Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Lesson in Point-of-View Found in Tana French's The Secret Place

First-person narrators are frequent and common choices when authors tell stories. Seeing the story unfold through the eyes of one person intrigues readers who weigh and evaluate the trustworthiness and perspective of that narrator as they read. They participate in discerning truths.

Third-person omniscient narrators are also common. These allow the author to know the thoughts, histories, and desires of all the characters. Readers receive comprehensive information as they observe events unfolding, characters interacting.

Recent novels I’ve read violate what was once a writing-class rule to choose a narrative point of view and be consistent throughout the work. In Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon moves between the minds of one character after another as jazz moves from a core riff, one jazz musician after another embellishing upon that riff before withdrawing to allow another musician center stage. Consequently, the experience of reading Telegraph Avenue can be dizzying.

Two recent novels employ first and third person narration throughout. In Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel, Middlesex and Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum. In each, the protagonist tells her own story but has the ability to see through the eyes and into the minds of other characters.

Tana French also uses both third and first-person narration in her recent novel, The Secret Place. An omniscient narrator tells the girls’ story, set in the recent past. The detective’s story is in first-person, told by one of the two detectives trying to solve the case.

Chabon, Eugenides, Atkinson, and French skillfully handle the narrative shifts and perspectives. Beginning authors may struggle to do so, but they should be thrilled to know their story-telling options have outstanding role models.

Reading Challenge:

Read the four books referenced in today’s post: Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson, and The Secret Place by Tana French as studies in narrative technique.

Writing Challenge:

Select a sample of your own fiction. Write it from third-person point of view, then rewrite it in first person.