first person narratives

There’s a lovely commentary about first person narration here by Caitlín, who is a novelist, writer and a Farscape person. She has articulated (at various points in her blogging) some of the reasons I dislike reading first person stories. Here’s a bit of what she wrote:

This is not to say that first-person narratives can’t excel. They certainly can, despite the fact that they almost never do. Examples of excellent first-person narratives are easy enough to list. But I think they require a writer of unusual talent to do well. And I consider myself only a writer of usual talent.

I find it hard to list many excellent examples of first-person narration. Generally they just irritate me. If I pick up a novel and find it to be in first person, I will put it down four times out of five. I suppose the problem is, I don’t like being stuck in one person’s head. I want the broader story, the bigger picture. First person stories are by definition insular, and I usually don’t have the patience to deal with that, these days. It’s a little frustrating, I’ll admit, as it seems to me that there are more of them being published all the time.

Certainly students I’ve worked with seem to gravitate toward first person narrative, out of fear or familiarity, I’m not sure. What I do know is, I chase them out of that yard as fast as they can run. I don’t accept any first person work when I’ teaching an intro to fiction course. The same way I make them submit all their work in double spaced Courier 12: because I want to make them focus elsewhere, and forget about the way the print looks on the paper.

Which reminds me of one of the funnier things I ever heard a faculty member say. This was at Princeton, when I was a grad student. Imagine a bald, serious professor of medieval literature with a heavy German accent saying: “No, this word processing nonsense, this will never do. If the sentence looks nice on the paper, an undergraduate thinks it must automatically mean something.”

And since I’m on the subject, the funniest thing I ever heard an undergraduate student say at Princeton. A crowd of them were coming out of a seminar in the German department and one turned to the other and said: “I don’t get it. Why was Nietsche so hung up on cows?”

The last word is the key. Pronounce it with a German accent; it’s worth the effort.


edited to add that the link to
Caitlín is via Sillybean. Silly me.