Over Spring Break I had an opportunity to catch up on many books that had been on my TBR pile including two that raised some interesting questions about a writer’s choice of narrator. The first of these, Room by Emma Donoghue, has a child narrate the harrowing story of a mother and son held by a kidnapper in a one-room shed, their subsequent escape and their rocky road to adapting to the wide world beyond. For me, the choice of narrator made for a compelling read and I think it was both a wise and savvy move on behalf of the writer. It was difficult to pull off I’m sure, but the choice of a child to tell the story added an unexpected element and twist to what could have been a more typical abduction thriller.
The second book was a real summer read – Me Before You by JoJo Moyes – and it was not the kind of story I tend to read (i.e. romance). However, the choice of narrative viewpoints in this book too was the reason I think it was so compelling. As a reader we see into the mind of a slightly ditzy 20-something, her more mature sister, and the mother of the quadriplegic man who the 20-something year old has been tasked with being a companion for. The writer (wisely I think) only briefly give us the perspective of the male protagonist (the quadriplegic) before his injury. Other than that his character and motivations are clearly revealed in terms of his interaction with the other characters. Neither Room nor Me Before You are typical book choices for me (I did also read The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, which is much more my usual cup of tea:)) but they gave me some interesting perspectives on narrative choices.
I typically have a strong female narrative voice – though in a few of my WIPs I have adopted multiple perspectives, including male characters. I’ve never attempted a child’s voice, nor the perspective of someone much older than me. For me, the choice of narrator has always been guided by the story and, so far at least, that has meant I haven’t delved too far outside my comfort zone (though I’ve had some fun with darker and more amoral characters than myself!).
So, TKZers, what about you? What was the most challenging narrative voice you’ve ever used? Do you find yourself typically using a voice closely allied to your own, or have you gone far beyond this to perhaps channel someone of a different ethnicity, age or gender to you own? What challenges did this present?