Wednesday, February 20, 2008


My story for the Rochester anthology, North Coast 2034, is moving along, but not on chartered roads. I tell my writing students that there are no hard-and-fast rules for writing fiction but that there are tested guidelines which usually make stories more effective. One of those guidelines is that if you're writing in first person, you stay in first person. You do not combine first-person sections of a narrative with third-person sections.

But that's what I seem to be doing in this story.

I can think of only one book that does this (not counting those where the first-person parts are in a diary or other device that permits monologues). That is William Faulkner's The Sound and The Fury, which includes third-person sections in Dilcey's POV, along with the multiple first of Quentin et. al. Even Faulkner couldn't, in my opinion, make this work well, so why the hell am I trying it? Mostly because I like my protagonist's voice in first person, and I need the sections with the other voice. So at this point my options are:

-- leave it like this and call it "experimental" (Except that clearly the story is a traditionally plotted, linear narrative.)

-- change the protag's POV to third.

--change the secondary character's section to first -- multiple-first POV also being risky but not as weird as what I've got now.

-- give up on the whole structure and start over.

I don't know yet which I'll do. The story is only a few thousand words long and I'm still feeling my way into it. I just wish I had a better map. In the last six months, one story and one novel have totally died on me (see previous despairing posts), and I'd rather keep this one alive and moving, if I can.


Arun said...

I recently read R.K. Narayan's The Guide, which switches between 3rd person POV and 1st person POV. The reason for this narrative was that the main character was trying to tell the story of his life up to the point in the book where he is at, and progress the story that is currently happenning as well.


TheOFloinn said...

I've also seen 3rd person segments in 1st person narratives in the mystery field. These have sometimes struck me as contrivances to get information to the reader that 1st Person could not know.

But what Mike Flynn did not know when he wrote this was that others were proceeding against him. The technicians had come to install the torture equipment in the basement. A treadmill, an elliptical, a recumbent bike... Margie chuckled in glee and rubbed her hands over his forthcoming agonies.

Nancy Kress said...

Mike-- I know what you mean about the "What x did not know...." contrivances. I don't like them, either.

Does Margie know what kinds of things you write as hypothetical examples?! :)

TheOFloinn said...

Mike-- I know what you mean about the "What x did not know...." contrivances. I don't like them, either.

If the necessary 3rd person information is simply plopped into the middle of a 1st person narration, that can also be jarring. There is also the "As I learned later..." contrivance, which is a little less jarring.

Another possibility is to let the First Person proceed in blissful ignorance of these other events and learn of them only in due course. The difficulty is that the First Person is, in the conceptual story space, telling us this narrative at a later time, so sh presumably =already knows= the Third Person information.

You could be Shakespearian. Have someone rush on stage and tell the First Person about events taking place off-stage.

Does Margie know what kinds of things you write as hypothetical examples?! :)

What hypothetical? The equipment was installed yesterday, and today I was on the treadmill for mumble minutes. The pounds melted off, leaving me with a svelte, buff body. (Actually, going by mass, two or three svelte, buff bodies.)

marcinko said...

To follow up on Arun's comment, I too recently read "The Guide" by R.K. Narayan and was struck by how well he used that technique. Well worth studying (or stealing). Narayan is a wonderful writer.

Lisa Iriarte said...

I have nothing useful to contribute to your dilemma, but your post reminded me of a novel I read by you where you used multiple first person points of view which I enjoyed very much. I believe it was Maximum Light, and I remember thinking it was very deftly handled. So . . . um . . . if anybody can pull it of, I guess you can. ;)