If you’re writing a novel, short story, or screenplay you will have to make many choices. I’m not talking about plot or characters but something more fundamental. How the story is told. Each way has its advantages and disadvantages.
The Hunger Games is an excellent example of this. The books are told in first person. This means that we have access to Katniss’s thoughts and see the world thorough her eyes. This has the advantage of letting us get to know our protagonist very well. However it also means that we don’t get to hear the thoughts of the other characters, we only see Katniss’s impressions of them, and we don’t get anything other than what is happening to Katniss.
In the Hunger Games films we’re able to see the broader world. We get scenes between Snow and Seneca Crane that would have been impossible in a strictly first person story.
First person narration need not be limited to one person.This is masterfully done in The Woman in White. We get the story told from many first person perspectives allowing us to understand all the character’s involved. If you haven’t read it I thoroughly recommend it.
After much debate, or faffing about, with my novel I decided that first person would be the best approach. One of the things it allows is colloquial speech. A character can, in my opinion, more easily skip over stuff than an omniscient narrator. A character can say ‘I’m not going to bore you with the details. Here’s what you need to know…’ This is only a general statement. In A Christmas Carol there is a quite wonderful description: ‘…as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.’ There are any number of ways to tell a story.
When trying to get into a character’s mind there is a problem. I only know my own mind. I have no idea if the way I perceive the world, or the strange thoughts that stomp through my brain, would in any way be close to how you see things.
I have strange thoughts sometimes. My brain seems to like to play a game of ‘What’s the worst thing I could say right now?’ I don’t actually say it but my unbidden thoughts have some strange notions.
This is all rather difficult to express. Do you ever think about what ifs? What if a terrorist threat was made but they didn’t want political concessions or money but something else – a new series of Blake’s 7 – a B*Witched reunion – (Okay, funny story, they did reform in 2012), or to see some celebrity, I’ll let you pick a name, dance naked on Strictly Come Dancing.
These kinds of off the wall thoughts come to me now and again. I just find myself wondering how such a story would be reported in the media – assuming the threat was considered believable.
I spoke to a friend about this and they too have had thoughts of what if. What if I ran through work dressed as Gollum? What if I started talking like Zathras? What if I started speaking only in rhyme? What if I only spoke in lines from famous TV shows or films.
Actually that last one is the only likely one. My brother once showed me Dr Horrible’s Sing-along-blog. I wasn’t particularly interested and when <redacted for spoilers> happened I said ‘Jesus, Grandpa what did you show me this for?’ – paraphrasing from The Princess Bride.
If I ever become a manager I’ll probably end up speaking like Captain Picard. If one of my staff makes a suggestion saying ‘Make it so’ Would be difficult to resist.
When writing in first person I’ll try to make each character speak in a unique fashion. It should always be easy to tell who is speaking. I have rewritten sections when I realised that the voice wasn’t right for a character. For instance it’s quite different writing for Sam Carter and Rodney McKay. They both serve the same role in their respective series, and both characters are brilliant, but Carter is far less egotistical. Thus it would be relatively easy to identify a Rodney line from a Carter line.
This post has been a little vague. That’s because I’m not going to revel all the thoughts in my mind. My question is simply this: If my characters have little asides and musings, while telling their stories, will the reader see themselves reflected? – or will they think that all my characters – and by extension me – are completely mad?
What David Mitchell says in the video above is completely relateable to me. Except that I take it to the crazy next stage. Sometimes I’ve been walking down the street and catch sight of a sign in my periphery. I’ll turn back to read it. Even if I know that there is absolutely no reason for me to know what the sigh says! In my mind I will come up with a justification for the turning back – so apparently I’m worried about nosy telepaths. The thing is that, to be honest, nobody cares what I’m doing.
My characters will have flights of fancy: They’ll ponder the important questions; What if I told Great Aunt Ermentrude she looks like a baked potato?; They’ll consider the result of mumbling Emma Blackery’s F**K You Google Plus+ while working; They’ll look longingly at the attractive guard on the train and wonder what would happen if they quoted some Shakespeare or a well placed line from a Jane Austin classic.
None of this bears any resemblance to anything that ever happened anywhere ever…
I just wanted to say that I have checked this post. I really have. Unfortunately my particular combination of dyslexia and dyspraxia makes it really hard for me to spot typos. Please enjoy and I’ll try not to make too many errors.