Over to you, Jo.
In Praise of the First Person Narrator
Handle with Care bears the distinction of being my first longer work written in the first person, and I thought I’d share a bit today about why I chose to write it that way, and the challenges and delights of having a character narrate their own story.
I’ve always been wary of writing a longer story in the first person as I know there are a fair few readers out there who don’t like that type of narration. Although I don’t share their dislike of I-narrators, I can understand why they might feel that way. With a first person narrative you are stuck in the narrator’s head, with only their view of the fictional world to go by. In a romance this presents a huge problem, as most readers want to know what’s going on in both the main characters’ heads. There is a solution to this involving alternating the first person viewpoint between them, but this is a really tricky one to pull off well. Not only do you need the two narrative voices to be distinctly different from each other, but readers can find it a real wrench being taken from one viewpoint to the other, getting thrown out of the story every time you switch.
Another big difficulty with first person narratives is in giving the readers a physical description of your narrator. Unless you resort to the tired old device of having them peer in a mirror, it’s a challenge to find natural ways of having them describe themselves. This was something that worked to my advantage in Handle with Care, though. Ben is ill and paranoid about his appearance, so his lack of self-confidence infuses the early descriptions of himself. Not only has he lost his muscle definition through being too exhausted to exercise properly, but the peritoneal dialysis he is on means he feels bloated with fluid and has a catheter tube sticking out of his belly, surrounded by a shaved patch. It is only through the other characters you get a more accurate view of just how Ben really appears. His sister Zoe tells him:
“You don’t look half as bad as you think you do, Benj. You might be a bit flabbier than you used to be, but you’re not overweight.” Zoe reached out and pulled my T-shirt tight against my belly before I managed to squirm away. “All that’s happened is you’ve filled out a bit, like all blokes do when they hit their thirties.”
Ollie, on the other hand, finds Ben incredibly attractive—something Ben doesn’t understand at all until Ollie attempts to explain it:
“You’re this incredibly hot and sexy bear of a man, but you don’t seem to know it.”
In this sense Ben is an unreliable narrator—giving the reader a biased account because of his skewed worldview. He might not be self-deluded to the point of insanity like the narrator in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, but he’s definitely got the wrong idea about many things. As he grows in confidence through the novel, his understanding of just what others see in him results in a healthier body image.
The other reason I really enjoyed limiting things to Ben’s point of view was that it enabled me to keep parts of Ollie’s past a mystery. Ollie might be young, but he’s been through more in his short life than Ben realises. Sticking to Ben’s narrative viewpoint enabled me to hold off these revelations until the end of the novel, where they have the most impact.
I can understand why the first person narrative isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but providing I can feel empathy for the narrator, I’ve always enjoyed them. Some of my favourite books have been narrated in the first person, such as JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Jordan Castillo Price’s PsyCop series, and Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English mysteries. All of these writers used the limitations of one character’s perspective to their advantage, allowing the reader to go on a journey of discovery along with the narrator.
So what are your thoughts on first person narrators? Do you have strong feelings either for and against them, and if so, why? And who is your favourite fictional narrator?
Handle with Care by Josephine Myles – the blog tour
To celebrate the release of my second novel, Handle with Care, I’m on a two week blog tour. A grand prize will be awarded to a randomly chosen commenter during the tour: an exclusive Handle with Care mug (which I’m happy to post worldwide), and a $25 voucher to spend at All Romance eBooks (or alternative ebook retailer of your choice). I’ll make the prize draw on Wednesday 9th May at 9am (GMT), and will announce the winner on my blog. Visit the tour itinerary for a list of all the stops, and comment on each to increase your chances of winning!
The best things in life aren’t free…they’re freely given.
Ben Lethbridge doesn’t have many vices left. After raising his little sister to adulthood, he wasted no time making up for the youth he lost to responsible parenting. Two years of partying it up—and ignoring his diabetes—has left him tethered to a home dialysis regimen.
He can do his job from his flat, fortunately, but most of his favourite things are forbidden. Except for DVD porn…and fantasizing over Ollie, the gorgeous, purple-haired skateboarder who delivers it.
Their banter is the highlight of Ben’s lonely day, but his illness-ravaged body is the cruel reality that prevents him from believing they’ll do anything more than flirt. Not to mention the age gap. Still, Ben figures there’s no harm in sprucing himself up a bit.
Then one day, a package accidentally splits open, revealing Ben’s dirty little secret…and an unexpected connection that leaves him wondering if he’s been reading Ollie wrong all this time. There’s only one way to find out: risk showing Ollie every last scar. And hope “far from perfect” is good enough for a chance at love.
Warning: Contains superhero porn comics and a cute, accident-prone delivery guy with colour-changing hair. Readers may experience coffee cravings, an unexpected liking for bad mullets, and the urge to wrap Ollie up and take him home.
Kindle US: http://www.amazon.com/Handle-with-Care-ebook/dp/B0073WI0ZU/
Kindle UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Handle-with-Care-ebook/dp/B0073WI0ZU/
Author Bio: English through and through, Josephine Myles is addicted to tea and busy cultivating a reputation for eccentricity. She writes gay erotica and romance, but finds the erotica keeps cuddling up to the romance, and the romance keeps corrupting the erotica. Jo blames her rebellious muse but he never listens to her anyway, no matter how much she threatens him with a big stick. She’s beginning to suspect he enjoys it.
Jo’s website: http://josephinemyles.com/