J. Michael Gonzalez

1st or 3rd: Finding a Voice for Secrets of Tevithic

So, I recently made my first foray into writing a long work in first person for Secrets of Tevithic. It was interesting -- I made perhaps a quarter of the way through the first draft of the manuscript when I started to find myself increasingly lapsing into a sort of Victorian voice. It was frustrating, because fundamentally, that is the wrong voice for Demon -- it's too detached and doesn't reflect some of the character's other quirks. I spoke at length with Elle -- a friend of mine -- and she gave me an inadvertent double-edged compliment; she observed that I did the Victorian 1st person voice surprisingly well. It was nice to hear that I did it well, but at the time, it was totally unintended.

Nevertheless, I left our conversation pretty determined that 1st person was still the right voice for this story -- I felt that the best way to convey the world was to encourage the reader to experience it more intimately through the eyes of the protagonist. I plunged ahead, continuing to write, but something Elle had observed stuck with me as a little electric tingle. I couldn't put my finger on it, but the unexpressed idea refused to quiet down -- something about the omniscient narrator.

As I so often do, I had a hypnagogic rumination which unearthed something that surprised me. Elle had noted my obstinance about 1st person and pointed out that 3rd person/omniscient narrator was potentially just as powerful in terms of conveying whatever it was the character was experiencing. As I ruminated on that, thinking at length about the types of character-driven stories I prefer to work on. It made me wonder if perhaps omniscient narrator might be a better vehicle for this story after all, since 1st person constrains me to the knowledge-base of the character telling the story: you get to know the character extremely well if the character is even marginally introspective, but you're still fundamentally constrained to the character's lens. I know that's an oversimplification, but it summarizes my thinking. If you haven't already, check out Yann Martel's Life of Pi -- it provides an excellent example of what a really talented author can do with 1st person.

I decided, after much agonizing, that perhaps switching to 3rd person -- omniscient narrator -- might be a better vehicle for Secrets. I'll have to rewrite a significant portion of the existing manuscript, but if it makes a stronger story, then it's clearly the way to go.