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

My new quest

I’m on a new quest to read as much old-time, retro, classic (am I missing any terms there?) Sci-Fi as I can. Just how I’m going to accomplish this is something I haven’t given much thought to, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to find some of what I want online. I am also hoping that I’ll be able to find some more old sci-fi books at thrift stores.

I’ll admit that I’m trying to do this on the cheap, I’ve already looked at ebooks on Amazon.com, I’ve found a few, but I was surprised to see so many from earlier than I expected. Other than Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, I didn’t think that sci-fi was really being written before the 1920s.

My goal is to see if I can come up with a definitive list of just what makes old sci-fi so much better than modern sci-fi. I already have some ideas of why I think it’s better, but I want to expand my view of Sci-Fi. I want to find out if I’m missing anything, or if what old-time sci-fi I’ve already read just happens to be the best there is.

Having found out that there were some other very early sci-fi, I’m wondering if the movie Metropolis (1927) was really one of the first Sci-Fi movies or not (I do  realize that there was an earlier version of From the Earth to the Moon). That’s one more thing that I should find out about before my ‘quest’ is finished, or perhaps it’ll be a separate quest.

Thanks for reading!

Old time Sci-Fi

Is something that I just love to read, it’s just so much more fun than what’s written today. Today, Sci-Fi is mostly what’s termed “Military Sci-Fi”, which I don’t enjoy very much at all.

Keep your alien invasions, I doubt many alien races would be stupid enough to want Earth, what with how we’ve polluted it and everything. I really doubt that alien bugs would want it either. Those are the two biggest things I’ve seen in  modern Sci-Fi books I have looked at recently.

Give me that old-time, exploration type, Sci-Fi. Sure, not all of it was like that, there was some violence in it, but most of the time it was… righteous? No… heroic? No… a better way to say it would be fun and not graphic.

That’s the major problem with modern Sci-Fi… and most modern fiction in fact, the violence is graphic, everyone thinks that they have to describe all the blood and guts. It’s not enough to blast a ship into atoms, now you have to describe the people being split into subatomic particles, after all, if you don’t have blood or gore of some kind, you’ve got to have something equally graphic, right?

I’m against this new kind of Sci-Fi, give me the good old Sci-Fi like, oh, Poul Anderson wrote. He could tone down the violence to a tolerable level and still keep you turning the pages. He could create characters good enough to hold ones imagination without resorting to graphic violence or nudity.

There are any number of other old-time Sci-Fi authors  I could mention, but I think you get the idea. It all boils down to one thing, the ‘Golden Age’ of Sci-Fi was in the 30s, 40s, 50s and parts of the following decades when authors that understood how to keep a reader’s attention with low-key approaches, unlike today’s Sci-Fi authors who realize that their story is getting boring and add some blood and death to spice it up.

Can’t we go back to the old-time Sci-Fi? Maybe even throw in a few obsolete technologies for old times sake? Maybe a CRT monitor? Or a computer tape? Or what about Martians?

Thanks for reading this. What do you think? Have times just changed to the point where we need to have all the blood and guts to be entertains? Or have the modern  Sci-Fi writers just let us down?

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?

The trouble with beginnings…

Is that unless they grab your attention right away, you just can’t get into the book. I can’t even guess how many books that I’ve stopped reading after a page or two because I couldn’t get into it, which is something I’m not proud of.
If I could have gotten into any of those books, I’m sure that I would have enjoyed them, I’ve managed to force myself into a few such books over the years, those few have been enjoyable once I’m into them, but it’s not easy getting past the first page sometimes. Sometimes I can’t even get past the first paragraph!
This is a problem that I’ve seen in writings from all time periods, Shakespeare isn’t very easy to read, nor are some of Mark Twain’s contemporaries, even big time authors from the last few decades aren’t always the easiest to get into.
I’d like to write a longer post on this topic in the next few days, but I want to hear your opinions first. Is this a topic worth discussing? Let me know!

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.

Interactive Fiction

I’d like to take a moment to tell you about Interactive Fiction (IF), also known as Adventure games and Text games, IF is the oldest kind of computer game in existence. It was quite popular in the early days of computing, but it suffered a decline in popularity when graphics were introduced to games. However IF is not dead, in fact there is a large community that still creates and plays IF.

There is one place where IF has an opportunity to gain new fans, advertizing, specifically advertizing for books, e-books in particular. IF is quite powerful and would work wonderfully as a way to hook people into a series. Let me give you an example: Say a mystery series has a minor character, IF could be utilized to give that character a story of his or her own. Or, if there is a place in a book where the main character enters a place and isn’t seen again for a number of pages and  nothing is explained about what happened in that place, IF could allow you to be the character in that place. What could be a better way to advertise a book?

IF has several different languages that can be used to create it, such as Inform 7, which is the easiest to use as it uses ‘natural language’ for writing the game. Inform 7 is my first choice for writing IF, it’s free from http://inform7.com/

 Over the next few weeks, I’m planning on going deeper into the power of IF, along with how easy it can be.

 What are your thoughts on Interactive Fiction?

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?