Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Case for 1st Person Narrative

Well, I'm awake. Having gone to sleep early under the influence of cold medicine, I am now fully awake at 4am owing to the pain of an achy flu-riddled body. I have dosed myself again and am hoping to get to sleep before I get up at my customary time to decide if I'm well enough to try going in to work at my day job or if I'm going to put a call in to my doctor. The latter is sounding more likely as I seem to be an incubator for some malady or other and don't want to risk infecting my coworkers. But while I'm up, I wanted to get some work done, so I cracked open Remote Viewing: The Science and Theory of Nonphysical Perception by Courtney Brown. While ostensibly a scholarly work, the introduction has so far seemed...self-indulgent. I ran up against this line, though, which stopped me in my tracks and set me to thinking over some aspects of Project Reach that have been troubling me:
"Western science has never been able to place a stamp of approval on the notion that consciousness is not limited to the physical brain."
In context, this sentence occurs in a discussion that presumes the existence of the human soul. This resonated with a quote I had discovered only earlier today (on a piece of Facebook flair, no less) from one C.S. Lewis:
"You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body."
These two quotes in tandem helped me pin down a key difference between David and Claire. David operates on the assumption that human perception is limited to physical input received from our bodies and relayed to our brains. Claire, on the other hand, has experienced nonphysical perception and is convinced of the existence of the soul. This seems a trivial thing. I interact with people who disbelieve the existence of the human soul and/or a divine entity or God on a daily basis, and this does not seem to have any bearing on my interactions with them. This small, fundamental mismatch in ideologies will have profound implications on the relationship between David and Claire, though. I'm sure of it.

It should be noted that I have, at least preliminarily, made a decision on the role that religion will play in Project Reach. I have given Claire the responsibility of leading a Bible study group comprised of freshman girls with the intent that this will allow her to develop to an outside observer her views of religion, the human soul, morality, femininity and whatever else the narrative may require without having to force her to just sit and ponder for the benefit of revelation. I have chosen not to have Claire 'live through' such a study session in the actual narrative (partially because I have little talent for writing teenage dialog - one has to know her strengths and weaknesses ;). Instead, we will join Claire on the walk home and listen in on her thoughts as she mentally reviews the evening's events (an interesting cognitive process in and of itself) or she will mull over her next lesson plan in her head while going about her daily routine at the deli in which she works. Having been a waitress and in possession of an active mind, I know how much leftover mental processing power can be spared for serious consideration of abstract spiritual concepts while still functioning in a given food service capacity. Claire will often seem dreamy and distracted. David considers the notion that she's a narcoleptic.

A very strong influence in my decision to go for first-person narrative is that it would allow me to present my personal views on matters such as the ones listed above without having to claim them as my own. I can simply instill these values in one of my characters and have him/her carry the weight of them. If a given reader is turned off by these views, perhaps this will translate merely into the reader's dislike of the character and not extend to a dislike of the story itself. My hope in having two main narrators is that if a reader dislikes the views of one character, their affection for the other character will be enough compensation to keep them reading. I am aware of the monumental difficulties this places upon me, the writer. I always did like a challenge, but I fear my confidence in my own abilities may trap me into an unworkable formula and force a later re-write.

I will present another argument for my decision to write in first person narrative (and do forgive me if my thoughts are disconnected at this point. I'm feeling the effects of cold medication). Charles Dickens. I always did dislike Dickens. My first experience of him was during my freshman year in high school when I was forced to slog through Great Expectations. I disliked it immensely, and learned enough about the story by skimming the text and discussing key plot points with my classmates to pass the quizzes we were given without having completely read the assigned reading. Years later, I again attempted to read Dickens, this time picking up Oliver Twist. It was better this time. I was older, a more tolerant reader by far, not nearly so concerned with being entertained by a text. I had also learned that Dickens was paid by the word, and this understanding made me a more forgiving reader. The man was just trying to make a living, after all. I never finished the book, however, and was deeply dismayed that I was still unable to like such a classic.

And then I received a 1918 edition of David Copperfield for my birthday. It was a beautiful old book. I was tempted into cracking the cover by the gorgeous leather binding. I'm a sucker for old books! To my utter astonishment, I actually liked what I read. I liked everything about it. I liked David, himself. I liked the story. I loved the settings and the description, though I took issue with the idea that such a young narrator would be so observant of human nature and his surroundings. My point being, though, is that first person narrative made all the difference. The style suited Dickens very well.

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