I’m hosting a guest psot today by author A.C. Birdsong, author of fantasy novel “Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales”. Enjoy the post about: what’s in a narrator?
What’s in a Narrator?
I have a thing about the narrator. I want the narrator to give me what I need to piece the story together, and no more, in a consistent way. I want information that will help me understand what the characters are going through, and I’m not interested in being made to feel like an uninformed idiot. I don’t want any jarring surprises or unnatural changes. For this I prefer third person, the dumber the better.
To say I’m conservative in this is an understatement. “A narrator should be heard, but not seen,” is how I like to put it.
Not everybody is like me. Some people won’t read a book unless it’s first person, or third person omniscient. And as a writer, it’s not so much as to what I like to read, but what my readers will like. (See my two rules for writing fantasy). So the narrator should be appropriate for the story, and for the audience. For example, an epistolary novel probably shouldn’t have an omniscient narrator of any stripe.
So one of the trickiest things about writing fiction is keeping track of what your narrator can know as the story progresses. Even if you have a truly omniscient narrator (one that knows the end of the story before it begins relating it), you owe it to your readers to feed the information in a way that benefits the story. Because even if the narrator knows everything, it is likely that the characters won’t.
There’s a lot of discussion available about narrators, but I favor the succinct article by Stepanie Orges: The 7 narrator types: and you thought there were only two!. Any one of these seven can be used to great and to disastrous effect.
When writing Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales, I knew I was going to have Jacob and Lucy come into contact with the magic book’s narrator. Because I wanted to keep them in the dark (as well as Palmer, who would be reading about their exploits in the book), I knew I had to have a narrator who couldn’t provide them direct answers to their questions. So I had two narrators to deal with: the primary narrator (of Inside the Tall, Thick Book of TalesTall, Thick Book of Tales the magic book inside which Jacob and Lucy are trapped). I tried to write the primary narrator fully detached. It never knows what any character is thinkin g, and can only relate the events that are happening. We don’t know how the secondary narrator started out – we don’t encounter it until after its book has been bombarded with magic. When we meet the secondary narrator, it starts out extremely detached, but Lucy forces it to become a Commenter with her questions. It kind of makes a breakthrough is spite of its limitations.
Narrator discipline is a hard but vital thing. I have read many books where one chapter is omniscient, the next is first person, then back to omniscient. It makes me feel kicked around, and I often don’t finish novels that have that characteristic. That could be to my loss, but there it is: I’m as finicky a reader as any. I understand that an author may feel it’s the only way to get the story moving. I can empathize, especially if there’s a lot of essential background information. My solution in Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales was to avoid the issue. If I found myself wanting to dip into omniscience, I considered what I was trying to write, and why. Several times I rewrote chapters, and in one instance I deleted one entirely. Less is more.
Do I sound pedantic here? I hope so. I think by being this pedantic I came up with a much more readable and consistent story. And I hope you think so, too.
About the Book
Author: A.C. Birdsong
On a small farm just outside of a tiny town lives Jacob, the last in a long line of Caretakers of Magic. His mission in life as the world’s only magician (in fact the only person who knows magic is possible) is to preserve magical skill in preparation for the day when magic is needed in the world. Other than what is required to train an apprentice, Caretakers aren’t to be practitioners, a tenet Jacob adheres to religiously.
Jacob has been teaching an apprentice, Palmer, for eight years. As a student, Palmer is a dismal failure, but this does not stop him from experimenting. Feeling that the pace of his instruction is unnecessarily slow, Palmer takes the little magic he knows, twists it, and uses it to trap Jacob and a young neighbor Lucy inside an old book of fairy tales (The Tall, Thick Book of Tales). Palmer refuses to release them unless Jacob imparts all magical knowledge to him in an instantaneous way.
From the moment of Jacob’s entrapment, Birdsong creates three interwoven storylines: Palmer’s dealings with the townspeople, who are searching for Lucy and quickly suspect Palmer for her disappearance; Jacob’s journey to escape, which takes him through scenes written into the book by Palmer, designed to harass Jacob and to speed his compliance along; and Lucy’s interaction with the book’s original characters, all magical themselves, trapped within the margins by Palmer’s spell, and are united in their desire to expel the intruders. Added to this mix are an enchanted bookworm and the fairy tales’ narrator, who have objectives of their own.
Readers will enjoy Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales. Birdsong skillfully mixes the real and the imaginary worlds with a lean and fast-paced style. A well-crafted and fun novel with colorful characters and great dialogue written for any fan of adult fiction, and suitable for young adults and older adolescents as well.
A.C. Birdsong wrote the first draft of Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales during an unseasonably cold winter in Athens, Greece. “I spent all my time either writing the story or searching for a reasonably warm and cheap place to write it. Often this left me huddled near tepid steam heaters in dingy hotel rooms, and drinking endless cups of weak Nes to fight the cold. Eventually the weather turned, which was not only fortunate for me, but for Jacob and Palmer as well, because they probably would still be fighting it out inside that book otherwise.”
A.C. lives in Seattle, where people voluntarily allow themselves to be trapped in books on a regular basis. This is his first novel.