Authors Keep Your Distance: You and Your Narrator Are Different People

Geneva - United Nations logo

In "Helix" -- this is bad. To me personally -- it's good. There is a difference. Photo courtesy Flickr user Harshil.Shah

I recently put a novel up on the Smashwords¬†publishing site, and it occurred to me this morning that there may be some confusion for the readers between me and what I write. There’s something that new and aspiring authors don’t always realize, and even some established authors might forget sometimes. That is that you, as an author, do not always hold the opinions that your narrator does.

Let me explain. In Helix, my novel, the whole world is governed by a United Nations government. And this government does some rather nasty things along the way, even though perhaps its original intentions were good. If a reader were to think that everything in that book reflects my own opinions, they’d think I really disapprove of the U.N., and believe the organization is bad.

In fact, the exact opposite is true. Even though some of the themes that run through the novel are things I worry about, the U.N. isn’t actually one of them. The only reason it’s the big bad guy in the story is that I needed an organization that was worldwide and had the infrastructure to take over quickly and coordinate things when most other governing systems in the world had collapsed. It just had the qualities I needed, to use it as a tool in the story.

Because that’s the whole point! This is what distinguishes a good writer from someone who just wants to recite their own beliefs at people, or reproduce themselves over and over. As an author, you take and use whatever tools you need to craft the work. Because it’s the story¬†that’s important — not you.

Your writing should rarely revolve around ideas like, “I like this character too much to kill him off,” or “I’m going to write a sequel because I like these characters so much.” If killing off that character is important to pushing your plot forward — you kill him off. If the theme you wanted to express or the idea you wanted to explore is completed at the end of this novel — you don’t write a sequel and nullify your work.

The author is crafting a work of art with meaning to it, and always needs to remember that the work of art is paramount. We are not creating that work merely as a navel-gazing exercise. We sculpt and craft and smooth and shape, using every tool necessary to do so. And if we are really good authors — we ourselves do not get in our own way. We maintain a separate existence from our Narrator.

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2 Comments

Filed under * Art and Craft of Authorship

2 responses to “Authors Keep Your Distance: You and Your Narrator Are Different People

  1. An important point which you put across very well. I have written stories which I really wouldn’t agree with, such as one from the POV of a sociopathic rapist/murderer. There is no way I would condone such things but it made for a great story.

  2. Exactly. I imagine it can depend what you envision as the purpose of your story, of course. But I think it takes real skill — and sometimes considerable will power — to be able to write from a perspective that isn’t your own. And to stop when you should, or take necessary actions that make you gnash your teeth.

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