Perspective

Invisible Man

Image via Wikipedia

I had a lot of trouble choosing the Point of View (POV) and the narration of my NaNoWriMo book. There’s a simple reason for this: I like one style of narration a lot, but it wasn’t the best choice for the story.

I love first person narratives in novels. Some of my favorite novels, works like Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, are told in first person. The intimacy, having unrestricted access to the interior life of the main character, feeling as if you are in that person’s skin, watching everything unfold and feeling every emotion–it’s a wonderful feeling of connection between reader and the character(s).

The only problem is all first person narration is somewhat unreliable. People never remember things exactly as they happened. There are emotions, prejudices, preferences and past experiences clouding everything that happens to them. This is very useful in some stories, this narrow perspective. For example, in The Secret History, it allows for mystery to build and for the reader to discover the true horror behind the crime as the narrator does in a way that keeps it fresh. His not knowing everything is useful to us. His shame and guilt allows him to speak freely, as he’s trying to get the weight of it off of his chest. But what about when the reverse is happening?

 I’ve already told you my main character is a compulsive liar. She is completely untrustworthy at the beginning of the book. She can’t help twisting things to her advantage. I can’t leave the story in her hands. I couldn’t choose a different first person to narrate, because it’s her story, and no one was close enough to get inside her head. So third person it is, right?

Now here’s the hard part. If I make it third person omniscient, I can get into a few people’s heads and swing the point of view a bit when I need to. But if it’s omniscient, it’s not as personal and connected to the story. What to do?

I started writing and let the writing take its course. I haven’t given too many characters interior thoughts or feelings besides the main character’s, and it will be easy to go back and use strong verbs and facial expressions to convey the other character’s interior thoughts…mostly.

How did/do you solve POV and narration dilemmas in your writing? Have you had to change POVs after beginning a story? How do you decide which narrative voice to use?

P.S.: I’ve never seen this cover of Invisible Man before; I like!

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