Writing without formula (2) : Who is narrating the story ?

Early on, even before taking a decision on the 5 C.s (Commencement, Character, Conflict, Context, and Climax), a writer has to make a choice about who will be narrating the story

Will it be in first person where one of the protagonists tells the tale from her point of view. This is a frequently used device (both my novels are written in first person) and is convenient when you want to confuse the reader a bit. The first person narrator can get away with telling blatant lies to the reader because that’s just her point of view. The writer can get away with murder and subterfuge by creating the “unreliable” narrator who the reader should trust at their own peril. But of course this warning only comes in the end of the novel. In the early stages, the reader has to believe everything that is being said because they have no way of verifying what’s been said. And in the absence of any other view point, the narrator’s viewpoint becomes ‘gospel’ truth. 
  
In the second person narration, the novel is written in the form of a dialog between two people or the writer directly addresses the reader. This form is rarely used. Even where it is, it’s extremely difficult to carry off because it can become stilted and boring. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Ahmed is one of those rare novels where it works very well. In the second person, the point of view is similar to first person in that it belongs to the two people involved and the reader has to make up their mind based on the dialog.

Both the first person and the second person narratives focus on the subjective truths of the narrators. The third person is the most used format. Here the writer takes on the role of being ubiquitously present in each of the character’s mind. She tells the story as a kind of universal, objective truth beyond the character’s own points of view. The writer is God (dess) in that whatever she says the reader has to believe. It’s an omnipresent voice and therefore knows everything that is going on. The author becomes a meta character of sorts and pronounces judgement on all and sundry.

For me the most interesting way of writing a book is to use multiple viewing points, that is have the book narrated by three to five people all in first person. This is closest to reality and gives the reader a fair chance to hear the ame story from five viewing points and then make up their minds. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk or The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingslover are two great examples where the attempt is to try to create a kind of normative truth where the entire group of protagonists involved together into the narrative and the truth emerges from this dialog of multiple viewing points.

My third novel starts in the 3rd person and then quickly switches to multiple viewing points through the narration of three people who go missing in a trek. The book is constructed from their diaries which give a first person account of the same story.

— By Arjun Shekhar  
Author of – end of story ? 


About Author : After 7 years of corporate citizenship, dissatisfied with following other people’s agendas, Arjun Shekhar decided to begin his own venture. He is the founder of Vyaktitva, an organizational development firm that works with companies, NGOs and individuals to bring out true element of their character.

About the Book : End Of Story?, is a thriller that features questions as chapter headings to run through a plot featuring an unemployed journalist’s experience with subliminal advertising
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   A mentorship series on writing effectively and beautifully. You can find previous posts here

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