Thursday, April 22, 2010

Brainstorming Day 7 - A Narrative Experiment

Today, inspired by Elizabeth's post on setting the mood on her Mystery Writing is Murder blog, I played around with ideas about narrative voice.

Certain kinds of stories are just suited to first person, and I think my serial might be one of them. When I look at similar old-fashioned yarns I've written about people who tend to get themselves into trouble, they've all done well in first person.

The problem with this story is that it has a lot of characters and they are never all in the same place. There is no one person who experiences it all. Furthermore, as I think through this, ALL of the characters want to tell me their stories. Even those characters who barely speak English. (Or Hendish, as this world calls it.) They want to stammer out what happened in their own limited and severely ungrammatical words.

The one thing I do not want to do is write a multiple narrator story. It might work for some kinds of literary (or high-comedy with a psuedo-literary feel) but that's not right for this.

Now, there is an old technique that was used in the period quite a lot - one narrator, who violates point of view once in a while and tells things that didn't happen to him or her. It was very often an awkward convenience, and did the job for the story, but not well. Anthony Hope used it in Rupert of Hentzau, the sequel to The Prisoner of Zenda. Most of the story was told by sidekick, Fritz von Tarlenheim, who wasn't there at the story's climax. It was a weak, if necessary, device.

I'm thinking, though, that the problem was that Fritz really was a sidekick. He was neither the center of the story, nor really involved in the center of the story. He did not play the part of the mystified audience, as Watson does in the Sherlock Holmes stories. And the hero is a straight forward romantic action guy. Rudolph was no mysterious Holmes to be observed and explained by a Watson.

So Fritz wasn't the right narrator. He was just the one that was dictated by certain aspects of the plot.

But I can't help but think that this technique might work for my serial. Maybe. The key is that the person would have to be a comfortable storyteller who has no fear of going out of his or her point of view at any time. ("While I was at the store, Jenny was having a terrible time at home....") My first thought was that Lily, Pauline's companion and secretary, might be right, because she is a reporter. But I don't think she would blithely violate point of view like that, and Pauline is like Rudolph - not mysterious at all, but an action woman, and at times a bit of a fool.

I finally realized that Pauline herself might be an ideal narrator. She has the ego to tell it all freely, and to tell it quite vividly, and to have a busybody's interest in what happened when she wasn't there. Here, in her own words, is what she has to say on the matter:

There are large parts of this story that I did not, myself, experience, but I am going to tell it anyway. I am a reasonably intelligent person, I am blessed with a vivid imagination, and Lily and others have filled me in on the details over the years since. The fact that I did not know these details at the time of the incidents may make me seem like quite a fool, but we must be honest and admit it: I was at times quite a fool.

But I survived, and here is the story of how....

So I am going to experiment, and see how it goes. Whenever you do something experimental, you might find it hard to maintain - in which case, I'll probably discover which more standard point of view I slip into the most and have to stick with that.

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