Sartorias linked to this LJ post about violations of narrative protocols, specifically point of view. It makes for interesting reading, but when all’s said and done, I really don’t agree.

I simply don’t have that strict a view of narration, when it comes down to it. I think it’s an interesting device that Tolkien constructed The Lord of the Rings as a real story plausibly handed down to us by real narrators, but I don’t find the incident with the fox to be a “ghastly lapse.” (At least not a lapse of protocol. It is a bit twee, and in general, I approve of avoiding the twee.) I don’t need to believe that a specific person is the narrator of a story, or that they had an opportunity to communicate their thoughts to others. I’m privy to a character’s thoughts while they’re dying alone? Cool. It probably means I’ll find their death more interesting. (The Aldiss example, on the other hand, does sound annoying, and likely the result of Mr. Alidss setting himself a challenge he couldn’t consistently meet.)

As far as I’m concerned, everything we do in writing is artificial. (I almost said “nearly everything,” but decided to go for rhetorical force rather than covering my ass. I haven’t been awake for long enough to think through that assertion and decide if I have any exceptions.) Back to the point, everything’s artificial, and so I don’t have any particular reason for balking at conventions of narration that tell me things no person in the story could tell me. The issue, for me, is whether or not the writer induces me to care, and in pursuit of that goal, they can do whatever damn thing they please. Head-hopping? Violation of pov? Blatant asides to the reader? Knock yourself out. If you get me to follow you through it, then you’ve won. (Mind you, if you violate established conventions of narration and don’t get me to follow you, then I’ll be irritated, whereas a conventional approach that fails will merely bore me. Your risk.)

Of course, I’m saying all this as my agent prepares to market a novel that’s in first person with no explanation for when and how the narrator came to tell anyone that story. My defense here is not disinterested. Fortunately, when I responded to the original comment quoted at the beginning of that post, I was not the only one who said they had no problem with such a trick. There will be people who will throw the book down in disgust, perhaps, due to the point of view, but I hope they will be a minority.

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  1. ninja_turbo

    Hey, when Toni Morrison’s Jazz gets praised to high hell for its 1st person POV, then I think that anything, done well, can work.

  2. unforth

    I’m with you – though I think that some interesting points were made about narration, well, one of the problems I saw with that discussion of narrative is one that I spot often in criticism in the fantasy genre: the general attitude that always, always, always places Tolkien at the pinacle. And I can’t escape the feeling that a lot of that individuals views on narration were derived after the decision that Tolkien had done it almost perfectly – which is to say, that they read Tolkien and then hashed all that out, and then other books fit into it at various points on the “acceptible spectrum,” rather than the other way around, that they developed a view of narrative and then read a lot of stuff, and Tolkien’s was the best.

    Why should a book only be coherent? One of the things that BOTHERS me most about Tolkien is that sometimes, because no one knows, you just don’t find out. I like getting explanations for why things are the way they are, even when the characters don’t really have a way of knowing. On the flip side, I want this explanations to also be important and relevant – accomplishing both usually requires a lot of fancy footwork on an author’s part, too. (Of course, this isn’t relevant for some books, but it is for sweeping epic fantasy…)

    I think you hit it spot on when you said:
    The issue, for me, is whether or not the writer induces me to care, and in pursuit of that goal, they can do whatever damn thing they please. Head-hopping? Violation of pov? Blatant asides to the reader? Knock yourself out. If you get me to follow you through it, then you’ve won.
    I don’t really care what wacky stuff is done; if the writing is engaging and interesting, I’ll follow the author through upsettingly extensive violations of the fourth wall. (Take someone like Doug Adams, who routinely completely messes with POV, perspective, audience involvement, etc. with great success in my opinion)

    That said, I generally don’t enjoy books written in the first person. And I hate Tolkien. πŸ™‚ But those are personal preferences. πŸ™‚

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