Posts Tagged ‘Narration’

Finding theme in literary stories Article About Writing Better


Wednesday, September 21st, 2016
William H. Coles

Big Gene

“Big Gene” is a story of an African American piano player who changes hatred and bigotry with friendship. How can a story convey impact of such action, action based on the teaching of Martin Luther King? Fiction, structure, drama, purpose, and meaning. Here are excerpts that demonstrate story progression in in-scene storytelling. You can READ FREE OR LISTEN FREE to the story HERE:
http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/
original-stories-william-h-coles/big-gene/


THE PROTAGONIST.

Big Gene had no love for country music. For him it was like chopping firewood. And he didn’t like playing for angry whites. He liked the white guys in the band who cared more about work and family than race, but they were different from the clientele at this all-white truck stop who seemed deprived of everything and angry at all they’d been denied.

THE CONFLICT.

“I mean it, boy. You great,” the man said with an edgy smile to Big Gene.

“You ought to learn ‘Great Balls of Fire.’ I was telling the man here. You flat ass sound like Jerry Lee Lewis.”

Big Gene waited; the leathery man stared. “Mr. Lewis learned from us coloreds,” Big Gene said.

“You’re kidding me.” The man looked genuinely surprised.

“Yes sir. Mr. Lewis learned from some of the greats, like we all do.”

“I’ll be damned.”

“Yes, sir. It’s the God’s truth,” Big Gene said smiling.

As Big Gene climbed back on stage. The band leader Sid whispered to him, “What was that all about?”

“That redneck thought I took my playing from Jerry Lee Lewis. I was correcting his misconceptions.”

“I’m surprised he didn’t shoot you.”

“I was a little shocked too,” Big Gene said, grinning.

OBSTRUCTION (one of many): failure to appreciate the value of nonviolence.

Two days later in the morning before Cloretta went to school, she held up the Sunday paper with picture of Big Gene shaking hands with the man in the blue suit. The caption read: "Klan Reaches Out."

“It’s not right,” Cloretta said.

“He doesn’t look dangerous,” Big Gene said, and smiled.

Cloretta frowned. You shouldn’t be shaking his hand. You shoulda whooped his butt. That was the man you used to be.”

If you have time, read the story and share your thoughts. How would you write this story? How would you handle this content?

Theme: nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice and chooses love instead of hate.

Meet the MAN WHO INSPIRED THE STORY “Big Gene.” DARYL DAVIS. Learn more here. http://www.daryldavis.com/
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Seven elements for writing fiction stories Article About Writing Better


Friday, June 17th, 2016
William H. Coles

For writers striving to improve the creation of fictional stories in prose, here are seven essential elements in creating stories.

The elements: Prose, Characterization, Plot, Narration, Setting, Imagery, Meaning/purpose.

Prose relates to diction, syntax, and voice. The intense poetic elements of lyric prose can be used to pleasing effects for a reader both as a secondary and prime element. For memorable stories, most readers prefer a distinct, often authoritative voice, for narrator and characters.

Characterization (creation of a fictional character) is most effective when developed by in scene action predominating over discursive narrative telling and when excellence of other elements is achieved: dialogue, narration, internalization, and voice.

Plot is all that happens in a story and is almost always dependent on a beginning, middle, and end and thrives of tried and true characteristics: character-based; momentum on reversals and recognition, mystery and suspense; and often linear, interwoven with emotional, character, and story arcs. Great plots provide conflicts early, both in story and among characters.

Narration is storytelling. Characters act out in fiction stories, narrators tell story, and authors create story with imagination and uniqueness. Point of view choice is tailored to the needs of story. Each point of view has advantages and disadvantages and must conform to reasonable story-related credibility and reliability, and adjust to requirements of suspension of disbelief. Authorial control of the narration through the narrator must be consistent in style, transparent (almost always no authorial intrusion), carefully chosen for story understanding and purpose, and meticulously crafted.

Setting orients the reader to time, place, and physical and psychic distance from story action, environment, and obstacles to plot progression. Most stories provide settings through subtle integration in other elements avoiding extensive description. Other stories rely on the poetry of beautiful settings for maximum reader pleasure.

Imagery relies on imaginative prose with innovative yet absolutely accurate word choice within the boundaries set up by story development. Momentum in the writing with image-inducing prose should be pervasive to prevent reader disinterest.

Theme/purpose. Every story should engage a reader, entertain the reader, please the reader, and provide recognition or enlightenment (theme/meaning) so the reader will never see the world again exactly the way they did before the story was read. Fiction stories are not character sketches, memoir, biography, or journalism with untruths. And every story has to have more than an authorial catharsis describing authorial lives and events. Fiction is art that emerges from imagination and is created with skill and structure.

References:

Preparing to Write the Great Literary Story

Literary Fictional Story

Character in Literary Fictional Story



The Seven Fundamentals for Writing Fiction Stories Article About Writing Better


Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
William H. Coles

There are many ways to think about the great writing of great fictional stories. Both readers and writers can benefit by learning seven elements and appreciating the interaction of these elements in an individual story. For the reader, appreciation of authorial skills can be more easily enjoyed and admired, and for writers, learning to determine their strengths and weakness in the creation of the different elements can be valuable to balance story for an effective presentation.

Prose
Characterization
Plot
Narration (POV)
Setting
Imagery
Meaning/purpose

Prose relates to diction, syntax, and voice. Lyric prose with intense poetic elements can be used to pleasing effects for a reader both as a secondary and prime element. Most readers prefer a distinct, often authoritative voice for narrator and characters.

Characterization is a key element for a literary story and is often most effective by in scene action predominating over discursive narrative telling. It’s importance in story development in the great stories is unique and individual and requires talent and practice. Dialogue, narrative, internalization, flashback, diction, memory, voice are opportunities for character development in effective ways different, and at times superior, to characterization in film or in drama. Almost without exception, great stories

Plot is all that happens in a story. For great stories plot is almost always structured with a beginning, middle, and end; frequently is character-based; depends for momentum on reversals and recognition, mystery and suspense; is primarily linear, and is interwoven with emotional, character, and story arcs. Great plots provide conflicts early, both in story and among characters.

Narration is storytelling. Characters act out in fiction stories, narrators tell story, and authors create story with imagination and uniqueness. Point-of-view choice is tailored to the needs of story. Each point of view has advantages and disadvantages and must conform to reasonable story-related credibility and reliability reliability, and adjust to requirements of suspension of disbelief. Authorial control of the narration through the narrator must be consistent in style, transparent (no authorial intrusion), carefully chosen for story understanding and purpose,, and meticulously crafted.

Setting orients the reader to time, place, and physical and psychic distance from story action, environment, and obstacles to plot progression. Most stories provide settings through subtle integration in other elements avoiding extensive description. Yet, some stories rely on the poetry of beautiful settings.

Imagery relies on imaginative prose with innovative yet absolutely accurate word choice within the boundaries set up by story development. Momentum in the writing with image-inducing prose should be pervasive to avoid loss of engagement of the reader.

Theme/purpose.
Every story should engage a reader, entertain the reader, please the reader, and provide recognition or enlightenment (theme/meaning) so the readers will never see the world again exactly the way they did before the story was read. Fiction stories are not character sketches, memoir, biography, or journalism with untruths. And every story has to have more than an authorial catharsis describing authorial lives and events with description without imagination and discursive rumination of authorial thoughts and opinions. Fiction is art that emerges from imagination and is created with skill,  structure, and revision.



Eight Fundamentals for Writing Fiction Stories Article About Writing Better


Wednesday, February 4th, 2015
William H. Coles

Eight fundamentals for writing fiction stories.

Prose
Characterization
Plot
Narration (POV)
Setting
Imagery
Meaning/purpose
Drama

There are many ways to think about the writing of great fiction stories. Both readers and writers can benefit by thinking of eight fundamentals and appreciating the interaction of the elements in an individual story. For the reader, appreciation of authorial skills can be enhanced and admired, and for writers, learning to determine strengths and weaknesses in the creation of the different elements can be valuable to balance story for an effective presentation.

1. Prose relates to diction, syntax, and voice. Lyric prose with intense poetic elements can be used to pleasing effects for a reader both as a secondary and prime element, but clarity, accuracy, and concrete over abstract provide most effective prose for significant storytelling. Most readers prefer a distinct, often authoritative voice for narrator and characters.

2. Characterization is a key element for a literary story and is often most effective by in scene action predominating over discursive narrative telling. Its importance in story development in the great stories is unique and individual and requires talent and practice. Dialogue, narrative, internalization, flashback, diction, memory, voice are opportunities for character development in effective ways different, and at times superior, to characterization in film or in drama. Almost without exception, great stories integrate characterization and plot progression to create character-based fiction.  And each, at least, primary character has a recognizable core desire that contributes to solid logic of character motivations and reactions.

3. Plot is all that happens in a story. For great stories plot is almost always structured with a beginning, middle, and end; frequently is character-based; depends for momentum on reversals and recognition, mystery and suspense; is primarily linear; and is interwoven with emotional, character, and story arcs. Great plots provide conflicts early, both in story and among characters.

4. Narration is storytelling. Characters act out in fiction stories, narrators tell story, and authors create story with imagination and uniqueness. Point of view choice is tailored to the needs of story. Each point of view has advantages and disadvantages and must conform to reasonable credibility, reliability, and requirements of suspension of disbelief. Authorial control of the narration through the narrator must be consistent, complete, and meticulous.

5. Setting orients the reader to time, place, physical and psychic distance from story action, environment, and obstacles to plot progression. Best stories provide most settings through subtle integration in other elements avoiding extensive description.

6. Imagery relies on imaginative prose with innovative yet absolutely accurate word choice within the boundaries set up by story development. Momentum in the writing with image-inducing prose should be pervasive to avoid loss of engagement of the reader.

7. Meaning/purpose. Every story should engage a reader, entertain the reader, please the reader, and provide recognition or enlightenment (meaning) so the reader will never see the world again exactly the way as before the story was read. Great fiction stories are not character sketches, memoirs, biographies, or journalism with untruths, and every great story has to have more than an authorial catharsis describing authorial events and characters with description and discursive rumination.  And for significance, authors create a moral framework for the story world that helps define character actions and thinking, suggest meaning, and enhance logic of the drama.

8. Drama keeps a reader's interest, moves the plot, and builds character.  Drama is conflict the precipitates action and requires a writer's ability to insert action in scene, in dialogue, and in narrative description.  Drama also can move the reader to feel the story and the characters.

Summary.  Writing fiction that is character-based with dramatic plots and meaning is an art form requiring both talent and diligent hard work and self evaluation.  Studying and learning the skills to use fundamentals effectively is essential in becoming a successful storyteller, but also useful in revision of early drafts to seek balance in the presentation and consistency in the writing.

 



Effect of Discursive Narration on Literary Story Editorial Opinion


Sunday, November 30th, 2014
William H. Coles

Narration of literary fictional stories today allows wide latitude for authors on technique and style. Traditional, successful, memorable, literary stories depend on strong imaginative characterization, dramatic plots with conflict and resolution, and identifiable purpose for the story being told so some enlightenment occurs about the human condition gleaned from the story presentation. In the past, stories were structured for momentum and engagement, and there was careful attention to story logic and credibility for the story world created. Authors wanted to please readers. Prose was dedicated to accurate use of the language, attention to the advantages of correct grammar within story context, and readability with acceptable punctuation and rhythmic flow. But this storytelling has faded.

Contemporary writers have little or no conscience to follow traditions in literary storytelling. Stories with beginnings, middles, and ends are becoming less common and fiction has shifted to memoir about authorial self with a few falsehoods to be called fiction, simple character sketches, or description of events-happened with journalistic rigor void of imaginative influence. Authors reject dramatic conflict at all levels of story delivery for character development and story pleasing plotting. And even in fiction, the author often dominates the storytelling with subjective intrusion rather than using an objective narrator or character delivering balanced credible story and character detail in dramatic scenes. Descriptions of people or events that happened does not produce the same effects on readers as creative imaginative storytelling that engages, stimulates, enlightens, moves, and entertains.

Contemporary writers commonly default to discursive rumination for the major portion of “story” delivery, a technique that may divert attention, meaning, momentum, or understanding of authorial purpose for the story. And when using discursive rumination, authors will often abandon story to soliloquize, seek authorial catharsis, or proselytize.

Modern writers often restrict storytelling to first person point of view and narration. This places limits on internalization, credibility, veracity, size and quality of world view available to the narrator, and expansive imaginative writing. Not all stories are suited to first person narration, and the quality of fiction published and available to read has dwindled.

The message is not trivial. Many contemporary readers enjoy modern “literary” writing dependent on discursive rumination, but the true value of literary story development with imaginative structure and characterization is often lost. The writers careful to avoid obvious authorial dominance and intrusion in the storytelling add imaginative and meaningful enhancement to their work that authorial dominance and intrusion does not allow. Of course, authors are always present in some way in a literary work of fiction, but the most effective authorial presence is transparent, like a hint of mint in a pitcher of tea, the touch of orange/red diffusing through the blue sky above the horizon just before sunrise, the sound of an individual cello in full orchestra . . . sensations present and enjoyed and always gently and uniquely pervasive . . . but never rife.

Readers preferring traditional storytelling seem to reread the classics today. Traditional literary fiction is being written, but it is rarely accepted by agents, editors, and publishers; as a result, great stories in the traditional sense are not available and as a culture, we are losing an art form, a loss that diminishes the creative heritage of our generation.



Advice for Fiction Writers Taking Creative-Writing Workshops Editorial Opinion


Wednesday, January 25th, 2012
William H. Coles

Many writers attending workshops online and in classroom experience frustration with: 1) quality of teaching; 2) the experience, expertise and accomplishments of the instructors; and 3) the heavy reliance on student critiques delivered mostly unsupervised by instructors.

In the main, workshops, both academic and private, will not provide knowledge for students to achieve high levels of storytelling and writing.  And in the difficult skill of storytelling, incompetent instruction can lead a student in unhelpful directions that can derail talent. 

Students need to collect knowledge and develop skills and attitudes before attending writers' workshops, to prevent misdirection for career success and to deflect unjustified feelings of failure and inability.  Students can protect themselves from negative workshop experiences by developing skills and attitudes toward creating fiction before attending.  Here are few basic essentials frequently not well taught in workshops and that are best well understood before taking workshops: 1) Characterization, 2) Purpose, 3) Writing beyond self, 4) Drama, 5) Narration 6) Learning from admired masters 7) Storytelling modes.

1. Characterization.

Learn to build characters from story actions, emotions, and thoughts.  Particularization in descriptive narrative is important to help establish the character in the reader's mind but needs experienced modulation so as to not be overdone. 

On one hand, character building is a sculptor working in clay adding characteristics piece by piece, always aware of the whole.  One the other hand, the awareness of character as revelation by the student is also essential–like meeting a stranger at a cocktail party and discovering who she or he is sentence by sentence, idea by idea.  In many ways, revealing a character is like shelling a pecan to savor the nut. 

Building and revealing are the tools of the writer; good judgment and creative imagination are essential with tethered reliance on narrative description from reality alone, which is more intuitive to write.

2. Purpose.

Determine a purpose: what is it you want to do with your writing?  Most rewarding for literary writers is fiction that affects the reader–moves them and enlightens them in some way, usually about what it means to be human.  In literary fiction, characterization almost always supersedes plot to achieve literary excellence.  But  no matter what the storytelling goals, before writers start to write, they must know what they want to achieve . . . and whether it's genre, memoir, or literary, they should be in control.  Most workshops, mainly for financial reasons, teach creative writing as if there is no difference between fiction, memoir, nonfiction, and essay.  Students need to cull those skills that relate to fiction, or whatever their goal is for their writing.

3) Writing beyond self.

Learn to write from a broad view of the world.  Separate you, as the author, from the narrative telling of the story so that the characters and story you deliver are not just an author repeating his or her life and trying to make it significant, an error that leads to sentimentality and insignificance.  Significant literary characters and story need to come from more than the author, although the author, of course, is still creating this knowledge of the world and life experience.  Here's a common quote: Your character's have to be better and smarter than you (about story and the story world).  Don't put yourself, or your world exclusively, in your writing.  Reach out for ideas and actions.

4) Drama.

Write dramatic story and prose.  Fiction is drama.  Drama is conflict, action, and resolution that results in logical, meaningful reversals.  Therefore, focus as much on learning dramatic storytelling with meaningful lasting effects on readers as much as learning craft.  Learn to write prose with momentum and how to insert conflict and action into writing.  Learn judicious use of poetics so that immersion in lyricism does not swamp the effective clarity of prose and delivery of story, often not emphasized in workshops.   Drama is rarely given the intensity it deserves in workshops, a habit that tends to emphasize less effective techniques of storytelling by default.

5) Narration

Consider narration of literary stories as an art form.  Best stories have a strong narrator presence and provide narrator's perceptions.  It is more than conquering POV; it includes control of voice, attention to suspension of disbelief, addressing reliability, and effective use of psychic and physical distance.  Those who do master narration continue to refine it over the span of a career to apply techniques effectively and seamlessly.  In workshops, instructors frequently reveal inadequate knowledge of narrative control of a story, which results in dictums and ultimatums, usually about POV, that are wrong for student advancement. 

6) Learning from admired masters.

Determine what great authors you feel accomplished effects you admire in readers–enjoyment, enlightenment, emotion, memorability–and then dissect how you think they accomplished that to direct your leaning to be able to create for the reader effectively. 

Successful  authors learn and understand humanity and the metaphysical questions about life–they write from the world, not self–and they learn to create stories delivered with the unique and highly effective techniques of objective prose writing, learning to make all the thousands of effective decisions about craft, life, emotions, drama, and clarity in communication necessary to achieve authorial success.  This knowledge is rarely available in workshops, and students who do not have a solid understanding of what has gone before can be led by instructors to admire and imitate authors that work against a student achieving their individual, specific goals for writing.

7) Storytelling modes

Know thoroughly the essential modes of telling a story, and know how to identify what mode is predominant: diction, theme, POV, characterization, plot, imagery.  Workshop leaders tend to have experience and express prejudice for one mode, a deficiency that can direct a student away from mastering all modes of story delivery.

Conclusion

Should a writer take a workshop?  Of course, but only with realistic expectations of adding to their knowledge, and not expecting to carry away anything but suggestions for improvement that may or may not be beneficial for their careers.  Workshops should be an addition to a student's consistent practice, seeking quality mentors, learning storytelling, mastering craft and studying the literature to crystallize what style and type storytelling is desired.  And always consider that contemporary workshops do not teach basics well in a field where lack of knowledge and preparation by a teacher can default to dictums and ultimatums about writing that are not easy to interpret and can be dangerous to a writer's improvement.



Engaging a Reader in Literary Fiction Article About Writing Better


Tuesday, July 6th, 2010
William H. Coles

Engaging a reader is crucial for a good writer.  It is a complicated process with different levels of engagement that require different skills and talents.  A story about a truck running through a guardrail and caught so it is suspended above a concrete slab two-hundred feet below, with driver and passenger trapped in the cab and bleeding from wounds, grabs the attention . . . a level of engagement.  There is curiosity about the outcome . . . a level of engagement.  For some readers, there might be fear when imagining the worst outcome . . . also a level of engagement.   This engagement is responding to circumstantial information about an event.  The prose is a description of what actually happened.  The engagement is similar to a comic book or graphic novel.  Images are stimulated by prose.  There is intellectual curiosity about what will happen and how the dangerous predicament will be solved.

In addition to images formed, engagement in this scenario may also be dependent on syntactical dramatization within the prose itself, clear transfer of ideation from author to reader, and the degree of importance to the reader about the information delivered.  It is journalistic in the sense that the reader is being told what has happened.

In writing a memoir, this journalistic type of engagement and reader responses are much the same.  A memoirist is intent on describing people who lived and experienced events and felt what they felt.  It is historical information described and positioned so drama is created by description of conflict and the positioning of information, so tension is generated when story information is presented to the reader.

In great literary fiction, reader engagement is different from journalistic (creative) nonfiction and memoir prose.  Fiction may be stimulated by past events and characters who lived; but the story-prose of literary fiction is created to engage the level of the responsive reader to lock the attention with minimal deviation, and to stimulate the reader to sympathize with characters, and at times be involved emotionally to a degree beyond the emotional involvement other types of fiction elicit.  The reader who enjoys literary fiction wants to know what will happen to a character they know well through intense characterization.   Involvement is less description of what happened and more what might happen.  And although there are created, journalistic-style circumstantial events in all fiction, the elements of created emotional conflicts and advancement and resolution of feelings have the prime impetus to move plot in literary fiction.

In addition, to achieve maximum engagement of a reader, characters must be credible; they must seem real; all happenings must be logical for story and plot; and all information about the story and characters must be reliable, or if not reliable, the reader must be aware of the unreliability and not puzzled or unsure.  Level of achievement of these goals in the story writing is proportionally related to engagement and satisfaction of a specific reader.

Engagement of a reader at this level also demands meticulous narration so the reader is always aware of who is telling the information and that the narrator is consistent for the context so the reader engagement of attention and emotion in the story is not broken.

Nonstory-related ideas and opinions must also be eliminated from the prose to prevent breaking the dream of involvement that fiction can evoke.  And errors in writing, such as wrong word choice, fuzzy or inaccurate metaphors, or grammatical errors must not be present.  Equally important for great literary fiction, the story and the characters must seem real–that is, to exist or be able to exist in a reader's mind–the very reason that book covers often contain the blurb "based on a true story" or "based on the life of ———."

John Gardner popularized the idea of a fictional dream into which the literary reader is immersed.  It is valuable, but only partially true to the involvement that certain readers have in great fiction.  Great fiction provides new perspectives — like looking into a stereoscope and discovering a three-dimensional change in the photo; being caught in an unsolvable,  dangerous dilemma . . . between a rock and a hard place and the space is closing in; in need of resolution of a longing or desire; and almost always in need to solve something–a puzzle, or a mystery, or an enigma.

Engagement of a literary reader by a literary author in a great literary fictional story is extremely difficult to do and is rarely achieved by the millions of writers who attempt it in various degrees.   Most writers default to nonfiction or genre fiction, often with impressive successes.   Unfortunately, great literary fiction cannot be created without adherence to the basics of what literary fiction has accomplished through engagement in the past.  Even more significantly, writing good genre fiction and memoir and thinking it is, and promoting it as, great literary fiction will fail to meet the expectations of the literary reader, and the writing will come off as inferior and boring.

The goal of agents and publishers is to make money.  Great literary fiction well written does not have blockbuster potential in today’s marketplace of diminishing serious readers of great literary stories for engagement and enlightenment.  Wouldn't it be great, for those readers still enjoying great fiction, if one or a few publishers were to emerge who are willing to accept reasonable profits and publish accomplished writers writing great literary fictional stories that engage readers with intensity and emotion?



The Danger of Overuse of 1ST Person Narrative in Literary Fiction Article About Writing Better


Thursday, February 4th, 2010
William H. Coles

Many unsuccessful writers fall into the trap of first person point of view, the path of least resistance that leads to mediocrity in many stories from a failure of the author to form a story in the most pleasurable and significant way.   This is really memoir writing, even when authors believe they are imagining a story, because writers insert themselves into the story to become the first person storytellers.

Example 1.  1st person.

I was happy that fateful night.  I'd been watching Survivor, turned off the TV, and tiptoed back to the baby's room.  The door was open.  The moonlight filtered in through the window near the crib, and I could see from the way her feet were caught in the twisted blanket that she was motionless.  I ripped off the blanket.  Her skin was pale.  Her eyes opaque and unblinking.  She was not breathing.

Example 2.  Look at a different narrator approach to the same scene (also overwritten for contrast).

The moon was almost full in a cloudless sky, and all but the brightest of the infinite stars were dimmed by the cold pewter light that filtered through the window into the nursery, creating weak lifeless shadows of the newly decorated, painted chest of drawers on the white shag carpet.  Karen opened the door noiselessly.  Cindy must be asleep; there had been no sounds over the electronic monitor from the nursery to their bedroom.  The blanket in the crib was wadded and covered the small lump of a child.  She placed both hands on the edge of the crib and looked down.  She stripped off the blanket.  Cindy was face up with one leg caught at the ankle in the space between two crib slats.  She wasn't moving.

Example 3.  Or another.

"Check Cindy," Karen said sleepily, her head buried in her pillow.

"You go," Henry said, the blanket pulled up to his eyes, his back to his wife.

Karen turned away from him. "I always go."

Henry put his feet on the floor and felt for his slippers. "Goddamn it," he said.

"Lighten up, asshole," she said, almost awake now.

Karen was acting a little too prima donna-ish for him.  Okay.  She'd had the baby.  She said it often enough.  She was bitter and depressed, and she thought it was his time to suffer.  But it was not right to aim her frustrations at him.  She'd slipped into a victim mentality placing blame on him, as if he were a stranger who had raped her.

At the end of the hall, he listened at the half open door too see if Cindy were awake.  There was no sound, and he entered softly, his heart now beginning to feel the joy he always felt when he was near his daughter.  She had recognized him on sight for the past few months, a smile lighting up her face.  Last Saturday she'd said "Da Da," for the first time, before she even said "Ma Ma."  He shuffled to the crib.  Cindy lay face up, her mouth parted, her lips still.

These examples show how alternatives need to be tried to be true to the story.  In reality, no matter which is preferred, none of the above could be used for a story; they are not quality writing.  The characters have not been developed in the mind of the author. But the examples serve a purpose.  There is a difference among them, and the first person "I" may feel more intimate, but also has the feeling that scene information is being filtered through a single, not too objective, personality.  In the second, the third person gives the feel of  narrator (not identified) who has nothing to gain by not being as accurate as possible.  This carries it's own intimacy, in this case, simply by knowing the narrator is not trying, even unconsciously, to sway the reader unreasonably about the happening.  In the third example, there is an expanded purpose for the segment.  Now the action of finding a dead baby as primary is complicated, and for the right story purpose, complimented, by revealing simultaneously the souls and emotions of the mother and father.   Nothing is right or wrong; these are three of many different ways of narration of a story scene.  But some of the restrictive aspects of 1st person are illustrated.

This idea of narrator choice is crucial for writer success.  Reader identification through the well-chosen and sophisticated-crafted narration of well-developed characters is an essential perquisite for:  dialog that shimmers with the appropriate thoughts and attitudes of the character for the moment, setting that supports plot and characterization, and accurate prose choices that support the story as a whole.  These elements need to have formed characters and meaningful plot in place, followed by revisions that are purposeful and directed.  Still, most readers take away different feelings and reactions to these different narrative approaches.  The third one especially develops relationships between Henry and Karen, which could be awkward in first person POV because of what the 1st person narrator can reasonably know, see, hear, (taste and feel) and experience making  observations and disclosures an objective narrator can deliver impossible. There is also a subtle difference in the subjective telling (I was happy, for example) in the first person example that seems at first to be an advantage because of "immediacy," but may not be as effective for the story as objective third person more objective, dispassionate "showing" of the scene (rather than telling emotional states–so easy in first person), which helps avoid sentimentality.

These examples represent a necessary process of trial and error that is limited by first person narration alone because of restrictions in the narration.  First person narration produces: tethered imagination, limitations of distance, dominant internalization, limited point of view, and troublesome credibility problems for a reader requiring extension of suspension of disbelief, which often contributes to inferior storytelling . . . and poor quality fiction.  Yet, it is amazing that more than almost three quarters of all contemporary literary "fiction" stories are written in first person.  Admittedly, it is, after all, the easiest and most natural way for a human to tell a story, but for a large number of stories, it is not the most effective path to great, memorable fiction as an art form.


This is an excerpt from the essay, "Anatomy of a Wannabe Literary Fiction Writer," by William H. Coles.

MORE.  To study more on 1st person POV, read the essay "1st Person POV in Literary Story," by William H. Coles








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