There Is No Truth

I now know why I don’t enjoy reading a lot of fiction unless it’s mindnumbingly brilliant and utterly unconventional: third-person narration. It’s the same reason that most people enjoy reading fiction, but it just doesn’t sit well with me. Who is this narrator? How do they know everything going on? Why is the reader automatically permitted to know everything about everyone? That’s why most people like the third-person narrative stories–because it’s the only time in their life that they are allowed to know everything, and knowledge is power.

Maybe that’s what people say when it’s an escape. I don’t find reading fiction a big escape, rather, I watch movies for escape. With film it is implicit that the viewer doesn’t *necessarily* see everything. While the voyeuristic camera angles (featured and so loved by Hitchcock and his fans) give the viewer a peek into knowing all–and holding power over all–we have to know fundamentally that the zombie may be standing right behind you, even though you are furtively looking into your neighbor’s window.

Perspective is one of the fulcrums of any artwork: film, literature, visual arts, performing arts. Enabling the spectator to see through the artist’s eyes is a transparent act, in my opinion. Many fiction writers do everything they can to mask that act, though, and for me, it is asking the reader to suspend disbelief. We all know that in writing that isn’t seamlessly brilliant, an imperfect author will make the cardinal mistake of narrating the intentions of the character, without writing the character well enough in action to realize those intentions: "He felt strongly about his commitment to her, and so he wanted to do everything he could to show her how much he loved her." Right, that’s lame, we know. But even when this type of passage is expressed through action and/or dialogue, I still don’t buy it.

Writing "in voice" is what many call it, and it presents its own challenges because the writer must strictly adhere to each character’s voice, if writing in multiple perspectives throughout a story. Hopefully I achieved that in Getting the Old Gang Back Together. Right now I’m working on a deconstruction of Harold and the Purple Crayon where the protagonist writes the live story and narrates the book at the same time. These are not exactly what I would call experimental pieces since this approach has no doubt been used before; so maybe it’s just a different camp in the writing community. One experiment I may try–and I may be able to achieve this in Harold–is to give a voice to the third-person narrator while establishing a precedent for the narrator to be telling the story.

What is my problem, you’re asking? I don’t know, and I’m not even sure there is a problem. My response as a writer is to create works in which the pivotal characters narrate from their respective perspectives. For some readers, I recognize that this is also a suspension of disbelief. They are now being asked to reconcile why these characters are telling the story, and to whom.

To me, it’s a more realistic portrayal of events though because we know that there is no truth in the world. Right? There is no truth. Perception of the truth is as close as we can get to truth. As a writer, I want to bring my readers on that journey, so that they, too, realize, that even in fiction there is no truth and that each character–even the heroic protagonist–brings bias. So maybe once the reader is subjected to that bias, they can face their own bias. Just maybe.

Thanks for reading.
~ jenn

This is a cross-posting from Jenn Topper‘s Don’t Publish Me! blog.

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