Killing the Narrator

When creating an outline for a novel, I think very carefully about point of view. The biggest problem I usually have is picking a point of view that works for the entire novel but also has a thematic purpose. Today’s most common point of view is third person singular which follows one character throughout the novel, but in order to make your novel stand out it takes much work to make this point of view (or any point of view for that matter) sing.

So I was thinking about my current WIP and how I’m bored with the point of view. What if the entire novel is a first person interview and the interviewer dies toward the end of the interview and then the very next chapter is written in third person singular from the perspective of the interviewee? Has anyone reading this ever seen anything done like this so that I can have a reference for its success or will this break the flow too much?

The purpose is not simply sensationalism or novelty, but it falls in line with my theme which is along the lines of making one’s life count for something.

Any thoughts?

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4 thoughts on “Killing the Narrator

  1. I can think of a couple of novels where a first person narrator doesn’t get to finish up for one reason or another. For one reason the one that sticks out at the moment is the Heinlein juvie (I suppose they’d call it YA now) Podkayne of Mars.

    But she’s also the protagonist. Unless the first-person interviewer is the protagonist (which doesn’t seem to be the case–correct me if I’m wrong) you’re distancing the reader from the protagonist’s story by filtering it through the narrator’s POV.

    Of course, it’s possible for the results to be not only satisfactory but exceptional. The Great Gatsby is the best and best known novel to use this general setup…but Nick lives and (SPOILER 😉 ) Gatsby dies.

    The combination of the two conceits would be a challenge.

  2. A Visit From The Goon Squad and Girl In Hyacinth Blue both feature alternate POV/perspectives.

    Only read the first one (very interesting, but I struggled due to it’s diversity – not because of the style I should add, but because parts of it were enthralling and then it regularly whipped you away to other less interesting people/places – more like a short story collection that comes together at the end) and it actually alternates a lot of techniques (including a chapter done in powerpoint slides) and is more like a scrapbook.

    Found the second from an Amazon search. Only going by the reviews as there’s no blurb, but again it seems more like a collection of short stories centred around a common theme (following a painting from creation through the hands of it’s owners).

    I think if you are going to use it sparingly it’s fine. for example to dovetail sections (e.g. excerpts from a diary, a al R A Salvatore in his Dark Elf books, and there’s an Iain M Banks book I’m sure does the same thing each chapter with letters to a characters employer, just can’t lay my hands on it at the moment) or to top and/or tail the whole story as you seem to suggest. Doing ‘in story’ seems to be a pretty hard thing to pull off – but that shouldn’t stop anybody from giving it a go!

  3. I don’t have Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Lacuna” in front of me either, but I seem to recall it changes point of view (though I’m not sure if it’s just multiple third-person points of view or third- to first-person). I loved that book.

  4. I don’t have a copy of “Life of Pi” in front of me, but I seem to recall it changes at the end, when Pi is being interviewed by the insurance adjustors. I can’t remember for sure though. As for an unsuccessful approach, I just quit reading “The Art of Fielding,” and one reason I hated it so much I couldn’t go on is because it changed from rotating third-person point of view to first person (for one of the characters anyway). It was so jarring, I just couldn’t go on. There may have been a point to this, but since I didn’t finish it, I couldn’t tell you.

    Could you make a super long epilogue? So the story “ends” upon the death of the narrator, but the epilogue explains what happens next?

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