Lately, I've been reading samples of writing from other peoples -- friends and acquaintances and that strange demographic of hopeful new writers who think I can offer helpful advice -- and I'm fascinated by how many people start off with an obscured narrator. The first character I'm introduced to is simply "He" or "She", or an undefined subject such as, "With the sun coming up, all that was left to do was hide the body." And this can stretch out for paragraphs, even pages, without giving me anything as solid as a name to latch on to.
Now, as a style choice, I won't say it doesn't work -- I picture it like a cinematic sequence, where the camera avoids the actor's face. I see his boots, the back of his head, the crowd moving around him, animals reacting to his presence, but I have no idea who he is yet. It puts me in mind of assassination plots and thrillers -- the longer I read without learning a character's name, the longer I assume there's a reason it's being concealed from me, that this is a ghost or a spy, and very likely the scene will end with a muted gunshot -- pvvvft.
What I will say, though, is that the technique doesn't work for me. I need to put a name to my characters, and I need to get it onto the page early on. I want to know in the first paragraph whose eyes I'm borrowing when I'm reading or writing about the scenery. If at all possible, I want to slip in a few physical details in the first page, especially if my focal character is an elf or a dwarf or a seven-eyed spider-rabbit -- it doesn't need to be a self-examination in a full-length mirror, but at least give me a hint (the best writing, in my opinion, includes these details so subtly that I'm not even aware of them until afterward, when I suddenly wonder why my mental image of the character is what it is).
I'll throw this out to everyone reading: Do you ever write with an intentionally obscured narrator? Does the technique work for you, as a writer or a reader? How long do you let the opening of your work go on before you introduce the character from whose point of view you'll be telling the rest of the story/chapter/scene?
- ▼ 2010 (31)