Differing perspectives, part four, Hybrid narratives

Part four of a series on differing forms of narratives in stories.

After I finished writing my last post on differing perspectives, I realized that I had one more post on this topic than I had expected. I had forgotten completely about what I term ‘Hybrid narratives’. Hybrid narratives, or perhaps I should I say stories, are where an author mixes both first person and third person narrative styles in a single book.

This is accomplished in several ways:

  1. A forward in first or third person followed by the rest of the book in the other style (forward in first rest in third or vice versa.)
  2. Alternating chapters narrative style (e.g. Chapter 1 in third, chapter 2 in first).
  3. Giving every chapter or every x numbers of chapters a single page forward written in first person. Normally this takes the form of a page from a diary of the main character.
  4. If a book is divided into parts, each part could have a forward of its own written in either style (followed of course by the other style).

While this isn’t as common as either just First or Third person stories, I’ve seen it done many times. It seems to be a bit newer of an idea, but if done well it can work well.

This kind of hybrid narrative structure has several pros and few cons:

Pros:

  1. Utilizes both first and third person narratives.
  2. Allows for easy changing from person to person in first person narrative
  3. Allows a reader to see deeper into the character, while still allowing for the view-point to change to something happening a thousand miles away.
  4. It can be used to lead into a flashback.

I can’t think of any obvious cons, save for the fact that some readers might have a bit of a problem with the narrative style switching back and forth over the course of a book.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series about differing narratives, I know I enjoyed writing it. Please feel free to leave any comments below.

Advertisements

Differing perspectives, part 3: Third person

This is the third part of my series on differing perspectives. In part two I explored first person narrative. Today I’ll be focusing on third person narrative.

Third person narrative is the normal view point, or perspective, that most people are most familiar with as most novels and stories are written in.  It uses a nonexistent person that is omnipotent in its sight, but is not able to be seen or alter anything in the world it sees.

While that might not be the best description of third person narrative, it’s the closest that I can come up with that is simple enough to explain.

What can be said about something everyone is familiar with? I’m not sure, but I’ll try my best.

Continuing with my examples from last time, if you’ll recall I highlighted ‘Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc’, now I’d like to bring to the front another of Mark Twain’s other works that was written in third person.

‘The adventures of Tom Sawyer’ is an example that most people are familiar with. In it Mark Twain used third person in a more limited way, mostly concentrating on the main characters and ignoring what was going on in the rest of the town. In most modern third person writing it would be vastly different. In ‘Tom Sawyer’ for example, in it Tom sneaks back into town, that is the only way he finds out about the funeral being held for the boys, that allowed them to walk in on their own funeral. That would have still been possible if the story was being told in first person by Huck Finn about what he experienced, but it wouldn’t have had the humorous chapter about Tom’s escapade.

While it would seem that Third person books would all be written in a similar pattern, there are actually nearly as many different ways to write one as there are books written that way, a few examples:

  1.  Even in third person stories, the main character can be followed exclusively, this is somewhat rare but still quite possible.
  2. Every chapter can focus on a different character, I’ve seen this done quite often.
  3. Descriptions can take presidence over action and even characters.

Now for a list of the pros and cons of third person narrative:

Pros:

  1. The story can jump between characters, places and even times.
  2. Third person narratives can have more descriptions in them as they are not bound by what one person might take note of.
  3. Flashbacks can be accomplished quite easily without  the narrative explaining why they are happening before hand (e.g. dreams, a knock on the head explained afterwards, etc.)
  4. Dreams are handled much easier and clearly as the narrator doesn’t have to say that they had a dream that such and such happened.

Cons:

  1. You mostly see the overview of things instead of a certain character’s point of view (there are a few exceptions to this, however they are rarely handled well).
  2. Main characters can remain more undefined as you never know quite what they really view as important enough to remember through out the book (this might be a good thing however, depending on what kind of story it is).
  3. The passing of time isn’t as clear cut as in most first person stories, unless it is defined as ‘one week later’ or something similar.

I know that I’ve glossed over a few things here, perhaps I’ve overstated a few things as well, but I feel that these are all valid points.

Thanks for reading and please let me know what you thought of this post.

Note: I enjoy books written in third person just as much as those written in first person, I hope that nothing in the post suggests otherwise.

Differing perspectives, part two: First person

The second part of my series on differing perspectives in stories, focusing on first person narrative.

I gave a quick example on First person narratives in the first part of my series. In this second part I’ll be going more into detail about first person narratives, I’ll cite a few example and give my take on it.

First off, first person narratives are nothing new, they’ve been in use for a long time, while I’m not quite as well read of the classics as I should be, even Mark Twain wrote in first person on occasion.
While Mark Twain wrote about his travels in first person, describing what he saw and giving his take on it, he also wrote ‘Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc’ in first person, telling the now familiar story of her through the fictional eyes of a friend who followed her into battle. It is one of the best examples of first person narrative that I’ve ever read and I heartily recommend it to everyone who wants to read a well written story in first person.

Another well written novel in first person is ‘The Woman in White’ by Wilkie Collins. In this book Wilkie Collins managed to go a step farther with a first person narrative, while not changing style, he allowed other voices to take over the narrative in certain chapters, allowing the reader to hear the statements of the witnesses and suspects in the case.

The Woman in White is another book that I’d recommend to those interested in reading a story in first person as it’s one of the best examples that I’ve read.

While other authors have tried to copy Wilkie Collins’ style of first person narrative, I’ve found few that have come close. I did recently read one that seemed as if it used the same style, the characters related their part of the story nicely, but in the end nearly all of them were killed off, as it was written in a way that it seemed like a flash back, reading the death in first person was jarring to say the least.

 

Now for the pros and cons of first person narratives:

Pros:

  1. As it focuses on one point of view, the reader can get a better feel about the narrating character.
  2. It tells the story as seen by the character (or characters depending on style), which can reveal details that the character(s) feel are important.
  3. First person narratives can develop a better understanding of the narrator, how he thinks and feels.
  4. It can allow for certain facts to be concealed as the narrating character doesn’t know about those details until later on in a story.

 

Cons:

  1. It offers a lot more challenges to a writer as the world is revealed through only a single character in most cases (if using the Wilkie Collins’ method this problem is slightly reduced as there are multiple views points).
  2. You are stuck with the narrating character (or characters) even if something important is happening a thousand miles away.
  3. You don’t get quite as good of a feel for other characters is the story.
  4. Certain facts are hidden from the reader and it might seem as if the author changed something major at the end when something is revealed.

 

All of the above challenges can be avoided by good writer of course, say by hinting about certain facts before they are revealed.

I hope that you’ve found this article interesting and informative, next week I’m tackling third person perspectives.

Differing perspectives, part one

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about books, so I thought I’d take a stab at comparing narrative perspectives.

Because I expect this to be a large undertaking I am going to break it down into different parts. Right now I’m planning on having this opening part as well as future parts dedicated to first person and third person perspectives. If I feel that it’s warranted, I may add a few additional parts.  Right now I’m  thinking that I’ll be posting one part per week.

First off,  I thought I’d outline the basics of narrative perspectives. Obviously I’m talking about the perspective that a book or story is written in, another way to say it would be whose  eyes the story is unfolding in front of. Almost everyone probably understands this already, but I just want to clarify in case anyone doesn’t understand the meanings of First person and Third person.

First person normally takes the form of relating a story, such as how you’d tell your neighbor what you saw in Paris, e.g.: “We climbed the Eiffel tower, the view was breath-taking from the top!” Or how you stopped a hoard of vikings from over running London: “I stood on London bridge with nothing but a sword and drove back a thousand berserk vikings, after a few hours they fled in terror at my prowess in battle.”

Third person is told more like a person is watching the events unfold without being affecting by them, e.g.: “Arnold watched as his car was towed from in front of the drugstore, it was the fourth time that week that it had happened.” or “June cracked an egg and briskly whipped it as she scanned the recipe for the next step, all while wondering why she was baking a cake when the world-famous scientist Alfred Von Finkstine was being held captive in her basement.  June feared it would be the last time the CIA asked her to protect a scientist holding a vital secret that could bring about the demise of civilization if she didn’t manage to pull a rabbit out of her hat.”

 

I hope this post whets your appetite for the next parts.

Please leave any comments, I want to make this series of posts as informative as possible and all feedback will be taken into consideration before the next post

Breaking down beginnings, part 1

This post is the first of an occasional series of posts about the beginnings of books.

First lines and Prologues

I touched on this topic a few days ago, now I’m going to go into more detail on problems that occur with the beginning of a book.
One of the many problems with the beginning of books that I see all to often lately is that the first few lines are slow. A book needs to have a catchy first few words, throw in some action, or create enough tension that a reader can’t bare to put it down. I don’t pretend to know a foolproof way to start a book, but I do have my opinions on how not to start one.

Starting out slow is only one of the problem ways to start a book, there are many, many different ways that authors go wrong starting books. One other such way is having a paragraph or two that has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the chapter, it’s not as common as other troublesome starts, but it does exist. True, such a beginning can, if done correctly, drag a reader into the story, but more often than not, it’s just so far removed from the following sentences that it throws the reader for a loop and renders the story hard to get into.

A much more common option is to expand on such a paragraph (that doesn’t really matter to the story until the end of the book) and call it a prologue.
I don’t mind prologue use as a rule, but when they are used to mention something that will solve the problem at the end of the book, such as some odd person, jewel, bird or whatnot that will solve everything when he/she/it appears in the last chapter and render the rest of the book moot, that’s when I get the feeling that the author was a bit lazy, wrote themselves into a corner, at which point, rather than backing up and working out the problem, or coming up with a witty solution, the author grows a pair of wings and escapes by writing a prologue. I’ve seen this happen, once I even read a prologue that had better characters than the rest of the book, I kept waiting for them to appear and it wasn’t until the final chapter or two that they did, the rest of the book wasn’t very good, and I don’t remember anything about it beside that.

What do you think? Do you enjoy prologues which feature a deus ex machina?

Chapter Length

Chapter length, something most people don’t think about until faced with a chapter that just refuses to end and something that drives me crazy.

What really drives me crazy is when chapter length isn’t consistent, one chapter is twenty page, the next forty followed by a three page chapter, or even worse, a quarter page chapter. This is something that I can’t stand, I don’t mind when chapters vary a bit in length, a few pages is fine, but so many books that I read are just crazy with how much they vary.

I don’t enjoy extra long chapters either, I’d much rather have most chapters be between five and twenty pages, unless there are plenty of breaks in them, whether to change characters, or just for a slight pause while time passes, just give me enough places to stop so I can do something else if I need to. Not that I’m very likely to stop reading for long, not if it’s well enough written to keep my attention.

The only time I don’t mind longer chapters without breaks is when the action is building, or it’s a life or death point in a book, but most authors tend to either gloss over such things or wax poetic to the point I simply glance over it until it’s more interesting. But for a well written action scene, I’ll accept it being quite a bit longer if it adds something to a story.

So, in conclusion, I’d like to let authors to think about this: How long does a chapter really need to be? Does it really need to be so long without a single break?

These are just my opinions, I’m curious if anyone else thinks as I do, please leave a comment and let me know.

Story telling

The secret to writing a good story is to keep it interesting. Some stories can become great some are great and some never achieve greatness, to paraphrase a great mind.
There are way too many authors that have no idea how to make a story interesting, they also seem to be able to make a story dull even when they don’t mean to. It’s not that they lack in talent, but that they over edit, they end up taking too long to say just a few words and not long enough to say a great many words. While reading many many books lately I’ve noticed this, they could’ve been good books, but they weren’t. When everything was said and done at the end (if I got that far), they turned out to be dull and even boring.
One thing most authors need to keep in mind is that they need to keep the action moving, plus you need to make sure that the characters stay interesting, then the story moves fast and keeps a reader hooked. I’m sure that most of these books I’ve read could improved with just a little more editing, unfortunately it always boils down to the editing.
On the other hand there are some times we do need a slower part of a story just to add a little more suspense, that’s something most stories need… the extra suspense…  maybe a bit of dullness is what most books need to slow down the plot just enough to where you can get antsy for the rest action to start back up for the rest of the story.
On rare occasions some books do have several dull areas in them so you can get an idea of how the main character or characters feel just waiting… waiting for the next shoe to drop, so to speak,  never knowing when that might happen. In those cases you need fast-paced action interposed between periods of dullness, that allows you to get back into the story again rapidly… at least until next period of dullness arrives.
I feel that most authors do not take enough effort to strive for the balance between too much action and too much dullness in their stories, its that problem that keeps more stories from being excellent, if those authors would just take more time and spend more effort to create a well-balanced story, I really believe that there could be more books worthy of being ranked up there with the All-time best authors such as Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie and other such wonderful authors from the golden ages of writing.
Of course these have just been my opinions and they don’t reflect everyone’s opinion on certain things, I’m very interested in seeing what other people have to say, please comment and tell me what you think about that this and what’s your take on story telling:

Do you enjoy solid fast-paced action Packed stories,? Or do you enjoy stories that have fast-paced action interspersed with periods of slower action?

Thank you For taking the time to read this and comment.

Endings in books

I’ve read a lot of books in my life, and one thing that I’ve come to hate are series where the author wraps up the main story half way into the last book, then spend the last half saying goodbye to all the characters. Normally the characters who have survived spend a chapter or two (or more) talking about their adventures, then they all go galloping off back home, most of the time in either small groups or in one large group, in the latter case, the main character goes along to the end, invariably he lives the furthest away, or nearly the furthest. After each character arrives home, they have a meal and leave, sometimes visiting the families of the characters who didn’t survive. At the very end of the book, or maybe a chapter or two away from the end, the main character is left alone and finds himself wondering what is going to happen to him next, now that the world is at peace and he’s no longer needed.

The kind of books I much prefer are the ones that come to a nice conclusion and stop, allowing you to hope that some disaster might arise and require the hero and all his friends to ride to the rescue once more in some future book.

Now I do admit that a few authors can pull off the whole saying goodbye thing, such as the late, great, David Eddings, one of my favorite authors. He managed to pull off saying goodbye, then bring all the characters back in another series, and saying goodbye to all of them plus a few new ones, which was amazing. But very few authors can pull off such a feat.

I, personally, have not yet been faced with such a problem when writing, I’ve never thought about my characters ever having to settle down again, at least not so far. Perhaps I’ll be faced with that problem one day, but I hope not.

What’s your opinion? Should stories have drawn out endings to say goodbye to characters? Or should they just end, perhaps to be pick up again at a later point?

Killing off characters in books

That’s what I’ve been thinking about lately, it seems like most of the books I read have at least one of the main characters being killed off before the end. Trilogies are even worse as most authors seem to believe that the best way to write a series is to start with, oh say ten key characters and slowly kill them off during the trilogy, by the last chapter of the last book there maybe two of the original characters remaining. With luck one of the remaining characters will comment on how its a shame that so and so didn’t live, but that’s it.

I  really think that the reason so many authors kill off so many characters is that they are lazy. It’s too easy to kill off a character without regard to the characters own story, they just cut it out and ignore that person. Perhaps it’s because the authors just can’t remember what their characters are doing and decide to simplify the story. I can understand that, I really can, but if that’s what they are doing, I think that they should just rewrite the parts of their story with the soon to be killed character and assign those key pieces to another character that won’t be killed off.

Oh, I realize that there are certain times where killing of a character is necessary, some author do a good job only killing off a character when and where it’s necessary without using it as a crutch. Plus some stories revolve around a key character dying in the book, such as Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc In that book you know what’s going to happen, but you also feel drawn into it and keep hoping that history will be changed. In my opinion, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc is a master piece that should be required reading for any author. There are a few other, more recent, authors that have managed to kill off characters without infuriating me, but not many.

One area where I accept a character being killed off is during an end of book battle between good and evil, but only when they are struck down as they save the world and kill the villain, I don’t enjoy such an ending, but I can see where, mostly in trilogies and series, where it is necessary to kill a character is such a way.

In conclusion, I ask that authors take a second look at the characters that they kill off, see if a serious wound wouldn’t work just as well, incapacitate the character and write them off that way if you must, but don’t ask me to believe that a character that can take a broken sword and hold off a horde of barbarians wielding battle axes for hours from his horse one day and two weeks later he falls off his horse and drown in two inches of water when the horse is spooked by the wind.

 Thanks for listening to my rant… what’s your opinion?