I do promise that I’ll quit following that SUV after today! (It’s described in the Jan. 1st post if you’re a new reader.) If you don’t mind, let’s revisit it one more time to talk about another especially important component of fiction. Point of view. An author first addresses point(s) of view as s/he decides who will tell the story. For example, it might be an omniscient narrator who speaks from a distance in the third person. Another narrative option commonly used in more contemporary literary fiction is to relate each character’s point of view in his/her own “voice” (still in the third person) by using his/her vocabulary and vernacular, using only what the character knows, thinks and feels, sometimes called “tight” or “close” third person. For example, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen is written in tight 3rd person with multiple points of view. (And an extra note: this approach may be a legacy of the “post modern” novelists who generally distrusted the voice of any exernal authoritative narrator.)
The choice of narrator opens new dimensions, too: suppose I were to pick yet another option, an intimate first person narrator (who can’t automatically be entirely relied upon for accuracy or objectivity because this narrator must be assumed to have a history and experiences that color what s/he sees and relates). For example, returning to one of our SUV scenarios: Suppose we go back to imagining the grandfather as dead, and his widow, the owner of the big black van, barely coping. Say she lives by envisioning her lost husband in heaven, arranging revenge for the death of their grandson. Suppose she subtly deteriorates during the book, and comes to believe she’s to carry out his plan? What if she’s the first person narrator?
One commentator, Nancy Pinard, suggested that an author’s own baggage affects how we interpret what we see. How true. When I think of myself as the first person narrator of the January 1 post about the SUV, what comes up? One grandfather died when I was five, though I do remember being afraid of his booming brusqueness. The other was a gentle, quiet soul who’d doesn’t match any of my male SUV owner visions. My own dad, a retired Army Colonel, adored his cars and wouldn’t have defaced one with paint if held at gunpoint. “Pull the trigger, you nincompoop,” he’d have said. But he was rigidly conservative in his opinions, and while he was warm and affectionate, he also had an unforgiving side. So for me it’s plausible that a grandfather might not forgive a grandson…or himself. More immediately though, my next book will have a female character who perceives herself to be unforgiven for relinquishing a child. So the theme is, indeed, alive and up front in my mind.
Did it affect my original “read” of the painting on the SUV? Now that’s in interesting idea. If I were to pursue this SUV mini sketch as a start for a novel, who would tell the story? What would be his/her ax to grind? Maybe it would be most interesting told from multiple points of view, each of them seeing what happened to Nicholas through the separate lens of his/her relationship to him and the event. But I’m also attracted to my first person grieving widow overwhelmed with her two losses (described in the January 9th post.) Her voice would be fascinating to develop, and the slow revelation that she’s not a reliable narrator would be an artistic challenge. Maybe all this should go in my written-down ideas file, to let it percolate for a future novel.
What do you think? I’d love reactions. Do any of these premises for a story grab you? If so, which one? Does a particular narrative point of view appeal to you most? Is there a character whose point of view is the most fascinating?
The great thing about receiving comments is gathering new points of view to consider as I work. I really appreciate them.