Limited Intel

I generally don’t care for first person narration.

Isn’t that just because you can’t write it very well?

It’s often a trap, an easy way to lose yourself in your protagonists thoughts until your story is nothing but meandering introspection.

Like … a blog?

But that’s just in the hands of us amateur hacks. The pros usually manage to remember that characters need to actually do things besides think clever thoughts. But even then, being inside the narrator’s head always seems to break me out of the story.

First, with rare and usually lame exceptions, I know the narrator is going to survive the story. So deadly peril is never very exciting. Yes, I know that knowing the good guy wins shouldn’t ruin the story because HOW the good guy wins still matters. But there’s the second problem I often run into:

“Not looking down, I gathered up my father’s gun. I fiddled with it a moment, then raised it directly at Steelheart.” – Brandon Sanderson, STEELHEART.

Spoiler: that moment of fiddling is how the good guy fools the bad guy and wins. But what did the narrator do? After an entire novel of clearly described action, the narrator gets coy at the pivotal moment. 

The reason is obvious: it’s too soon for the reader to know. This is the twist. But why does the narrator care about spoiling the twist? He’s a teenage freedom fighter struggling to overthrow the evil supervillains who have taken over the world. What does he care about dramatic tension and payoff?

It just feels like a cheat to me. The narrator as a character doesn’t have a reason to conceal information. But that kind of concealment is usually vital to a good story. Sanderson is probably my favorite living author, and even he falls into the trap.

Of course, maybe this only bothers me because I “read like a writer.” Maybe casual readers tend not to notice or care.

Elitist jerk.


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