Monday, May 17, 2010

Third Before First

The third person narrative is hard to find these days. If you choose a book at random in the YA section of a bookstore, chances are that it will be written in the first person.

I've spent a lot of time wondering why first person is so prevalent. I think it has something to do with our culture's laser focus on the individual. In 2006 Time Magazine's person of the year was you. People haveTwitter, Pandora, websites and personalized accessories that seem to bend the focus of the world onto them. If art reflects reality, the first person narrative is just a reflection of the new god of our culture.

The first person narrative isn't new, of course. But it is a little tricky. Unless the narrator has a very distinctive voice, books written in the first person sound very similar. Some notable exceptions are Julia Lefkowitz, the heroine of Polly Shulman's Enthusiasm and D.J. Schwenk, the narrator of Catherine Gilbert Murdock Dairy Queen trilogy.

Most of my books Quads and Living Little Women are written in the third person. But I wrote in devices that allow Sarah Conrad (my main character) to speak in the first person. This serves two purposes: it lets the actual character's voice be heard and it also gives me some freedom to the writer to experiment. Writing can be formulaic and I like the flexibility of telling stories in different ways.

1 comment:

  1. I'm no expert on modern YA but the few books I've read that are both YA and written in the first person certainly have an immediacy about them. The reader is straight into the thoughts of the narrator which makes them very accessible and because there is often an impending crisis - even if it's just row-with-parent - the reader gets to know the narrator and form a sympathetic relationship quickly.

    Re the sounding the same: because all teenagers are expected to have very particular issues and problems I can imagine some authors
    taking the easy route of buying into this and shaping their narrators into being 'typical' teenagers with problems most readers can relate to.