Thursday, December 6, 2012

Narrative Modes


I just want back in your head...

There are so many ways to tell the same story, and sometimes it gets overwhelming deciding how to do it.

First, you've got points of view. In a nutshell:


First person: I, we

Second person: you
Third person: he, she

Then you can have alternating POV's in the same story. And if your narrator is a character, he/she doesn't even have to be the protagonist, either. Yipes.


Next, you have to decide if the reader gets to know the internal thoughts of the narrator. 




Is the narrator an actual character in the story? And is he/she reliable or unreliable? Oh, boy. You could even unfold the story via documents like letters or diary entries. 

And of course if you choose a third person point of view, you must decide if the narrator will be objective (unbiased) or subjective--conveying the thoughts of the characters. If subjective, will it be limited where the narrator only knows what one character is thinking, or omniscient where he knows everyone's thoughts. Why not take it a step further...universal omniscient--the narrator knows things even the characters don't know. Um...

After you've sorted through that whole mess, you're not done. Oh no. Now choose your narrative time: past tense, present tense, or future tense. 



Of course, this is all assuming you already know your target audience (MG, YA, Adult, etc.) and genre (sci-fi, romance, mystery, etc.) and that you've nailed that all elusive "voice" needed to make your book stand out.

But wait, are you sure you want to go with fiction to tell your story? Maybe you want to try non-fiction, poetry, a song, painting, or even *gasp* an interpretive dance. 



Now even I'm confused. All I know is after trying out several different combinations, I'm very comfortable writing YA sci-fi novels told in first person present tense with a good cabbage patch or sprinkler dance move thrown in for good measure. Mostly kind of maybe for now. 

What's your preferred narrative mode?

19 comments:

T. Drecker said...

Yup! That's it in a nutshell :)
My poor current WIP has flipped from 3rd to 1st back to 3rd, from YA to MG and now the entire plot has been crushed into a ball and reflattened. But USUALLY I prefer 3rd past tense... more because I'm rebellious ;)

Suzi said...

First person past is the easiest for me. Sometimes with present, it's hard to get into the groove.

jaybird said...

When annoying non-writerly people like to say to me, (condescendingly) it's so easy to write a book, there's nothing to it! I tell them it's a lot harder than they think. If they persist, I start firing the "what point of view would you write from?"questions, and that usually shuts them right up.

Kathryn Purdie said...

I spent a long time agonizing over this with the first few attempts at writing my first book. Now I KNOW first person is my cup of tea, and so far I've told in past tense, though I think I could do present if the story needed it. Great post! Makes me remember all those dizzying feelings. :-P

ilima said...

T. Drecker-I have one book I want to rewrite from 3rd to 1st but haven't been motivated to do it yet. One day...

Suzi-It was hard for me to get into it the first time (I'd only done 3rd and 1st past before) but I knew that story needed it. Now I'm addicted. :)

Jaybird-Ugh. I think it's like that for all artists. My husband has a hard time with people believing how long it takes him to design a website, too. Lame.

Katie-It is kind of dizzying, isn't it? I try to think hard before each book what it should be, cause I don't want to have to change it later.

Morgan said...

Ha! Great post. I'm first person present tense all the way. I've done past, but present seems so much more fresh. And I haven't toyed around very much with 3rd!

Cassie Mae said...

I'm a first person present tenser too ;) I don't think I've done a swapping POV book though unless it's with a collab partner. Perhaps I should tackle that one some day, lol.

ilima said...

Morgan-That's exactly how I describe present tense, too--fresh! I love the immediacy of it.

Cassie-My first book was swapping POV's and a lot of fun. I'd like to do it again some day.

David P. King said...

I prefer third close, but am writing first close at the moment. What is it about first present that's so popular? Maybe I should write my next one that way ... then maybe my chances will be better. :)

Emily R. King said...

I don't think you missed anything. It really can be that overwhelming. Would it make sense if I say I leave it up to the MC to decide?

Yeah, I'm weird.

Jack said...

Point of Views can be fun. I've always wanted to try first but can never seem to stick to it.

ilima said...

David-The only one I can't stand is omniscient. Writing or reading it. But with present tense I feel like we're experiencing everything the same time as the MC. It's more exciting. :)

Emily-I think that's true. That's what I do, anyway. :)

Jack-First is easiest, I think. That's funny.

Livia said...

I definitely prefer first person. I'm used to saying I, we, etc. so it makes it sorta easier to write the story that way. By no means, writing a story is easy, it's difficult.

I write in second person for my movie reviews and that can be difficult. Still getting used to it.

Second and third person are really hard to write, so I try to stay away from them unless I have to.

Great post, ilima! :)

Melodie Wright said...

ACK - I'm facing this dilemma right now and was thinking of blogging about it Monday. i usually write first person past but...I'm sick of writing that way. My current WIP is third person past and its tiring to write out of my preferred POV. But I'm going to persevere bc right now, I'm writing for ME and ME wants to improve/stretch my comfort zone. It's a challenge, tho...

Tammy Theriault said...

for me, thru all your confusion, it would be dependant on how i want the story to flow...

Hanny said...

It really takes some experimentation to figure out the right voice for oneself, doesn't it?

ilima said...

Livia-I have a secret dream to be able to write something in second person some day. STOLEN by Lucy Christopher is one of my fav books and is 2nd person.

Melodie-Good luck, and way to go moving beyond your comfort zone when it needs to be done. That's awesome.

Tammy-It totally depends on the story, doesn't it?

Hanny-No kidding. :)

Nicole said...

Usually, I write in 3rd but I've done 1st (and even a 2nd person), too. It depends on the characters, and they're usually pretty loud about telling me which one they want.

ilima said...

Nicole-Ooh, I am so intrigued that you wrote something in 2nd person. Was it a book? How did that go?