Introducing First-Person Narrators

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I gave the first chapter of Featherfolk Draft II to one of my writing groups. The general consensus was that I didn’t introduce my main character very well. One of my groupmates was not even certain of the character’s gender.

I realized this is something I have long struggled with. How do I elegantly introduce facts about a first-person narrator?

There are plenty of (to my mind) inelegant ways, such as providing a convenient mirror within the first few pages for her to glance into, or otherwise having her dwell on her appearance at length for no apparent reason.

I did some research on how other authors introduce the gender of their first-person narrators. This involved pulling down twenty-odd books written in the first person from my shelves and reading until the author stated positively the character’s gender.

Sometimes this happened on the first page, or within the first paragraph. Often, it took a few pages. Always, it was within the first chapter.

And actually, it was fun to think about how and if the stories would have changed with a main character of the opposite gender.

I found six tactics that authors used to identify the character’s gender.

  • The main character told the reader his or her gender-specific first name.
  • The character identified himself/herself with a group of men/boys/sons or women/girls/daughters.
  • Another character spoke the main character’s gender-specific first name.
  • Another character spoke about the main character, using a gender-specific pronoun.
  • The main character described his or her clothing. (This only works if the character is part of a culture familiar to the readers.)
  • One author included a prologue in third person that described the main character.

As far as physical descriptions of main characters, some of the authors didn’t bother in the first chapter. A few gave full descriptions (one included exact height and weight). The most non-intrusive method I noted was comparisons to other characters’ appearances or to a desired norm, and these tid-bits of description came naturally in the flow of the story.

So, since my main character does not have a name that is clearly feminine, nor is she part of a familiar culture with western dress, I will try having her identify herself as one of the girls in her village.

And as she and everyone that she knows has black hair, brown eyes, and brown skin, I will have to find more subtle differences between characters to help bring out these facts.

Although, I really don’t care if my readers ever know that she has brown eyes. It doesn’t matter one bit.

Happy Yarning!

Distinct Narrators

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I’m trying to figure out how to make my three first-person narrators sound like three different people. Maybe typing out some of my thoughts will help:

What do they each sound like when they talk? Who uses more long, rambling sentences or more short ones?

Who are they each telling this story to and why?

Which of them tends to look beneath the surface of his or her own motivations? What about others’ motivations?

What things interest each of them most? How does this govern what details they notice in the world?

What sense(s) do they each rely on most? Or rather, what stimulants are they each most sensitive to?

Who/what do they each believe is or should be in control of the world (God, nature, herself/himself, other people)?

How would they each define themselves? How does this color their perceptions of others?

How do any or all of the above answers change as they mature in the course of the story?

What markers (themes, repeated words, etc.) can I use for each narrator to clue readers in quickly when I switch? Sometimes a chapter break doesn’t seem to be enough on its own.

I think if I can answer these questions for each narrator, I’ll be a lot further toward distinct voices than I am now.

What are your thoughts? How do you deal with multiple narrators within the same story?

Happy Yarning!

 

Book Report: A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

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I finally got around to reading Megan Whalen Turner’s fourth book set in the world of The Thief. As usual, I loved the characters. They’re intelligent, but sometimes their emotions get the better of them. They have quirks and backgrounds and plans, and it’s fun to see them grow and juggle the calls of leadership and personal goals.

The setting was as magical as ever.

I wish I’d read this right after The King of Attolia, since I’ve forgotten lots of little things that happened in the first three books. This one looks back on The Thief a lot, because those events were a defining time for Sophos.

My only gripe for this book would be the shifting voice and point of view. Large chunks of the text were in first person (Sophos telling his story, bam, no problems there). But there were also periods of third person limited, in which the POV switched between different characters. I found myself reading so fast that I missed these shifts, and it became a blur of third person semi-omniscient.

I definitely recommend this series to teen and adult fantasy readers.

And for anyone who left off the series after The King of Attolia (because Sophos didn’t look as interesting as Gen), read on! There’s plenty of Gen in A Conspiracy of Kings.  (Also, Sophos is awesome too.)