Friday, August 29, 2008

Who's Telling the Story?

I've been thinking about narrators...the voice of the story teller. I realized something while driving to work this morning. I like conspicuous narrators. The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield's wonderful debut novel, starts out like this:

"All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone, heart, mind and soul, ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won't be the truth. It will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story."

I was instantly hooked. What story will this story teller offer? Can it be trusted?

Memoirs of a Geisha begins: Mine is a story that should never be told.

I find this kind of hook irresistible.

Then there's the frame story...James and Conrad and all the Victorian writers loved frame stories. Some guy in a room with other guys, all in soft, leather chairs, speaks through a cloud of cigar smoke with a brandied tongue and tells a tale so tall, so horrific.

Then there's the collective narrator. Faulkner used this one a lot. A Rose for Emily was narrated by the collective "we." I find myself using this kind of narrator in flash fiction a lot. Not sure why. I like the notion of a story being told by a community or a group. Here's what we saw.

I've been circling around my YA novel for some months now, and the problem is with the narrator. I haven't hit my stride yet because I haven't found a voice for the narrator. I didn't know this until today. I simply knew that I was stuck. But now I know what I'm looking for. I want someone who has a voice like Vida Winter in The Thirteenth Tale. I want someone to begin with something irresistible, like Memoirs of a Geisha. A teen girl, talking to a friend from home, saying, "Sorry I haven't called you back until now. I just didn't know how to tell you everything that's happened here. But, now that I think of it, you're the only friend I have who would ever believe it." Whoopie.

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