Solving First Person Narrative

The Writer Continues his Conversation with Himself because no one is reading his Blog.

5-15-2008 Louisa’s Café

Today I write about what I don’t know–The challenge of voice in a First Person Narrative. I have two problems:

1. The Voice of the Inner Story which is Mitch’s relation of events from the time of his arrest up to his release and the death of the Fat Man.

2.  The voice of the Outer Story which is the full back story on Mitch’s life as a mercenary, his family history, and his coming of age.

1. I’ve chosen to write the Inner Story in present tense. The problem is the vehicle—when, in a First Person Narrative, the narrator speaks, what is the vehicle for transmission of the story? It’s not a written text so he’s not reading it aloud. The voice speaks directly to the reader in Present Time. This is a break in the framework that demands a suspension of disbelief so that I  can accept the convention of the Narrator talking to me—Maybe that is the psychological solution—the narrator talking to his writer telling me his story and as I move aside in my place the reader takes over.

Bob Ray is right however when he says—the convention of the Narrator speaking to the reader is accepted by the reader and isn’t a violation of the realist precept and it releases the writer from the burden of creating a phantom vehicle or a pretext (is this what Gide meant?) for the narrative structure.

2. The question of the Outer Story isn’t as thorny because I use a convention of Story within Story. The voice relating the narrative in the past tense uses the vehicle of the manuscript Mitch is writing and that convention lets the reader into Mitch’s writing as he writes it.

But there is still the issue of how the reader gets access to the Outer Story if the narrator hides it—the illusion here is that the reader experiences the Outer Story as the narrator tells it—so we see him writing. No, we see the text he has written. But how does the reader get to it?

This problem lies at the heart of any novel in that, as opposed to a film where we have the voyeuristic luxury of watching through a window, in the novel we’re invited into the mind of the narrator to witness his reality as it unfolds. In this we become participants in the story as we read the illusory pages not knowing if we can trust the narrator at all whereas in the film, the action and image create their own illusion without reference to our participation.

Some solutions:

1. Don’t worry about it. Let the story out with its inner and outer complexities.
2. Write it as well as possible. Bob says that neither of the breaks in the realist precepts matters if the language is good enough.
3. Work in an intense poetic idiom so that the image and action of the narrative come alive and enter into the reader’s mind where the poetry decodes to emotion. As Natalie Goldberg says—mind connects to mind. In writing a poetic idiom, the voice illustrates a number of psychological traits—education, experience, desires, dreams. The narrator by speaking rhythm and beat using rhetorical devices invites the reader into the images so that instead of waiting for the passive induction of the moving picture, the reader is active, or, as MacLuhan said, writing is a hot medium whereas film is of necessity a cool one.
4. The goal is  a good story. Story is a competition for a resource base told in action and image. In the narrative then, the poetic medium substitutes for the filmic image but the result is the same—the firm implanting of memories into the mind of the perceiver. Thus phenomenology and pragmatics of CS Peirce inform fictional writing as well, as when the Icon, Index and Symbol all work as a unit to induce a feeling of being there. Sulaika LaVasseur writes that any image that evokes a pre-existing memory in a reader is good and the writing is a success.
5. So this brings me to a question—What Bob means when he asks if the writing is good. Good writing must evoke feelings in the reader and it must create images that link and hook together into that elusive beast Stewart calls the Harpoon. And the writing must give the illusion of action and the only way to achieve that is through the use of strong Anglo-Saxon monosyllabic verbs—Strike, Hit, Yank, Thrust.

Good writing then, is film frozen one image at a time in a single concrete noun linked to a single action verb that evokes an emotional response in the reader—whether he wants it or not. This brings me to a quandary—Can a reader choose not to accept the image? When a viewer looks at a painting (or a stop sign for that matter) the object goes into the brain via a purely mechanical but physiological track from lens to retina to optic nerve to visual cortex where the viewer has no choice but to accept it—once seen, an image is fixed in the axons and neurons.

But can the reader who has to be more active, reject, or choose not to process the image in the writing? The answer lies in the stylistic obstacles the writer throws up to block processing and acceptance.  Style can stand in the way of perception. This notion is akin to a listener processing a Mozart melody such as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Perception is insidiously easy but the truth of the musical structure is embarrassingly difficult. Writers must  strive for the immediate and easy perception—no stylistic challenges—Melody, while building complex structures, Harmony.

These techniques in writing are—plot track, symbol, object, hook as in the Cut To technique but analyzed out into complex metaphoric language—allowing the complete story to be told in each and every scene in the narrative.

To summarize: Story is image and action for quick acceptance; complexity lies in the structural framework that binds the narrative into a unified whole. To accomplish this, the writer has to discover the ritual structures that inform the myth base. The myth base, once seized and raised to consciousness, will provide the framework for the complex metaphoric reality we call book.

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