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What can 1st POV do?

PotomacBob

I know there are some restrictions using first POV.
It would seem to me that, even in 1st POV, the author can report something like "a news item reported that Joe Schmoe was killed in a car accident." But could you just write that "Joe Schmoe was killed in a car accident," without saying how the narrator knew about it?
If not, then how could a narrator report on a widely known event - "Carter lost his bid for re-election in 1980"?
I guess the general question is, in 1st POV, how closely must items be sourced (attributed) when the narrator has no personal knowledge of the facts?

Switch Blayde

@PotomacBob

how closely must items be sourced (attributed) when the narrator has no personal knowledge of the facts?


If you follow the rules of 1st-POV, you cannot tell the reader anything the 1st-person narrator doesn't know. After all, the narrator is telling the story so how can he tell something he doesn't know? So if it was reported on the news, the 1st-person narrator would have to hear it on the news.

Replies:   PotomacBob
PotomacBob

@Switch Blayde

Does the 1st person narrator "know" stuff taught by a teacher or textbook in a history class in high school? Does the 1st person narrator "know" that the Earth is round? And if the narrator read it in a newspaper, in writing the story can the narrator report it as fact or must the narrator attribute it to the newspaper because the narrator did not know it first hand?

Switch Blayde

@PotomacBob

That's very subjective. If you write it so that it sounds like the narrator and not the author is providing the information, it works.

The worse case would be the reader thinking, "How the hell did he know that?"

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Darian Wolfe
Updated:

@PotomacBob

I would say the average person doesn't really ask those questions but assumes the information is correct. Do I know for fact that Russia exists? Nope, I have never been there. All I have is second and third hand information that I've heard enough times to create a belief.

Therefore, in a story I can have a character reference so called "Common Knowledge" without explaining how he knows it. Now if it is specific information about a particular event or person that is not well know then some explanation is necessary. Jim knew Mary slept with Amy because Joe showed him the video.

That's my take.

REP

@PotomacBob

I think Switch is saying the narrator has to be able to trace their knowledge to something in their past. I don't believe it is necessary to always explain to the reader how the narrator came to have that knowledge. In certain cases, that type of explanation might be beneficial.

How much you explain to your reader about how the narrator became aware of information is your decision as the author. You should have to have a reasonable explanation, in case you are asked, if you want to use 1st person, but you don't have to put that explanation in the story.

That's my opinion.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@REP

How much you explain to your reader about how the narrator became aware of information is your decision as the author. You should have to have a reasonable explanation, in case you are asked, if you want to use 1st person, but you don't have to put that explanation in the story.


I agree. That's why I said it was subjective. If it works, it works.

After reading the last two traditionally published thriller novels where they didn't follow strict POV rules, I'm much more lenient with myself when writing. I think the story actually flows better.

Replies:   REP
REP

@Switch Blayde

You are probably right. I find that when I try to follow rules while creating text, I feel restrained. The words just don't come to me in an easy flowing manner. If I just let it flow, I can always come back later and revise what I write.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
awnlee jawking

@Darian Wolfe

Now if it is specific information about a particular event or person that is not well know then some explanation is necessary. Jim knew Mary slept with Amy because Joe showed him the video.


I'd go further and say that if the information results in a change to the story arc then the author should explain how the POV protagonist came to know it, otherwise it's just a distraction.

AJ

BlacKnight

Your 1st-person narrator can say anything that pops into their head.

Generally, for commonly known facts, you don't need to explain how they know it. If your narrator says that two plus two is four, you don't need to have them attribute that information to their kindergarten teacher. If you're writing in the present day, you could similarly drop a comment that Carter lost in 1980, and you don't have to attribute that information to their history teacher, or the newspapers or television if they're old enough. The reader can just assume that the narrator picked that information up somewhere along the line, and how is not usually particularly relevant.

If how they discovered the information is relevant within the scope of the story, though, you might want to mention it. Like if your story is set on Tuesday, November 4th, 1980, and your narrator is interested in current events, you might mention your narrator discovering Carter's loss. But if contemporary political events aren't really relevant to the story, if your narrator is more interested in sportsball and girls than politics, you might just mention Carter's loss as a background event without going into any detail about it.

samuelmichaels

@PotomacBob

I guess the general question is, in 1st POV, how closely must items be sourced (attributed) when the narrator has no personal knowledge of the facts?

I would echo others that you don't need to attribute (or explain) general knowledge.

The challenge is with non-obvious knowledge which is not general in nature. If your first person is thinking, "I knew Bob was hiding his heartache", you should explain how the narrator came by that conclusion.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@samuelmichaels

"I knew Bob was hiding his heartache", you should explain how the narrator came by that conclusion.


I don't think so. If the narrator thinks he knows why, then that's it. He may even be totally off base and completely wrong. It's okay to have an unreliable narrator in 1st-person.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

That's very subjective. If you write it so that it sounds like the narrator and not the author is providing the information, it works.

The worse case would be the reader thinking, "How the hell did he know that?"

This is mostly a case of changing your mindset. You've got to stop thinking "This is MY story", and instead think "the main character IS the story's author" and I'm NOT allowed to interject anything which he's not privy to.

That's not always easy, and if you must cheat, there are ways of doing it, but after several books (in a single series) I decided it just wasn't worth the hassle and haven't written a 1st person story since. :(

However, breaking the forth wall (having the author speak directly to the readers) isn't my main problem with 1st person stories. Instead, it's that it tends to produce lazy habits. There are several, but the biggest one is that newbie authors often feel it's necessary to write 'day in the life' chapters, where they constantly recount trivial details (like whether the character pees or shits each morning), rather than focusing on moving the story forward and avoiding such unnecessary details.

But, my problems with 1st person are entirely mine, as several established authors here handle 1st person stories well. I'm just reluctant to suggest for first-timers (which PotomacBob don't count as, anyway).

Replies:   richardshagrin
Crumbly Writer

@Darian Wolfe

Therefore, in a story I can have a character reference so called "Common Knowledge" without explaining how he knows it. Now if it is specific information about a particular event or person that is not well know then some explanation is necessary. Jim knew Mary slept with Amy because Joe showed him the video.

That's a decent summary. Authors don't need to detail how a character knows common knowledge, and even fairly esoteric knowledge is easily accounted for (ex: "Bob recalled from his one into course on quantum physics during college"). But, if it's something that happens during the course of the story, where he wasn't present, then you either need to cut it, or account for how he knows it (ex: "When he talked earlier, you said ...").

Crumbly Writer

@REP

If I just let it flow, I can always come back later and revise what I write.

As always, it's best to get works on paper, in whatever form or whichever manner, as you can't edit a blank page. However, if you're comfortable with the general rules, it's easier to simply write an acceptable chapter without stressing over the details. Though, if you aren't familiar with them, you're not only constantly looking over your shoulder, but you'll likely have to toss out much of what you wrote.

But, once again, the key is consistency. If you cheat in a first person story—say by switching narrators in a new chapter, or even in a section break—then stick to it, so the readers doesn't founder each time you use the technique.

Readers are quick to adapt, but you want to make it easy for them to anticipate what you're doing—at least whenever you cheat!

Replies:   REP
richardshagrin

@Crumbly Writer

I'm NOT allowed to interject anything which he's not privy to.

If his privy doesn't have toilet paper, its a shitty story.

Dominions Son

@richardshagrin

If his privy doesn't have toilet paper, its a shitty story.


If there aren't any assholes in the story, none of the characters can give a shit. :)

REP

@Crumbly Writer

but you'll likely have to toss out much of what you wrote.


That leads to the author learning the rules and what not to write. In time they don't toss as much.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@richardshagrin

If his privy doesn't have toilet paper, its a shitty story.

No, it's a shitty story is the main sexual kink is one partner literally shitting on the other, otherwise it's a plain old 'crappy' story. 'D

Crumbly Writer

@REP

That leads to the author learning the rules and what not to write. In time they don't toss as much.

Exactly, though I still find, after this much time, that I'm always tossing multiple 'filler' words and phrases, just to make the reading smoother and less jarring. Extraneous, unnecessary details don't help the story, but they're deadly when you consistently write complex sentences. If one follows the common writing adages of always using simple sentences, then the extra fillers aren't as obvious.

Baltimore Rogers

@PotomacBob

I've managed to pull off "first-person omniscient" before. It was in "Discipline and Reward", my only story posted on SOL to date.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Baltimore Rogers


I've managed to pull off "first-person omniscient"


The only book I've seen where that's done is "The Book Thief." Until someone pointed it out to me I didn't even know there was such a thing.

Who is the 1st-person omni character in your story? In "The Book Thief" it's all-knowing Death.

Replies:   Baltimore Rogers
Baltimore Rogers
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

I usually refer to him as "The Narrator", although his birth name, Jovan, was revealed in the first chapter. He is, as far as he knows, the world's only telepath, and he's extremely good at it. He has survived for over 12 millennia by swapping bodies.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Baltimore Rogers

He is, as far as he knows, the world's only telepath, and he's extremely good at it. He has survived for over 12 millennia by swapping bodies.

That makes for one hellova long book! A day-in-the-life story that stretches for 12 millennia, sounds like many SOL stories I know. 'D

Replies:   Baltimore Rogers
Baltimore Rogers
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

@Baltimore Rogers

He is, as far as he knows, the world's only telepath, and he's extremely good at it. He has survived for over 12 millennia by swapping bodies.


That makes for one hellova long book! A day-in-the-life story that stretches for 12 millennia, sounds like many SOL stories I know. 'D

Alas, not "day-in-the-life", although the first several chapters are one-or-two-per-day, at least until the "Discipline" part is well-established.

There are several nice flashbacks though. So you do get *some* sense of how narrator-san filled all that time.

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