Tuesday, May 20, 2014

TUESDAY TIPS: Person of Interest

ASK A CHILD to describe her day to you, and the answer will almost almost always begin with "I" or "we"—"I went to school," or "We went to the ball game." First person is the language of verisimilitude; the language we use when we want the listener to know we are describing something that actually happened.
   Second person, in its simplest form, is the language of accusation ("You ate all the ice cream!"). 
   And, if you ask a child to tell you a story, the answer will almost always begin, "One upon a time there was ... " Then, whether what comes next is "a beautiful princess" or "a troll under a bridge," the narrative will proceed in third person, because third-person is the language we use when we are making things up.
   Now, when that child grows up and begins to write fiction, he or she will only rarely use second person (because it makes the narrator sound like a hypnotist). 
   Nor will most beginning novelists write in first-person. 
   Overwhelmingly, newer novelists choose to write third-person narratives, and I can see why; writing in the third person allows you to shift points of view as you shift scenes, and to drop in backstory, and to exercise a greater degree of omniscience.
   But here's the thing: if our purpose as novelists is to induce in the reader a reasonable suspension of disbelief, then why do we gravitate in such numbers to narratives that, even as children, we recognized as the language of fabrication?
   That's my question this Tuesday, and I'd welcome your thoughts in the comments, below.

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