Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thoughts on the Craft -- cannegardner

“One cannot hide his identity under cover of the third person narrative, nor establish his identity solely through the use of the first person singular.” – Henry Miller

Many quotes strike to the core of an author, but none so deeply for me as this one. Let’s take a step back to the Vitruvian Narrator for a moment. When I am writing fiction, I never consciously choose my narrative voice. When the stories come to me, they usually come to me in the voice that is meant to tell the story. Since I write novellas -- by the literary definition of the term -- and since those novellas are an emotional, psychological, and philosophical portrait of a particular character, I oftentimes use the first person singular. I like the intimacy. However, in the case of The Thin Wall, I struggled with the level of intimacy – for eighteen months and two editions to be exact. It seems a simple thing, to just choose, but all artists know that the choice of colour, or depth perception, is not an easy one, nor is it a choice to be taken lightly.

I finally came to realise, in the throes of late night agony, that my main character and narrator, Laleana, the woman suffering in the thrall of love; Laleana, the co-dependent; Laleana the delusional middle-aged woman, was not a reliable narrator. I came to realise that she was far too emotional to narrate the story. Now, epiphanies are great and all that, but through that epiphany, I had pitched myself into a new dilemma. I knew I didn’t want a third person omniscient narrator because I wanted to retain a certain level of intimacy, a confessional level of intimacy, for that was what the story demanded of me. Therefore, what was the answer? Well, humans have the unique gift of duality, and so the choice -- the only choice I had really -- became clear. In the end, I decided to have Laleana, the prim and proper librarian, narrate the story for the most part, using third person limited, as I felt that this was the only way I could show the duality of her being, could illuminate her secret internal struggle – her intimate struggle with her own shadow. Yes, it seems a bit psychotic, to look outside ourselves as if we are an alien entity, but in fact, we do that all the time, for it is the only true path to self-awareness. Carl Jung talked extensively about the shadow, and this type of narrative depth is very effective. Even Ellis allowed Patrick Bateman to step outside of himself for one chapter in American Psycho; hell, Fight Club is written entirely from the shadow perspective, and isn’t our own inner voice The Dweller on the Threshold of a sorts and respectfully analogous to Jung’s shadow. Although in these examples the principles of Jung’s shadow have been reversed, the shadow-self being the benevolent in these cases and not the one to be overthrown. I thought so, and so I decided who better to narrate my story -- the supressed inner voice of reason.

So hopefully, my attempt represents well on paper. The Art is by Gustav Dore from Milton's Paradise Lost.

Cheryl Anne Gardner


Henry Martin said...

For me it is the same: Stories come to me in the voice most appropriate for the the story.

Some of my more experimental short pieces are written in a third person, as it allows for more detachment on my part, while my main work, The Mad Days of Me, trilogy is written in a first person, as I can make more personal for the reader this way. Although the story is far from anything I experienced, or want o experience, the use of first person narrative is more suitable, since there is a certain amount of 'grab' I cannot (or am unable to) recreate in a third person narrative.

Still, one cannot hide self under the narrator. Our experiences, thoughts, approaches, and attitudes, some through the narrator, whether we choose to approach a story from either a first or third person.

What I would like to try in the future, albeit it scares me, is to write a story in a second person narrative. This one, however, can be tricky for the author. One has to be careful not to stand too high up on the imaginary soapbox, a weakness I have even when using a first person narrative. (r so I've been told).

Once again, a great post Ms. Gardner.

To be critical, one first has to look at own work without any restrains and preconceived notions. It appears, that you are able to do so. Best of luck in your writing endeavors.

Anonymous said...

Great post - will make detailed reply back at my own site before long.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Thanks for the support. Looking at my own work critically has never been a problem. It's the uncertainty we can feel during that process that is the most difficult to bear.

Mick Rooney did a wonderful job with the second person narrative in his collection of stories "Filigree and Shadow." He had his head in the right place and understood the subtle mechanics. I highly recommend it.

Brandon Forbes said...

I truly enjoy your writing and can't wait to read more. You now are being followed :)