Fear in Writing: The Narrator and The Writer

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Narrator and The Writer

Right now I am reading Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White.  It has me enthralled.  For one, the mysteries woven are perfection.  The woman in question is superbly formed.  The victim is someone I want to comfort and protect.  The lovers I want to push together and I cheer for them from page one to page 630.

But as a writer, Collins' work has something more.  It has a unique perspective of narration that brings me to highly recommend it to you as a piece of study.  Almost every character has their turn as speaking to the reader, be it through first person chapter or in the form of a letter printed in the book.  But, surprisingly, most get the chance in the form of their own first person chapter.

Collins writes The Woman in White almost as an official document.  He uses his narrators to tell the story of Laura Fairlie and the Woman in White, who coexist and have interlacing lives.  He weaves mystery and near-supernatural events at times, all using a change of narrator to do so.

But what Collins does that is so brilliant is not only change narrator to change perspective, but change voice with each narrator.  Walter Hartright speaks like a vibrant young man, long-winded at times and a bit heartsick.  Ms. Halcombe speaks like the strong woman she is, sister to the victim and a woman at odds with her role in society.  Even the lower classes are given a voice by Collins, and they speak from their place: with deference and extra words not necessary to the conveyance of meaning.

So this rambling brings me to my question: how big of a role does your narrator play?  Is your narrator a character or simply a means of getting the story told?  Do you break it down as neatly and completely as Collins did?

For our readers (and maybe non-writers), have you read The Woman in White?  What did you think of it?  I believe it is a seminal piece of literature, especially in the mystery/suspense genre.  However, it has been said that Collins was a great storyteller, but not a great writer.  What do you think?

I hope I have given you a lot to think about today.  If you haven't picked up this book, do so!  I have a copy up for swap on my bookshelf at PaperbackSwap.


  1. I just finished this book for a class that I actually dropped, but loved the book so I kept reading it! I was initially worried about the writing, but I thought it was brilliant! It has actually made me more excited to read more 19th Century literature! Hope you have a good week, been missing ya because my life is SO crazy busy!

  2. I know, Chasing, my life is as well. I hope what little advice I was able to give a while back was helpful. Good for you for dropping a class You deserved to take that step!

    My next step (after getting through my current TBR pile) is to take on Collins' 'Moonstone.' Not all 19th century lit is like this. But ask Elizabeth Spann Craig, she has read more of it than I have!

    Glad you stopped by! Tell us more about the police academy class sometime.

  3. I've never read any thing by Collins but my friend Claire is mad about this book so now I think I'll get her copy. She'll be furious that I'm doing so on your say-so after my refusal at her constant badgering for me to read it.
    Warm regards,

  4. I read it years ago and remember really liking it - unfortunately that's about all I remember but I'll dig it out of our bookshelves and read it again. If you like someone who can handle multiple points of views brilliantly then you should read Iris Murdoch - she's the peachiest at that. When it is one guy's pov I'm totally on his side and can't believe I'd ever budge - then another pov emmerges and I'm gone over to that side - yikes - what a steadfast gal I am.

  5. I haven't read this yet, but you have peaked my interest. I'll have to check on it. Thanks.

  6. Don't think it's quite my style!

    Looking forward to tomorrow!

  7. My current WiP is written from the PoV of six different characters; four men and 2 women. They are the reader's eyes and ears through which they get to know the other characters and move through the four days when the mystery takes place.

  8. Loved the book. The technique worked really well for Collins. I wouldn't be able to do it with genre fiction, but I'd be interested in trying it later on. It DOES scare me a little, even thinking about it. I don't change POV very often or for very long...
    Mystery Writing is Murder

  9. I haven't read that one either.

    My ms alternates pov between my 2 MCs. It's fun switching up the voice & attitude each time I switch.

  10. Sounds like something I'd be intersted in reading. I'll have to hunt it down. I think every POV switch (whether in 1st or 3rd person) needs a distinctive feel, unique to the character. Dialogue too.
    (BTW thanks for stopping by my blog Michele. I left you a too long reply post cause I missed ya so much!)

  11. I'm interested enough now that I'll have to find the book on eBay. I guess I should finish the 3 other books I have started first :) Thanks

  12. For those who haven't read it, it's a must. For those writing in alternating MCs--I can't wait to read how it turns out!

    Lisa- never too many books on the nightstand. :)