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Do you prefer narrative in first person, third person or in another way?


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Initial post: Jun 8, 2012 4:28:58 PM PDT
Do you prefer to read literary fiction with narrative in first person, third person or in another way? And does one way make your reading experience deeper or different? And if the story is written in first person, can you successfully "crawl into the skin" of the character, even when this might be of opposite sex or otherwise different from you?

Posted on Jun 8, 2012 9:49:54 PM PDT
Quinton Blue says:
A lot of my favorite books are written in first person-- Maugham's "The Razor's Edge," Kinsella's "Shoeless Joe," and Richard Brautigan's "Trout Fishing in America." Yet, I have to admit that the novels of masterpiece quality, Solzhenitsyn's "Cancer Ward" and "The First Circle" are in third person. Two observations: It seems like the third person narrative can carry more weight and have a high seriousness. And it seems like the most effective first-person narrative's make the "I" character a small character, seldom the chief character.

Posted on Jun 8, 2012 9:58:23 PM PDT
Frank Mundo says:
I tend to like coming of age novels, memoirs, character-driven stories, noir and short stories which, for me, seem to work better in the first person. Although I'm not opposed to third person by any means. There's only one book I liked that was in second person, though. Definitely don't like second person.

Posted on Jun 9, 2012 7:11:35 AM PDT
H. S. Kim says:
It doesn't matter when I read, but when I write third person view point feels more comfortable, gives me anonymity while first person view point also limits the world in which I can operate as a narrator.

Posted on Jun 9, 2012 9:24:26 AM PDT
It might narrow it, but also gives a chance to get the reader into the skin of that person through self-experienced feelings. But I know what you mean about writing. Depending surely if you really write about things that have happened to you or are trying to distance yourself from them. However, the first person narrative is surprisingly often thought really to be author's own person. I have recently got some questions about my recently written stories, people asking how much the stories are from my own experiences. I guess that's natural when you write about love and melancholy and all the stories are written in first person. But as an "I", it's possible to be a American or Finnish everyman, English factory worker, Irish immigrant whoever. Just the point of view is told as "I". And the experiences can be from yourself, from your neighbour, passer-by, from your imagination or picked up from the day's newspaper. If the result feels real, you have succeeded.

Posted on Jun 9, 2012 4:05:22 PM PDT
S. Harper says:
I agree with Quinton Blue about the higher quality books tending to be Third Person. I think this is because there is more the author can do with the possibility of different points of view. I do love 1st person narration for things like comedy. Being inside the head of a really funny character and seeing the story through his/her eyes is a fun place to be. Or a scary place if its a suspense story. But those books tend also to be shorter, no? You can only look through one POV for so long.

Posted on Jun 9, 2012 4:18:18 PM PDT
Yes, also depends on the genre and topic where different techniques are used. I review some crime-themed novels annually and have been bored for years to find most of them being very similar when talking about language and setting, just about all of them written in third person. So when I recently got a novel written by Spanish author Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett, where she used first person narrative, it was refreshing.
Surely it's also about the way you write. Crime and Punishment would not necessarily look that much different, if it had been written in different narrative. The reader is anyway quite well in Raskolnikov's head.

Posted on Jun 29, 2012 4:33:52 AM PDT
Limelite says:
Suit the narrative voice to the purpose and I'm probably happy. Family sagas and large scope books with strong thematic elements are best told in 3rd omniscient. Certain picaresque and all bildungsroman are better told by the primary affected character in first person.

But I know what I don't like: 1st person voice-from-the-grave stuff. And 2nd person "you" narratives that briefly exploded onto the scene in the 90s. Spare me.

Posted on Aug 13, 2012 2:22:45 AM PDT
Usually third person, but some books work well in first person. As long as it isn't first person present tense, that drives me batty.

Posted on Oct 2, 2012 11:05:10 PM PDT
Andrew says:
I feel like 2nd is the worst of them and is often done poorly. Of course, there are always exceptions--Choose your own adventure is pretty awesome (hardly literary, though). I feel like 2nd attempts to put their reader in a bubble.
I think 1st person present-tense can be done well (Big Sur: (Penguin Ink) comes to mind), but the author has to work really hard at not being boring when doing it.
I feel like 3rd limited is the fad. When done properly, the "he/she" reads more like an "I".
Really, the right answer isn't whether we prefer something about literary works; rahter, it's about how did the author makes us appreciate his/her perspective.

Posted on Oct 5, 2012 2:10:24 AM PDT
I like third person omniscient, because it allows the author complete freedom to jump into and out of every single character's point of view and thereby give a more complete picture of what's going on. If it was good enough for Dickens and Dostoevsky, I'm cool with it.

The thing that usually annoys me about first person narratives is that they give tons of exact dialogue that no one could realistically remember if they were recounting the events later and writing them down; or at least if they did write that way, you would have to take it as a given that they were making up a fair chunk of it.

That said, a first person narrative that actually acknowledges this limitation can be wonderful. The science fiction novel Dead Romance (Faction Paradox) is absolutely fantastic, because the narrator says at the outset that her memory of the events is imperfect and that she's writing it all in a stream of consciousness fashion. So, I like first person stories that strive to feel like an actual first person account of a series of events.

Second person feels annoyingly gimmicky most of the time--except in one of the old Choose Your Own Adventure-style kids' books, for which it's ideally suited. That's not to say it can't work, just that it's hard to make it work.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 2, 2012 4:46:57 AM PDT
Hi, Ahonen ... interesting subject.

In Nerval's short story, "The King of Bedlam" and "The tale of Caliph Hakim," the narrator began with "Let us tell you the story of a most singular madman who lived towards the middle of the sixteenth century ....

In another short story, "Sylvie," the narrator began with "I was coming out of a theatre where, night after night, I would make my appearance in one of the stage boxes, dressed in an elegant garb of an ardent suitor...." Then, some time later, when (the same?) narrator recalled while the protagonist was taking a coach leaving Paris, while it was going up hills in the country, the narrator said "Let's recall..."

"Let's recall" ... means "let us recall" ... I guess you all know.

But what exactly did these narrators (in The King of Bedlam & The Tale of Caliph AND in Silvie) mean when they use such pronouns as US, WE, and I?
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Discussion in:  Literary Fiction forum
Participants:  10
Total posts:  12
Initial post:  Jun 8, 2012
Latest post:  Nov 2, 2012

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