Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Third Person Narrative

Crocuses spring up.
When first person narrative becomes too painful, what to do? The answer may lie in third person. At the last read-around, we spoke of discomfort when sharing disquieting portraits of people we love.

When I read the piece at the Women's Writing Circle about my mother, I felt insecurities . . . was I being disloyal? Would I be judged for exposing my mother?


"I tried hard to please her.  It was a losing proposition.  It always had been.  Now the older I got, the more I realized there was no point in taking it personally when nothing I did was right.  She found fault, not just with me, but with everyone and everything.  Like her parents and sister, Mother was a hoarder -  although not of magazines, newspapers, dishware and empty shoeboxes.  Mother hoarded those invisible possessions that  choke the soul.  She hoarded all the slights, the petty insults, all the injustices of life and took it out on those she loved."

Here's the passage in third person.


"She tried hard to please her mother.  It was a losing proposition.  It always had been.  Now the older she got, the more she realized there was no point in taking it personally when nothing she did was right.  Her mother found fault, not just with her, but with everyone and everything." 

Using third person may explain why this is the most popular form of narrative. It offers distance and flexibility, using he and she, they and it, but never I.

Now this  passage of autobiographical writing from Ernest Hemingway about the love he had for his longtime companion, a cat named Boise.

“That night, when he had sat in the big chair reading with Boise at his side in the chair, he had thought that he did not know what he would do if Boise should be killed. He thought, from his actions and desperation, that the cat felt the same way about the man.” 

In first person, we are both narrator and a character in the story.  This lends itself  to greater consciousness and reflection than other narrative modes.  As a character in our own story, we make judgments, explore biases and opinions. This can feel risky.

If it frees your creativity to step back and tell the story from the distance of "she" instead of "I," try it. The story could blossom like crocuses pushing up against the dead leaves of winter.








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