Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The responsibility of the first-person narrator

Thrashing on in my struggle with point of view in my fiction, I'm reminded by my friend Kate that the first-person narrator's responsibility is, first and foremost, to the reader. In my first-person stories my narrators spend a lot of time in self-reflection and commentary. That's because I gravitate toward hyper-self-conscious narrators, and also because I'm flummoxed by "narrative occasion"--why is the narrator telling the story now?--which leads to questions of what he or she knows, and when, which leads to more reflection. Not unexpectedly, the actual story tends to suffer under these conditions. As important as it is for *me* to understand what the narrator knew and when she knew it, it's more important to hold the reader's attention. So that's the narrator's real job: tell the story as well as it can be told. Displaying my awareness of narrative occasion and its pitfalls is for me, not the reader.

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