Guest Author Anna Butler on Finding Your Narrator’s Voice
Please welcome to the blog today author Anna Butler, with a post on POV, blurbs and excerpts from her two new books, and a giveaway!
Finding Your Narrator’s Voice
I started writing this post because of something someone said to me about hating first person PoV and never reading it because it was ‘lazy’ and ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘a newbie’s mistake to think it makes the story intimate’.
Which made me think—not about whether that person was right, because such close-minded prejudice never is, but how we decide what voice the narrator of our stories will have.
I do get why some people hate first person POV. They don’t like the limited viewpoint they’re getting, or feel it’s an attempt to create a sort of false intimacy with the reader, with the narrator plucking at their sleeves and talking to them directly. They complain that they don’t know they can trust the narrator to be honest, given no other viewpoint to consider—something that exercises me even with the usual third person. Because bottom line: is any narrator ever completely truthful?
I had two novels published within 48 hours last month. One is first person, the other a deep third person PoV. They are very different animals. Obviously they cover different things—one is a pure m/m romance set in a steampunk universe, the other genre science fiction with gay protagonists. But more than that, they feel and sound different because I set the characters free to find their own voices.
The steampunk romance, The Gilded Scarab, is written in the first person. Rafe Lancaster tells you his story himself, with no filters or mediation. You don’t see Rafe Lancaster as others see him, just the Rafe Lancaster he sees whenever he looks into his shaving mirror. I didn’t start out in first person. Gilded Scarab was drafted as a deep third person. So deep, that about ten thousand words in, I went back to the beginning an, as an experiment, converted it to first. And WHOA! That worked.
I had liked Rafe Lancaster in third. Put him into first person and he leapt off the monitor at me, alive and vibrant and so very much himself: sardonic, a little cynical, but still generous and compassionate. And he’d done that by the end of the first paragraph. First person, when your character is strong enough to shoulder the burden, works. Rafe works. He takes over the book from the first sentence and runs with it, and the book is brighter, louder, funnier and more touching as a result.
So, fired by that experiment, I went to the almost-final draft of the genre science fiction story, Gyrfalcon, and tried it again. And whoa, dismal failure. Rafe is bright, extroverted, passionate and, well, loud. Bennet, the hero of Gyrfalcon, is reserved, clever, serious, intense and focused, logical and practical. He has to be. His job as a captain in the Shield Regiment, carrying out spying and infiltration missions behind enemy lines in a war thousands of years in the future, demands that of him. Bennet will tell you that the biggest influences on his life have been what he describes as his family’s ‘triple goddess’: duty, honour, and service.
In his way, Bennet is as a strong a character as Rafe. But it’s a different way. Where Rafe is exuberant, Bennet is quiet and watchful. Where Rafe is all about people, Bennet is better with abstract principles. Frankly, he sucked in first person. He was too reserved, held too much back. He didn’t want to reveal too much of himself, he didn’t want the emotional connection that fires Rafe’s story.
Different characters, different strokes.
The lesson for me was that it doesn’t matter that someone thinks first person PoV is lazy and childish. If your character wants to tell his story directly, it will work for him. And if he’s a little too buttoned up and reserved to expose himself to your view like that, well then, keep his voice in third person and allow him the little bit of distance that keeps him comfortable. This is a know your characters thing.
Neither one PoV is better than the other. It’s what suits your characters and what suits your story. If your narrator’s voice is compelling and sounds real, if he’s a strong and engaging personality, and if you don’t intrude at all but keep invisible and silent, then whichever voice you choose will have the potential for emotional connection. First or third, use them to create a narrator that readers will come to feel they know, and hopefully, they’ll come to love.
BLURB: The Gilded Scarab
When Captain Rafe Lancaster is invalided out of the Britannic Imperium’s Aero Corps after crashing his aerofighter during the Second Boer War, his eyesight is damaged permanently, and his career as a fighter pilot is over. Returning to Londinium in late November 1899, he’s lost the skies he loved, has no place in a society ruled by an elite oligarchy of powerful Houses, and is hard up, homeless, and in desperate need of a new direction in life.
Everything changes when he buys a coffeehouse near the Britannic Imperium Museum in Bloomsbury, the haunt of Aegyptologists. For the first time in years, Rafe is free to be himself. In a city powered by luminiferous aether and phlogiston, and where powerful men use House assassins to target their rivals, Rafe must navigate dangerous politics, deal with a jealous and possessive ex-lover, learn to make the best coffee in Londinium, and fend off murder and kidnap attempts before he can find happiness with the man he loves.
(Cover by Reese Dante)
He drew a breath so shaky I heard it from where I stood beside the bed. And another. He turned his head toward me at last, and the firelight sprang up to light the side of his face, limning his cheekbone in red-gold, sliding its way across the side of his neck and pooling shadows in the hollow of his throat, slipping more shadows under his cheekbones and edging the line of his jaw.
The firelight loved Edward Fairfax, breathed living gold into him.
The breath caught in my throat. He was beautiful in this light. Very beautiful.
“I said I’d been away a long time, just as you had,” he said. “The commitments I had… well, they involved other people and promises made that I couldn’t break. It has been a very long time since I was free to be with someone like you, Rafe. And although I’ve been back to Margrethe’s three or four times recently, I haven’t allowed things to go this far.” Edward’s smile, the little crooked turning-up of his mouth, was pained. “I think I’m a little nervous.”
I could understand that. My hands were trembly, and I had to keep working my mouth to moisten it, it was so dry. I may even have been a little nervous myself. Odd, though, how his honesty, the lack of polite evasion, prompted the same in me. “It’s been a while for me too. Not because I was ever lucky enough to find one person the way you did, if I understand what you say about commitment—the Lancaster luck doesn’t run that way. But still, the life I had, the Aero Corps… I couldn’t risk it. So it’s been a long time.” I managed a grin. “At least, a long time since it wasn’t furtive and quick and in the dark, as if it were shameful. Nothing as open as this. But what I remember of it, it’s a pleasure I would really like to taste with you.”
He nodded, and this time his smile looked real. “I would be very glad to retaste it with you, Rafe.”
I took a step toward him. He pulled his hand out of his pocket and held it out to me.
I sought for something to say as I took it. His palm was warm and dry, and his fingers curled around mine. “Do you like kissing?”
This time I got the full smile, bright and dazzling and lighting up his whole face. “I do.”
“Not all men allow it.” I made a gesture with my free hand. “There’s a spot there I’d rather like to kiss.”
The particular kissable spot was under his chin, half-hid in flickering shadow, half-lit by the firelight. I laughed when my lips settled against the skin of his throat, and he laughed with me; I felt it thrumming in his throat. I raised both hands and held his face, tilting it away from the fire. His eyes were shadowed. I used my fingertips first, following the light down the side of his jaw, tracing the line of his neck and smoothing into the warm hollow at the base of his throat. The little bones cradling it were hard under my fingers, harder still under my tongue. The hollow of his throat tasted of salt.
Edward sighed, his hands fell onto my shoulders and squeezed, his head tilted back to let me do my worst. It would be all right. We’d find our way back to our old lives together.
The next kiss wasn’t gentle. It set the world ablaze.
WHERE TO BUY THE GILDED SCARAB
Earth’s last known colony, Albion, is fighting an alien enemy. In the first of the Taking Shield series, Shield Captain Bennet is dropped behind the lines to steal priceless intelligence. A dangerous job, and Bennet doesn’t need the distractions of changing relationships with his long-term partner, Joss, or with his father—or with Flynn, the new lover who will turn his world upside-down. He expects to risk his life. He expects the data will alter the course of the war. What he doesn’t expect is that it will change his life or that Flynn will be impossible to forget.
Most days it was a relief to close down the datapad and go off to be tortured by Pershing. The sergeant had worked up a taxing program to accustom Bennet to the conditions he would find on T18. Pershing, though, was a fair man and joined Bennet in the routine. Bennet found it was all he could do to keep up.
“Really,” said Pershing one day, “you should cope down there reasonably well.”
“Yeah?” Bennet hoped rather than believed that he had enough breath to sound incredulous, although he was tired enough to settle for sceptical. They’d finished the session and the engineers had returned both temperature and artificial gravity to normal, but he was still struggling to get his breathing evened out. At Pershing’s now familiar gesture, he pulled up his sweat-soaked T-shirt so that the sergeant could probe at the scars on Bennet’s right side.
Pershing grunted approval. “That’s not too bad. The scar’s pretty flexible, and I don’t think it’s pulling on you too much.”
Bennet let the T-shirt fall back and reached for the water again. His tongue felt furry and it was sticking to the roof of his mouth.
“What you have to guard against is fatigue. You’ll feel heavier in the gravity and you’ll really feel it in that heat, especially if you’re down there for any length of time.”
Bennet glanced up as a contingent of pilots came in. He was running late. Usually he was gone before the pilots arrived, but today there was Flynn, all short black pants and long golden legs, chest muscles outlined by a tight white T-shirt that made his skin glow. Bennet jerked his gaze away and concentrated on Pershing. “We’ll have to try with stims, then,” he said.
“That’s not a great idea, Captain, and you know it. Your heart’s going to be under enough of a strain as it is.”
“It’s only for a few hours. I’ll talk to Dr Parry and we’ll try it tomorrow.” Bennet pushed himself up onto his feet, bone tired.
Pershing shook his head and let it go. Bennet nodded his thanks to him, awed that the man was about to start again, taking the pilots through their paces. As he passed Flynn, he got the big lopsided grin that he was coming to look forward to seeing.
“You look like hell,” Flynn said, cheerfully.
His heart racing, Bennet paused and indicated his bêtenoir, the running machine. He felt quite ridiculously happy. It had to be fatigue. “I’ve just run ten miles on that bloody thing, in extra gravity and a temperature of over 95 degrees. And that was slowing down at the end of the session. I’m astonished I can still walk.”
“Hell! So am I!”
“There are days when I wish I’d stayed at the Thebaid, worrying about the Third Wave of Migration and the effect it had on Albion’s political structures for the succeeding three centuries.” Bennet grinned at the look Flynn gave him. The widened eyes and curving down mouth couldn’t be bettered…Flynn looked more horrified by that than at Bennet’s torture at Pershing’s capable hands. “I need a shower and I need some sleep. See you later.”
“Sure,” Flynn said.
And he would see Flynn later. As he stood under the gym’s sonic shower, letting the sound and vibration strip the sweat away, he looked forward to the moment when he’d close down the datapad for the last time that day and head to the OC to wind down. He wouldn’t be there five minutes before Flynn, with a wide grin and a wave, would invite him over to join the Alpha squadron pilots.
It made the day, for him.
WHERE TO BUY GYRFALCON
Comment here and get an entry in a rafflecopter to win an Amazon gift card (drawn when the blog tour is over at the end of March).
In addition, one commentator chosen at complete close-eyes-stick-a-pin-in-it random will get their choice of a little pack of Gilded Scarab or Gyrfalcon loot and a free copy of FlashWired (a gay mainstream sci-fi novella).
Anna Butler was a communications specialist for many years, working in UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to running an internal TV service. She now spends her time indulging her love of old-school science fiction. She lives in the ethnic and cultural melting pot of East London with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockapoo.