Monday, September 19, 2011

POV: Whose Story is This Anyway?

All writers create a persona or a storyteller to tell their tale. It’s easy to see that a first-person narrator is an invented persona, but a third-person narrator is just as much an invention of the writer’s imagination. That persona narrator is not the writer.

Understanding this distance between the writer and the narrator allows the writer room to play, room to be creative. You need not feel obligated to tell your story “exactly the way it happened.” Fiction doesn’t care about facts. It’s about artistry and drama. It's about creating a powerful emotional experience for your reader. A storyteller who is not “you” lets you experiment and take chances as you create a story.

The persona maintains distance from the characters in the story, too. A first-person narrator is closer to the characters, simply because s/he is in the story. Third-person narrators are also invented personas with personalities. Third-person narrators can look at characters from far away like a distant camera shot (see “The Death of Ivan Illych” by Leo Tolstoy); can watch them like bystanders (see The Wishing Trees by John Shors); or look over a character’s shoulder and show us the world from his perspective (see The Giver by Lois Lowry).

Look at the books you’ve read most recently and ask these questions.

1. Who is the narrator? What kind of personality does s/he have? (Straightforward, unreliable, dramatic, matter of fact? Is s/he comfortable or awkward as a storyteller?
2. Is it a first, second or third-person narrator? Why is it written this way?
3. Does this narrator use direct address? Why or Why not?
4. Where is the narrator in relationship to the characters?
5. Did the PN use present tense or past? Why?

Try this: Create a persona narrator that is different from yourself. If you're a woman, try creating a narrator who is a man. If you're a quiet person, create a loud, brash storyteller. If you're a Type A personality, create a shy storyteller. Write a page or two using this narrator to tell about something that happened in your day.

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