Friday, June 7, 2013

Narrative Modes

I've been going kind of bonkers lately in regards Safira's story. A while ago, I decided to re-visit it because I read some things that made me think the market might be more ready for this story than it was a year ago. Of course, I didn't intend to query again without massive revisions. I read through the story and identified its weak points and the things I wanted to change. But before I actually start revising/re-writing, I need to make a decision:
Do I tell this story in first-person or third-person?
The internal debate regarding this issue prompted me to make a pros and cons chart. Ta-da:

The examples in the table are some of my favorite books and/or some of the books I've read most recently, i.e., I didn't think very hard about them. Of the examples, The Night Circus is the book whose structure I think would most naturally fit Safira's story. However, I've heard complaints from more than one reader that they found that book to be confusing because of the structure. Personally, I loved it because you got to see the action from the right angles at the right times, but the purpose of this debate is to make my book fit well within the market for which I'm writing it, and that's YA.

There are a few interesting things to note from my chart. One is that the examples of 3rd person multiple narratives I came up with are mostly adult SFF books. Actually, all of them are with the exception of His Dark Materials, and that series kind of defies classification.

It seems to have become a trend for some YA books to be written with two alternating 1st person narrators, e.g., Legend and Across the Universe. Ally Condie's latest work Reached - the last in the Matched series - even alternates between three narrators. I've been told many times that the preferred voice of YA is 1st person because teenagers like to relate intimately to the main character and they have difficulty juggling multiple perspectives. I've always had my doubts about the latter of those arguments, and the trend with multiple perspectives suggests either that teenagers are getting better at juggling multiple perspectives or, as I suspect, they were quite good at it all along.

Another trend I've noticed in YA literature is that many YA writers whose books are single first-person narratives have been writing novellas within the same world as their novels but from a different character's perspective. They often call these "Book 1.5 of the series". Here are just a few examples (images will take you to Barnes & Noble's website):


What this tells me is that either the author has a desire to switch perspectives to show the reader things they couldn't show from the original perspective, or that readers have a growing desire for this type of narrative. If these authors are writing novels and novellas that alternate between first-person perspectives, then what's wrong with just including multiple perspectives within the same book?

The crux of my fear is that the examples of alternating first-person perspectives I have given have almost all dealt with only two different characters' perspectives. However, Safira's story will require three at the very minimum, and I would like to write up to five. Granted, five isn't half as bad as Game of Thrones, but that book was written for adults, and I do think George R.R. Martin's tendency to have a dozen or more focal characters in one book would test the patience of many teenage readers.

Here are my options as far as I see them:
  1. Write in third-person and dance around between focal characters as much as I want, but sacrifice voice and intimacy with narrators.
  2. Write in first-person with five different narrators, a risky method for which there is no precedent in the YA market (that I know of).
  3. Condense my narrators' chapters into "Books" a la Breaking Dawn or The Mists of Avalon. It should be less confusing to remember who the narrator is if they only narrate once or twice within vast sections of the book instead of jumping around between chapters, but it might be difficult to create a good, linear narrative with this restriction.
  4. Cut out two of my focal characters and narrow it down to three first-person narrators - this is the absolute minimum for Safira's story because of simple geography. This method should make the book more palatable to the YA market, but while I wouldn't miss one of the narrators I would cut, I would really miss the second one because she's a hot mess and so much fun to write. However, among my beta readers, she was only perceived as a so-so character, and her portion of the story is small enough to narrate through one of the characters I would keep.
It's been good to write this post because I've managed to get all of my thoughts about this debate on one page. I've been going back and forth on this for days. My CP Poppy read two version of the same chapter written in different modes and she liked both. My husband Derek says all of my proposed modes would work and I just need to commit to one and start revising :-/

I'm going to keep thinking.

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