Writing group notes from the field: first-person narrator consistency 2/20/2023

Talked about the trap of writing sophisticated descriptions in stories with a first-person narrator who is unsophisticated. Dialogue and stream of consciousness style and tone should match more general descriptions such as setting. To do otherwise runs the risk of internal inconsistency and as a result, compromises believability. That is to say, the reader just may not buy it.

An example: Say a third grader is the first-person narrator for a story. In the story, the narrator speaks like a third grader, saying things like, “I hope Ma let’s me play outside before it gets dark”; they have a stream of consciousness like a third grader:  “I wondered if anyone would tease me because my light-up shoes didn’t work anymore.” And yet, that first-person narrator describes walking up to school in an elegant, flowery, fashion using a knowledgebase beyond this third-grade narrator’s capacity. Compare this, “Pockets of crab grass thrusted through the Virginia red brick, destabilizing the outer walkway, creating a vegetative grout where sand and cement ceded their power” with, “Grandma’s devil-grass spilled green onto the pathway rocks at school that were made of dry clay from the part of the river where you need live bait to make the bass bite.” The second one is way better. In fact, I might say it is not only better in context, but better stylistically as a whole. For me, this brings up its own set of new questions about how one should write in general. Or perhaps it just shows that I write like a three-year old.   

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