Musings on the Narrator from Jon Franklin

I subscribe to “WriterL,” a listserv published “more or less daily from somewhere near Chesapeake Bay” by Lynn and Jon Franklin.

Jon is the author of two books I admire;  Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of a Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner, from which I learned some excellent information on how to control my storytelling (tips I pass on in my classes), and The Wolf In The Parlor: The Eternal Connection Between Humans and Dogs, which I just plain enjoyed, perhaps because at the same time I was civilizing (or was she civilizing me?) a new puppy.

Jon posted to WriterL recently about voice and the role of the narrator… with his permission, I pass this on to you with the suggestion that if this kind of discussion interests you, you’ll find a subscription to WriterL (at $35 a great value) worth your time.

Take it away, Jon…

… the creation of the narrator is part of the idea of voice.  It usually escapes the reader (as intended) but is sometimes part of the story (I’m thinking of the mouse in Ben and Me). The narrator is the mouse, but he’s not the author.  (If it wasn’t a mouse, please don’t laugh me out of the house; I haven’t read it since I was a child.)

For yet another example, the first requirement of the narrator, be he third person or first, is that it be a character who is capable of seeing the story action in another.  I know lots of folks who would never see the subtle dramas proceeding right in front of them.  Most people don’t even see the drama they’re involved in.  Those would obviously be poor characters to narrate a subtle struggle between a man and wife.

So I’m talking about a technical device used as a carefully-chosen vantage point to survey the story as it unfolds.  The narrator might be given a full character, false character, or perhaps only a partial character.

Jon Franklin

Now, we who write memoir might think we have no choice over who’s the narrator of our story. But that’s a false assumption. We have many choices about how much we allow our “self” as narrator to know. What’s important, I think, is that the narrator of a memoir be able to “see the drama they’re involved in,” as Jon suggests. As I struggle with writing my coming-of-age years, I find it useful to think about whether to give myself a full character, false character, or partial character, unformed as I was. Thanks Jon, for your insights!

-Sarah White

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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