all things) but I've gotta say that Hannah Wolf Bowen's "Among the Cedars" (readable at http://www.ideomancer.com) and Tom Robbins Half Asleep In Frog Pajamas prove to me that second person can be done, and done well.

So I'm not about to kick any POV, tense, choice of internalization (from very tight to omniscient) out the window.

They're all tools, I would argue, and an irrational dislike for any of them is certainly permitted (I know two or three pro editors hate loathe detest despise and abhor the present tense, but I think that's an irrational bias too.) but I also think it's limiting for a writer to remove any of them from consideration.

When all you have is a hammer, after all, everything looks like a nail. Give a man a screwdriver set, some ratchets, and a few nice saws and suddenly he's got a much better shot at making a usable piece of furniture.

And when you've got to the point where you can break every rule in the book and still make that furniture shiny... well, I think that's something like "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas," then.

Anyway--Pam--Ms. Kiernan--if you happen to trip across this, thank you for making me think about this so clearly.

Comments

I have to agree on the headhopping omniscient, especially headhopping into a noncharacter just to shred them. I've written a few things with mid-scene POV changes, and a few things in distanced auctorial omniscient--what I think of as limited omniscient--but my favourite POVs are either first person (with all its limitations--perhaps because of its limitations) and a moderately tight third. I can think of situations--books--were the headhopping worked for me (it works in Dune, I think, and rarely otherwise). But I don't think I'd ever use it myself. It's too prone to abuse.

My first novel was hardboiled detective first-POV past tense. After doing it once, I decided I would never do that again for a novel length work. But I really love first person for the immediacy it lends a narrative, the intimate knowledge of the character, and because I have a weakness for unreliable narrators and I'm reasonably good at the charming narrator trick.

So, I tried a mixture of first-person present, first-person past, and (chiefly) third person past tense. Then multiple first-person narrators (incredibly difficult, because two of them were brother and sister and had very similar speech styles, voices, and so forth, so I had to try to differentiate them through tricks like showing what they were looking at, thinking about, minor techniques of sentence construction... gasp. woe. never again.) Since then, there's been a third-person single-narrator novel written so tight people think it's first, and mixed first-person present tense/third person past novel.

That last one does have a framing excuse for the first-POV, but I'm content with stories that don't and do it well. For example, Henry Kuttner's "Home is the Hunter" works for me, although the first-person narrator couldn't be telling the story. The ending of Robert Sawyer's Calculating God didn't, and I felt like the first-to-third-person shifts in that novel were contrived.

I can be reasonably fluid in either third or first, but I honestly think I connect better with a reader in first-person. However, its limitations annoy the hell out of me. So I'm wandering into this style for my more literary work that somewhat plays havok with tense and POV. I suspect it's a direct result of having read too much Brunner, Vonnegut, Dick and so forth as a tender young adolescent. (Dates self. Doesn't try for a kiss before dropping self off. Early.)

I'm sure some are going to see this as laziness. But I have always wanted to write a book like Stand on Zanzibar. So I'm trying to build the skillset to do it.

The "commercial" stuff, as I think of it, however, seems to stay firmly grounded in third-POV past tense. And I never think to write in third-POV present. In fact, the only time I think to write in present tense is when I'm writing a first POV character who lives very much in the present, or who comes from an oral storytelling tradition and tends to talk much like your Uncle Bob after a near miss in traffic. "So I look up, right, and here's this tractor-trailer so close all I can see is the word "Kenworth" on the grille. And for some reason, what I notice is a spot of rust on the 'w'..."

I just wrote my first-ever second-person story as an experiment. It's not bad, I think, but it's basically first-person narrative with, as you said, a little gimmick.

I'm not averse to gimmicks, though, although overuse of them can make me cranky, and I think second-person it perhaps a little overly trendy currently. But hey, it's a new toy: they're entitled to go play with it until they figure out what it's good for....

Jo, you have an absolute talent for making me sit down and think real hard about what I think I know, and put it into something like a coherent form. Thanks!

(Anonymous)

head-hopping

I like 3rd omniscient because it's freeing. And there are times when I won't use 3rd limited because it's, well, limiting. In third limited I run into the problems mentioned for first - that one character can't be privy to everything, and some things need to be known. I know some get around this by devoting one chapter or one section to the one head and then switching at the break, but again, I feel limited by that. 3rd omni has allowed me a greater breadth of view, so to speak, and I don't feel particularly lazy for it.

But that's me.

tempest