|I'm on the warpath against bad narrative viewpoint!|
This is not necessarily the most prevalent viewpoint – especially in fantasy fiction – but when it’s done right, it really works. Here, the narrator is often the main character and we only experience the story through his or her eyes. The #1 benefit of this viewpoint is that it’s the most intimate with the reader. We get to know this viewpoint character perhaps better than in any other narrative point-of-view. A great example is Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Tales series. All six of his novels are told through the first-person viewpoint of the protagonist, Uhtred of Bebbanburg. By the end of the first novel, the reader feels as if he or she knows Uhtred like a close friend. We can hear his voice in our head and we know what fuels his fears and passions. In these novels, first-person point-of-view works masterfully.
|First-person point-of-view at its best!|
But pulling off a good fist-person point-of-view requires a lot of skill. The narrator’s thoughts, mannerisms, and life have to be fairly distinctive or this character runs the risk of coming off generic and boring. It’s downright painful to spend 400 pages in the head of a dull character or one that frets too much or continually makes stupid decisions. All of this can drive a reader batty!
On occasion, however, a first-person viewpoint from a less-than exciting character can work, but often this happens when the narrator is the sidekick to the main character, yet is still distinctive enough in his or her own right to make the novel interesting. A good example of this type of narrator is Adso of Melk in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. Adso’s not the star of the show – William of Baskerville is – but his situation (including an unexpected encounter with a peasant girl) – is interesting enough to keep us engaged. A tremendous puzzle-like plot helps a bit too.
|Adso of Melk makes a good narrator!|
My advice to authors is to save first-person point-of-view for stories where the only facts a reader needs to know can be observed through a single character’s eyes. Usually these stories are more character-focused, less epic in scope, and generally less complex in terms of plot than novels best told through a different point-of-view. Even then, only use first-person when you’re willing to invest in a character distinctive enough from the rest of us to draw the reader in. I know this advice might not apply to modern or paranormal romance stories, but that’s not what this blog’s about. If it’s fantasy or historical fiction, and were stuck with a single character’s viewpoint for the entire novel, for the love of everything make that person interesting!
So one viewpoint down, three more to go. And next week, may the ranting begin …