Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Alcatraz Correction: The First Person-Plus

Have you written an I or a S/He book?  And which do you prefer to read?

Some time ago, Gore Vidal predicted that more and more novels would be written in the first person.  Why?  Because writers, mistakenly, believe that this p.o.v. is easier to write--requiring less description and talent for prose.  And because, as readers, we enjoy the warm, instant connection.  Now, Vidal was a bit of a Sly Boots, for some of his own best work was told in the first person, providing him the benefits he'd had such fun condemning.  And, despite his pedophila, Lolita's Humbert Humbert wins us over while turning our stomachs because of his witty and engaging tone.

But the first person p.o.v. isn't nearly as easy to write as a gifted writer may make it appear.  Because we're spared--or should be spared--many pages of purple prose settings (When you keep a diary or a log, do you wax over-poetic about the great McCotter trees, grown from seed imported from Southern Caledonia in 1668 by Esmerelda Squanchez?), we need swift suggestions of setting...and superbly tended interior landscaping.  Above all, we need both a writer and a hero with an interesting mind.  This can't be faked.  Take enough time to compare as little as five pages by a couch-bound geek from Podunk with those by a well-traveled, adventuresome soul wielding a pen that was warmed up in hell.  And in that light you'll feel the difference in your blood and bones.  First person genre masters:  John D. Macdonald, Raymond Chandler, James Lee Burke, Robert B Parker, Brad Strickland/Ken McKea...

Some favor the third person limited, with alternating p.o.v.'s, because of its obvious advantage:  Readers can see what the hero cannot:  the beast lying in wait on the door's other side...In novel after novel, James Patterson shifts back and forth between two p.o.v.'s: that of his latest sicko and endangered hero.  The formula works.

And yet I wondered for decades:  How could I keep the intimacy of the classic first-person narrative and respect its built-in limits...while milking the suspense of the mixed p.o.v.?  I repeat:  first-person all the way, told by just one narrator--but raiding the great benefits of the mixed p.o.v.

THE ALCATRAZ CORRECTION brings something new to the table:

The First Person-Plus.

And the difference, I think, will surprise and delight.

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