First Person

Release is written in the first person. The trend in novels is currently favoring the use of third-person narration. I think this is a backlash after memoirs saturated the market for the last several years. There is also a common assumption that the first-person point of view is easier to write, making first-person novels easy to deride. Where the assumption that first person is easier to write comes from, I don’t know, but I can attest that I generally prefer books written in the third person to those written in the first.

So why did I write Release in the first person?

To begin explaining, I should start by clarifying that I actually prefer novels written from a third-person limited point of view to those that are third-person omniscient. I also like stories that, to a point, alternate perspective from one character to another (Elin Hilderbrand does this really nicely). I am writing Decorum using this approach. I am finding the writing process, however halted by efforts to get Release published, far easier than I found the launch of Release. That ease doesn’t come from being more comfortable in one voice or another, though. It’s just that I have far greater confidence in myself this time around.

My preference for point of view goes to the root of why I enjoy reading fiction. If I want to read know-it-all third-person omniscient writing, I’ll read non-fiction. Limited, biased, and even unreliable narration lends complexity, relatability, and intrigue to literature. I crave that from books of any genre. This is why I especially admire writers like Neal Stephenson or Diana Gabaldon, who create highly relatable, richly detailed worlds without drowning their readers in exposition. Owing to my theatrical training, I can read and write dialogue for days on end. Show me, don’t tell me, please, and I’ll do the same when the pen is my hand.

The thing that bugs me the most about narration from any point of view is discerning the narrator’s intent. Why is this story being told? I’m not talking about whether the story merits being written by the author. If I can’t figure that out, I don’t crack the spine. I mean, once I’ve decided to step into the world of a story, what does the narrator have at stake? What’s compelled the narrator to tell the tale?

Furthermore, what has compelled the narrator to tell the story to her specific audience? Whom does the narrator suppose the audience might be? If the point of view is third person limited, what limits the narrator’s knowledge and understanding of the full account? To what degree could the third-person voice discern and report the characters’ thoughts and feelings? What amount of time and distance does the narrator have from the story?

In summary, whether the story is about ‘me’ and ‘us’; or whether the story is about ‘him’, ‘her’, or ‘them’, there is always a YOU in the equation. Otherwise, what’s the point?

When I formulated Release, I knew exactly who YOU would be. Whoever you are, and whatever you bring to the novel, YOU are Mandelyn’s new friend, to whom she is giving a cautionary tale. By the time she begins telling the story, Mandelyn has evolved past requiring the kind of outlet Morgan provides, and she has forgiven everyone on her list. I doubt she journals very often in the present day, but her marriage isn’t fully healed, yet, either. She is trying to be a better friend to YOU.

There are two instances where Mandelyn directly addresses YOU. She doesn’t just describe the power of wedding rings in Chapter 13; she warns YOU. She makes you remember your own ‘best conversation’ instead of sharing her own in Chapter 24. My purpose for telling you the intent of my literary device is not to justify the choice or lure you into believing it is an effective one. It’s up to you to decide whether being addressed directly by Mandelyn is effective, too jarring, or inconsistent with the way the rest of the book is delivered. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

There are also three passages written in third person. Chapter 16 shows us how Hank and Zara first meet. In Chapter 20, we learn that Zara’s experimenting with a little low-grade stalking. When Colette and Hank meet in Chapter 25, and later, when Zara gives him her Christmas present, both passages are in the third person but from slightly different points of view. If I pulled off what I meant to achieve, the words on the pages are what Mandelyn has collected from talking to Henry and Colette after she returns from Albuquerque. All of these passages are told by Mandelyn but based upon their accounts (Henry’s, mostly, although the first passage in Chapter 25 relies more upon Colette’s perspective), and the dialogue, essentially fabricated, is Mandelyn’s shorthand for getting the point across more succinctly.

How do you feel about the role, motivation, and voice of the narrators in the novels you read?

 

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