Sunday, November 21, 2010

I am not Katniss Everdeen

A month ago, if you'd asked me how I felt about first person narratives, I would have told you that they don't interest me.  I can't think of anything I've ever read that cried out for first person, anything that couldn't have been done as well or better in third.  Except, of course, things like detective novels and the rare book that seems to need first person to "put you right there in the story."  But I can't think of any non-detective novels that I remember as needing first person.

The biggest problem I've had with first person point of view is that I'm not the person I'm reading about.  Maybe I can identify with them on some level, or empathize with them, or try to put myself in their shoes, but....  I'm not an alcoholic inventor who repeatedly goes on benders and then sobers up to find he's invented something, but he has no idea what the invention does.  I'm not a star-crossed lover contemplating suicide as the only way out of his predicament.  I'm not a 16 year old girl who's been sent to an arena to fight 23 other young people to the death to provide "entertainment" for the capitol.

Oh, but I am.  Or rather I should say that I have no problem getting into a story as told from the point of view of a 16 year old girl who's been sent to an arena to fight etc.  I've read "The Hunger Games" and I'm reading the second installment now.  I love the story.  I love the storytelling.  Suzanne Collins has done something I haven't seen before -- she's written a novel in first person that doesn't make me feel like I have to shed my skin and step into someone else's.  The reason I don't feel that way?  Because the transition is effortless.

I mentioned to my wife (I'm reading her copy on her Kindle -- more on the Kindle in an upcoming post) that The Hunger Games was written in third person limited (a POV I'm rather fond of) just like the Harry Potter novels.  She said I was wrong.  And I was.  I recognized that I was getting the entire story through Katniss's eyes, and because it never once felt forced or awkward, I assumed it was third person.  Amazing.  I'm there in the arena.  Maybe others who read it become Katniss, but not me.  Instead I'm looking over her shoulder and listening to her thoughts (just as if it was close third person).  Does this sound confusing?  I suppose it is, but it doesn't matter:  I've got a front-row seat and a mind-link with the main character.

To add insult to injury, I looked at the text and realized it was written in present tense.  Normally I find present tense kind of hokey; it feels stilted and interrupts the fictional dream.  In this case it helps to make the story feel more immediate, and it's use is warranted.

So now I'm wondering how many other novels I've read that have actually been first person but I didn't notice because they were done equally well.  The times I've noticed first person POV have been when the author didn't manage to make it work.  When the POV stuck out like a sore thumb, it led me to the opinion that first person is the problem.  I can see now that the fault lies not in the POV, but in the author.

1 comment:

  1. I don't particularly care for books written in first person, although I have read some. Often times I crave another POV. The last one I read I actually couldn't bring myself to finish. (Skipped to the end.) Don't think I'll pick up that author again. All she writes if first person POV.
    Re: Kindle. I recently purchased a Kindle DX (the larger model). I LOVE it! I've increased the font to make it easier for me to read, and there are still plenty of words on the page. (I was worried the smaller screen would require a distracting amount of page turns.) I haven't figured out all the bells and whistles yet. But I know how to download books and even downloaded my book edits in PDF format.