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First person narrators saying a whole book

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Jke View Drop Down
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    Posted: 15 Feb 2021 at 12:13pm
I don't mean the normal first person perspective. I'm talking about when a story has a device where a character is telling a story to someone else and then proceeds to speak an entire book. Like, Interview with a Vampire. It's obviously insane to think someone would sit down and say, "Let me start at the beginning..." and then talk in prose for four hours straight while the other character listens. How do they get away with it? Do readers always accept this framing of a story, or can it fall apart? Is there a trick to it? I feel very hesitant to have a first person narrator say an entire book. But I see it done all the time, and I have a concept for a novel which would work best framed this way.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote catnamedeaster Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 Feb 2021 at 1:07pm
I think it depends on the reader. Personally I'm not a fan of the frame narrative. It's ultimately a very derivative storytelling method because the narrator is telling someone else's story or telling a story that someone else told them. Again it's a personal thing, but it frustrates me and I find it distracting. 

I've started reading Wuthering Heights four times and I can never get past the first 20 pages and I'm pretty sure it's because it's told in this style. I also didn't enjoy An Interview with a Vampire maybe for this same reason but I read it a very long time ago and can't remember. Obviously that book was very popular and so plenty of people did like it, and so it can work. The Time Machine is another frame narrative that comes to mind.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote JackClames Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 Feb 2021 at 2:00pm
Tried-and-tested-a-million-times formulas can work with skilful writing, conversely the most innovative and creative framing can fall apart with sloppy work. 

Give it a go, see what works well, what doesn’t and learn from your mistakes. Be mindful of cliche and lazy narrative choices. If you feel the narrator couldn’t realistically tell her whole story in one sitting, have her tell the audience to come back tomorrow, when the sun falls, to hear the next instalment.

Although there are things that go in and out of fashion in literature over time, any stylistic rules are there to be bent and ignored now and again. 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote cbcarter Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Feb 2021 at 11:03am
The Kingkiller Chronicles (Name of the Wind, Wise Man's Fear) are written this way, with a storyteller speaking. However, it has little interludes of the storyteller and his listener, but mostly it's the story told from 1st person (but not exactly like storytelling 1st person). To be honest, I get bored by the parts with the storyteller/listener, but those books are beautifully written. So I would say, it can be done very, very well and work. But it is probably trickier than other forms
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote amlewi08 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Feb 2021 at 11:35am
Originally posted by cbcarter cbcarter wrote:

The Kingkiller Chronicles (Name of the Wind, Wise Man's Fear) are written this way, with a storyteller speaking. However, it has little interludes of the storyteller and his listener, but mostly it's the story told from 1st person (but not exactly like storytelling 1st person). To be honest, I get bored by the parts with the storyteller/listener, but those books are beautifully written. So I would say, it can be done very, very well and work. But it is probably trickier than other forms

lol, I was about to mention this one.  Both Kingkiller Chronicles AND a good chunk of Anne Rice's vampire chronicles are among my favorites to read.  

But also, I've always been a bit of a classic "story-telling" nerd.  I like the separation of reading about a person and their experiences, rather than the author trying to drop me right into the action as if I were there.


Edited by amlewi08 - 16 Feb 2021 at 11:40am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Jason-del-mar Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Feb 2021 at 1:54pm
I think the narrator framing of a story can be very effective if used in the right way. We recently just rewatched the Princess Bride movie and I had forgotten that it begins with an elderly Peter Falk reading the story to his sick grandson (Fred Savage).  At the beginning its a little hard to believe that he is going to finish this old, novel-length book in a matter of 2 hours, all the while stopping to discuss various points in the story. Then, midway through, a cut scene shows him turning the page and one whole page is filled with an illustration. Seeing this, my suspension of disbelief was able to reason that maybe the book was full of illustrations and thus, shorter than it looks. 
I think this method harkens back to a time when folks had much longer attention spans. Our modern era with smart phones, social media, etc has really advanced the idea of urgency in everything, regardless of whether or not it is warranted. In a historical context, telling long stories is entirely believable, because people didn't have entertainment options at the ready (preindustrial era). Telling stories was especially valid among the illiterate poorer classes. 
In the modern context, this storytelling concept can be updated to fit certain story ideas.
One of the most successful I can think of is the script/movie The Usual Suspects, which follows the narration told to police by a small time conman; ultimately the sinister crime lord in disguise. There are stories of this sort of "recanting the tale to police" in real life, not only fiction.
There are also numerous ways you could break up the narration by pulling the listener/narrator back into the "real world" by some action or activity related to the plot. Then following up to finish the narration at a later time. 
Anything is worth trying


Edited by Jason-del-mar - 17 Feb 2021 at 4:25pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Paul Bee Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Feb 2021 at 2:09pm
It comes down to the payoff. Was ths structure implemented for an actual reason/benefit or was it just a gimmicky thing that serves no purpose.

But also, good writers can do whatever they want and get away with it.



Edited by Paul Bee - 17 Feb 2021 at 2:30pm
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https://forums.nycmidnight.com/gr-49--blood-poisoning_topic37411.html
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote jennifer.quail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Feb 2021 at 2:00pm
I think like anything, it depends on how good the writer is and how interesting the story is. If the story's engrossing, a lot of narrative devices are easily forgiven. (Anne Rice obviously made a metric crapton of money with this method, and Dracula is the equally-or-more-annoying epistolary format and clearly works.) 

Honestly, the only one where it is a borderline-impossible sell for me, as in, for example, I've read ONE use of it in something like four years of my doing NYCM contests where I actually thought it worked and didn't hurt the story, is second person. If it's not an explicit narrator-talking-to-a-defined-'you' setup, where 'you' is a character, not the reader, it is remarkably off-putting.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Paul Bee Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Feb 2021 at 2:15pm
Here's a cool hypnotic piece in the 2nd person



A really awesome novel in 2nd person =  

Stewart O'Nan, A Prayer For The Dying

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https://forums.nycmidnight.com/gr-49--blood-poisoning_topic37411.html
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote swilki Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Feb 2021 at 3:24pm
I personally think it works really well in autobiographical formats. Interview with the vampire is a classic example of someone telling their story, Frankenstein is another. What I think drives both of those is the need to unburden oneself- both Louis and the monster absolutely need to tell someone and the length of the story is kind of irrelevant to the need to talk; I think that's why you get a lot of these as confessional scenarios where there's a literal priest as the listener. 

But if the story is good enough I'm not that focused on how it started anyway, it's basically the same as normal first person narrative after a chapter or two and I'm picturing what happens in the story, not the dude in the room listening.

 
But on the other hand you do get a lot where it is clearly just a framing device and there's no drive to tell the story. I don't think that's a failure of the format though, I think it's a failure of the writing.


Edited by swilki - 19 Feb 2021 at 3:27pm
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