Everyone knows that serious purveyors of fiction write in the third person. Like battlefield generals, authors prefer to observe the action from a fortified redoubt far above the fray. Nothing wrong with that if you can pull it off.
And I did passably well with the third person approach in my first two novels “Crystal Meth Cowboys” and “The Violin Player.” But I felt there was something missing. The all-knowing third person narrator has to maintain a semblance of neutrality towards his characters, let their actions and dialogue speak for them.
But I’m one opinionated s.o.b. And I like to think I have a sense of humor. I got to indulge both when I shifted to first person narrative in my American Spy Trilogy, Book Three of which, “The Proxy Assassin,” has just been published.
An author can create humor in the third person of course. Catch-22’s Yossarian is a funny guy who gets tangled up in bizarre situations. But while we smile at his exploits we don’t often laugh. I believe that’s because we view him from a distance. Humor, it seems to me, needs an immediate and individual point of view. Stand-up comics get their biggest yoks when telling stories on themselves.
I hadn’t figured this out before I dove into the Hal Schroeder trilogy. I had the makings of a story and a central character and set about the tedious task of crafting an outline. The plot line behaved itself but smartass Hal Schroeder insisted on speaking in the first person.
Why not? First person narratives are commonplace in genre fiction, though that makes no sense whatsoever. The suspense in a thriller depends upon the fate of the hero. If the hero is also the narrator we know he’s not getting knocked off no matter what.
But Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe novels are first person, and legendary. Ditto such classics as J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” Plus those of my favorite author that you never hear a word about anymore, that slightly daft Southern gentleman Walker Percy.
High quality fiction can be written from the p-o-v of one character. You’d be hard pressed to create a sweeping epic and the Nobel Prize committee isn’t likely to wake you with a 4 a.m. phone call. But you just might have some fun.
Causes John Knoerle Supports
Paralyzed Veterans of America
St. Labre Indian School