Monday, June 23, 2014

Storytelling: It's All About Perspective

There are plenty of tough choices that go into transforming an idea into an actual book.  Among those decisions is figuring out how you want to tell your story.  This means picking between either first person or third person perspective as the method for telling your tale.  Really, it comes down to presentation style.  Do you want the reader to see the world you've created through the eyes of one or more key characters, or are you looking to give them more of a bird's eye view?

In "Of Murder and Monsters," I decided to go with a first person perspective style of narration.  About 99% of the book is told from the perspective of Sean Valdez, the book's protagonist.  This means that readers not only sees what Sean sees, they get a front row seat to how he thinks and interprets the world around him.  As his life takes on more and more confusing twists and turns, some of that confusion translates into what the reader experiences along with Sean.  Then again, Sean's not a perfect person and, like all of us, he sometimes can't see the forest from the trees.

First person perspective, then, is also an excellent tool for creating tension and controlling the pace and distribution of information.  This makes sense since the character is limited on how much information he or she is aware of as the story progresses.  Likewise, they either aren't aware or aren't fully aware of the intentions or motivations of the other characters with whom they interact.  As in real life, sometimes we just don't know who we can really trust or when we're being led astray.  What makes writing in the first person difficult over the length of a novel is that the writer has to stay "in character" for the duration.  Even when you're introducing the narrating character to other characters and setting the scene to do so, it's important to remember that the non-narrating character is being introduced to the reader through the filter that is your narrating character.  In other words, the reader is getting someone else's interpretation of the characteristic's of the non-narrating character.  Confusing, yes.  Resolvable, absolutely.

If your readers feel like they can trust that the narrator is being honest and straightforward, then they're likely to accept what's being relayed to them by the narrator. This becomes important later on if your narrator suffers some sort of break with reality or is recovering some sort of psychological shock or assault.  At some point, the reader, in those scenarios, has to be able to believe that the narrator has worked through the issue/hallucination and is now interpreting things logically/accurately again.  Under some scenarios, you might intentionally want to have your reader question/doubt the narrator's veracity.  As with all things, however, too much of a good thing can go awry.

Third person perspective can be a much more liberating format for both the reader and the writer.  Granted, you can still limit the amount of information that the reader receives; however, they are usually still getting much more information than they would from the first person narrative form.  I like to think of either use of third person narration as an almost over-the-shoulder, documentary style, camera that follows the character or characters throughout the story.  Therefore, I've decided that both the prequel and sequel to "Of Murder and Monsters," will be told using the third person perspective to further reveal the dark world into which Sean Valdez has been thrown into.  As this narrative provides the reader with more information, it's far more useful when there are many more moving parts and character story lines.  

Which narrative style do you prefer to read?  For writers, which type of storytelling perspective do you enjoy working with more?

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