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Narrative mode


One of the challenges I'm facing in writing the Scalzi-inspired stories, outside of the biggest challenge of keeping up with doing them daily, is maintaining a consistent narrative mode in each of the stories. I've been choosing a specific mode, not always the easiest for a given story, and using that style to challenge the way the story sounds.

What I remember from my high school literature classes is that there are four modes:

  1. First person - "I did this, then I did that."
  2. Second person - "You are eaten by a grue," choose-your-own-adventure stories
  3. Third person - "He did this, then she did that."
  4. Third person omniscient - "He looked at her and thought, 'Wow, what a hottie.'"

First person is the easiest, telling a tale from the viewer's point of view. Sometimes it works very well; the Dresden Files is a fantastic example of this.

Second person is the rarest, and usually found in only the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure and Zork-like tales.

Third person is where it becomes tricky with the omniscient parts.

The easiest way to write is to just blurt everything down, and leave nothing to the reader's imagination. This is also the least engaging for the reader with many authors' styles. When the omniscient part is thrown in and you know what every character is thinking, "He said this, he thought this, she thought this and then did that." there's less challenge for the reader, less to figure out, less to lure the reader into the story's world. I'm not particularly a fan of this style of writing, the third person fully-omniscient view, even as I use it sometimes when I'm lazy or haven't considered the narrative mode before I start writing.

Guy Gavriel Kay was fantastic with the third-person mode in his earlier books, The Fionavar Tapestry and The Lions of Al-Rassan. One of the beauties of his writing style was that he didn't spell everything out for the reader. In the Lions of Al-Rassan book, there's a scene where the heroine is walking through the town at night, and stops to look up at a lighted window. She watches it for a while, turns around and leaves. What is left to the reader's imagination, understanding is the internal conflict raging in the heroine as she stands there. We don't hear her thoughts, we don't know what she's thinking, we don't know what she decided, and that is what makes the scene so powerful. We read her actions, and need to fill in the details and understand the longing of this woman for the man in the window's room, without it being completely explained.

Kay's later books lose some of this style, which I find somewhat disappointing, but still enjoy the stories he tells enough to count him among my favorite authors.

So, I've been working with third person, where no thoughts are known, and third person limited-omniscient, where we know the thoughts of one character, but not all of the characters. I struggle to describe the characters' thoughts through their actions, but think my struggles will help me write clearer stories, the more I write. Sometimes the story needs to be first person, but I'm still finding enough of a challenge with a consistent third person viewpoint that I haven't tried the first person consistently yet.

Yeah, my thoughts on narrative mode, which I incorrectly termed "voice" when I first wrote this.

Time for another twenty minutes for the next Scalzi-inspired story...

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