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Posts tagged ‘first-person narration in YA novels’

Narrative Point Of View In My Teen Novels, by Carolyn Meyer

Once I’ve had a great idea, fallen in love with my characters and have a sense of the direction the story will take, the question becomes: whose story is it and how will I tell it?

Will I stick with one character’s point of view or shift among characters? Will I use a first-person or a third-person narrator?

Recently I worked on a four-book series called Hotline with a contemporary setting and four main characters; each teen takes a turn as the central character of a book with the others in secondary roles. This was my first experience with handling multiple points of view, and it wasn’t difficult as long as I remembered to keep my mental camera focused on one character at a time. Mostly I prefer a single point of view with the main character as the focus – frankly, it’s easier.

Choosing first person (I) or third (he/she) is a separate issue. I sometimes struggle to find the emotional core of my story and to convey that to teen readers. When I wrote The True Adventures of Charley Darwin I was steeped in the novels of Jane Austen, popular in Darwin’s time. Like Austen, I tried writing the story in third person, but my editor thought my narrator was “too distant” and would not connect well with teen readers. So I started over and let Charley tell his own story, as I have in most of my historical novels.

The most straightforward approach to first-person narration is the style of a memoir or autobiography. In Cleopatra Confesses I elected to write in first person: “I, the king’s third daughter, called Cleopatra, sit alone in my quarters….” Present tense gives a sense of immediacy, but could just as well have been in past tense, by changing sit to sat. It could have been told in third person: “Cleopatra, the king’s third daughter, sat in alone in her quarters…”

The perspective of the first-person narrator has to be considered. In the prologue for Cleopatra Confesses Cleopatra looks back, telling her story while she waits for the arrival of the enemy who will take her prisoner. In The Wild Queen Mary, queen of Scots, is also looking back and narrates her tale on the night before her execution. In Victoria Rebels Victoria begins by grumbling about the evils of her mother’s friend, Sir John Conroy, as she prepares for her sister’s wedding; she’s not looking back, but peering ahead.

Another option is to construct the story as a diary. Writing Anastasia: the Last Grand Duchess, as part of the Royal Diaries series, was harder than I expected. There couldn’t be long descriptions or even much dialogue – just short, crisp scenes. The writer of a memoir knows how her story ends because she has already lived it. The fictional diarist does not know what lies ahead and how her story will end – she has no idea throughout the story that she will be murdered but it was up to me as the author to move the plot inexorably toward that end.

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Carolyn Meyer’s author website: www.readcarolyn.com

Carolyn Meyer’s bio page

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The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))Cleopatra ConfessesThe True Adventures of Charley DarwinVictoria Rebels     VibesAngel DustFirehorse

Writing Teen Novels
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Writing Narrative Point Of View In Teen Novels, by Diane Lee Wilson

When I was an aspiring novelist I went to listen to a talk by an author of eighteen (wow!) novels. He was giving advice on how to write a novel and one of the first things he said was, “Don’t write in first person. It’s too difficult.”

Gulp. I’d already begun a novel, had about four chapters finished, in fact, and the way I heard the story in my head was clearly in first person. I didn’t find it difficult. Hmmm.

Lesson learned: What doesn’t work for another author may work for you. Each writer has different strengths; some are great at characterization, some can keep their stories going at breakneck speed, some use the language beautifully. Do what’s right for you. For me, I like first person and I think it’s particularly good for teen novels.

A story told in first person is intimate; you’re inside this person’s head, observing the world through his or her eyes. Thus it’s natural for a reader to form an empathetic bond with the protagonist. Since teens, especially, want to know what other teens are thinking, putting your teen novel in first person is a natural draw for them. They’ll envision themselves in the main role, and enjoy the power or the adventure or the romance offered in the story. No doubt your protagonist will put a “teen spin” on things and that will further engage the reader.

Writing in first person also allows you, the author, to get to know your characters better. You’ll find that once they come alive and begin speaking, they’ll reveal more and more of themselves each time you sit down to write. I’ve been surprised by some of the deep-seated issues my characters have brought forth onto the page. They’ve come up with past hurts or long-repressed desires that have added an extra note of realism to the fictional story. This is part of the magic of writing, and I’ve never spoken to any author who hasn’t had at least one character take hold of a story and begin to direct its course. It’s often the main character’s personality traits, in fact, that help determine just how the story’s crisis will be resolved.

Tension is another benefit of writing in first person. Because the reader is seeing the world only through the protagonist’s eyes, he or she is discovering it right along with the hero. There is no omniscient narrator saying, “A thief lurked behind the door.” The protagonist can only note misgivings, or acknowledge an eerie feeling: “Had the door moved slightly with the wind or was that someone’s breathing? I knew I shouldn’t have come here alone.”

Wrapping yourself in the skin of one of your characters, listening to another’s thoughts and feeling their emotions, is for me one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing. It’s a free ticket to experiencing the world from a different vantage point. And when it’s over you get to introduce that character to readers and share with them an enriching story.

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Diane Lee Wilson’s author website: www.dianeleewilson.com

Diane Lee Wilson’s bio page

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Black Storm Comin'FirehorseRaven SpeakTracks     GlowDeadly Little Secret: A Touch NovelRucker Park Setup

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