Book Review: First person narrative - Darke

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Feb 26, 2018
This isn't really a review, but I've just finished Darke, by Rick Gekoski. Enjoyed it, very well written. Got a fair bit of press coverage as the author is in his 70's and is his first novel. The novel is narrated by James Darke, who is a gruff, misanthropic curmudgeon - consumed by grief after the death of his wife. In places in it very funny, touching and honest. It made me think about writing in the first person. It has to be consistent to the character and it has to keep the reader in mind, otherwise it can veer into self-indulgence, (worse, self-pity) or the character can become a bit boring, or predictable. There were times during the book when I began to lose interest in the character, but the writer was skilled enough to haul me back again. It has made me think about my own novel - all in the first person. I have very deliberately put it to bed for the last two months and started on something else - to give me some breathing space. I will look at it again very soon and see if it really is finished.
Yes, I find writing in first-person a unique challenge--how to craft a character so readers actually want to be inside their head for 300 pages? I'm more inclined to go with a close third person these days. That said, I started my middle-grade Dragon Slayer series in first person, so I feel compelled to continue in first person (though each book is from a different character's POV).
The women's fiction novel I'm finishing this month is first person, present tense. The challenge for me isn't putting my readers in her head. It's making sure the other main characters are fully formed and 3-D through the narrator's POV. :)
First person is certainly placing your narrator close up, and if done strictly can be limiting in terms of what can be described in your narrative. You really can't describe anything that your first person character cannot see, feel, hear, touch, etc.
But the trade off is that the reader becomes more involved with the goings on and if done well feels that they really "know" the character.
Difficult, but worth it.
It doesn't suit every story though. Some genres don't lend themselves to first person at all.
I have completed one novel, and started several others, in first person. One I started in third person and then later I decided it might be better in first, so had to go through what I had written and change it all.
A tedious process, but I felt it worth it as that particular story read much better in first.
I like writing in first person.

For a long while I was afraid to write in first person even though I kept coming back to it. When I got a story idea, I'd write in first person and then switch to third person. I'd get stuck and then go back to first person.

Writing in first person felt self-indulgent or self-conscious or self-centered somehow and I guess it can be. But just as there's more to people than their "I" there's more to a character than their "I". There's what they think about others, what they observe, internal thoughts, and sensations. There are ways to cut the pronoun use and still be in first person. Obviously the more intelligent and articulate the character, the more interesting it is being in their head.

Lately I almost always write in first person. Sometimes I try to write in first person present tense. I like the immediacy of it. The present tense gives my brain fits sometimes because I often slip into past tense and then I can spend too much time overthinking every other section. I often do better if I go with my intuition than if I try to conjugate verbs. Then I depend on others to tell me if I've fubared it.

You'd be surprised what you can get away with though. I have a story where I write tiny sections in third person omniscient and the rest of it in first person. I didn't do it on purpose. I've had some negative feedback about it but no one has said it's because of the point of view. Mostly they think I don't need that part. But it's so brief, I've kept it for now. It serves a purpose and have uses for it later in the story.

I think there's another thread on the forums about first novels and age right now. I somehow can't imagine a first novel published at seventy is the full story. At least, not usually. First PUBLISHED novel is different than the first novel they've written. There's a difference between someone who hasn't ever written anything, or read anything, and someone who has written their entire lives and then published something at seventy. There are tons of authors who only published one novel but again -- I doubt this means they never wrote a word before the day they sat their butt in a chair and wrote the novel that made them famous.

But also, the reason I haven't looked up first novels by septuagenarians, especially one written now, is because I'm cynical and believe the truth around the writing of any book is fudged and smudged and otherwise obfuscated once it gets published.

I know a woman in her sixties who co-wrote two books with her best friend. Except, did she? They broke up, as best friends sometimes do, and now the one who can't write a word, the one I suspect didn't write any of the books at all, who did indeed declare herself a writer in her mid-sixties, is pimping her book all across the state of Texas.

Does this matter? Only as a point of human folly. Her book isn't any good. It's barely readable and she literally spends more money than she makes and has declared herself a writer. I had to ask myself what she gains. I've come to the conclusion she did it to feel important. She is now the President of one of the RWA chapters in Houston. It cost her so you could say she earned it. But it's what a friend of mine would call poor value for money.

I know another woman who didn't read a book until her forties. She has a TV and film degree and never got anywhere with it. I'm not certain of her original aspirations. One year she did a nano and decided she was a writer. This also isn't a crime and sure, the world needs more readers and writers, so why the hell not? TV and film are just as good a place to get a feeling for story as any other place I imagine. But she suffers from something she would claim isn't a weakness. She only wants to tell a story, she doesn't want any foofoo stuff. So, she doesn't need to know about literary devices. She doesn't know how to use language. It's usually something writers like to master. Just saying. If she could tell a story, I'd forgive her. But she hasn't yet managed.

I have a point. Let me see if I can find it.

I've personally seen what happens when more attention is paid to how you're going to present yourself, how you're going to sell yourself, and how you're going to market than craft and so I don't care a bit how old someone is when they wrote their story. I only want to read some of it and I'll decide for myself.

Although -- I don't suppose you were saying we SHOULD pay more attention to the age of someone .. you merely found it interesting ... in an anecdotal sort of way.. maybe...

I see I've gone on again. Sorry about that.
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