Seeing through Layers like Blankets on a Cold Night

My father was am immigrant from Mexico.  My mother a full blood Kiowa/Cherokee from Oklahoma.  They worked the peanut and cotton fields when my sisters and I were young.  I remember ducking the large rolling water sprayers in the fields; I remember the heat coming from the dirt onto my bare feet; and I remember living in abandoned farm houses in the Oklahoma fields.  Let me tell you about cold nights.  No, better yet, let me tell you about the warmth you can have from the thin layer of a blanket.

Farm HousesAs I make progress through the revision stage of my novel, Uncle Called Him Spider, I visualize odd and peculiar moments in my life.  Here I am thinking about point of view, analyzing the spaces between first person narrative and third person limited omniscience, and I start to make the comparison of that space to the thin layer of a blanket on a cold night.  Then I remember the farm houses.

Odd how the memory works.

So a few days ago I was living through a fictional space in my mind where I envisioned someone asking me, “Why did you write Uncle Called Him Spider in third person limited omniscient instead of first person?”  They would go onto explain how the two forms aren’t very far apart structurally.  So many great novels are written in the first person.  Yes, I actually visualize conversations like this.  And, yes, I’m only a breath away from insanity, but only the good writers are.

BlanketsIt’s a good question.  I’m glad the fictive personality in my mind asked.  Why third over first?  I think it goes back to the blanket on the cold night.  So what does first person perspective do?  It pulls the reader in close.  You are directly inside the narrator’s mind and you are watching what the narrator watches.  You only experience what the narrator feels.  You are under the blanket.

So you’re going to argue third person limited does the same thing.  But I’m going to disagree with you.  It does put you, the reader, inside the main character’s mind.  Yes, you feel what she feels and you get to hear her thoughts.  But there is one thing first person doesn’t offer:  Freedom.

With just a thin layer of distance, third person limited omniscient gives the reader a power lost to the first person POV.  Because you are subconsciously noticing the “he said, she said” aspect of the writing, you are then subconsciously implementing the “he said, she said” mentality.  Meaning?  You cast judgment more readily.  You are less likely to identify with the main character and more likely to criticize her.

“The omniscient narrator is a bizarre technique, when you think about it, and no one uses it much anymore. But for the novels I want to write, it’s the only approach that makes sense to me.”  — by Min Jin Lee

Why?  It’s space. Being on the outside of the blanket you still feel the cold night, while the main character is cozy under the blanket.  There’s enough distance to analyze and criticize situations as the main character moves through the storyline.  In essence, it empowers the reader to make their own conclusions without the main character trying to convince them otherwise.

I’m going to take this a little deeper–just for food for thought.  I think it may be an issue of control.  If an author wants you to think a certain way about a character she will do anything and everything to persuade you, like using first person narration.  Now, don’t get upset at me for making this claim.  If you go read the three free short stories on my website, you’ll find three first person short stories.  I write first person.  But as I think about the novel I’m writing I can’t help but wonder how much of it has to do with authorial control over the reader.  Maybe I’m in a space of letting go, ready to give readers their freedom so I can have my own.  Or…maybe I think way too much about this shit. 🙂

 

(The images used in this post were borrowed from Wikimedia and Wikipedia)

(Images were borrowed from pexels.com and terrain.org)

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Oscar Hokeah is a regionalist Native American writer of literary fiction, interested in capturing intertribal and multicultural aspects within two tribally specific communities: Tahlequah and Lawton, Oklahoma. He was raised inside these tribal circles and continues to reside there today–half Native American (Kiowa/Cherokee) and half Hispanic. He earned an M.A. in English from the University of Oklahoma, and a B.F.A. in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts. He is a recipient of the Truman Capote Scholarship Award and the Native Writer Award. He has short stories published in South Dakota Review, American Short Fiction, Yellow Medicine Review, Surreal South ’09, and Red Ink Magazine

18 thoughts on “Seeing through Layers like Blankets on a Cold Night

  1. I am glad you think ‘’way too much about this shit’’. I find it interesting to ‘’see’’ how other writer/artists creat and think. May be we are all just about bonkers :).

    Liked by 4 people

  2. YES!!!! It is a process of letting go and not controlling the reader. I have found in my poetry I can do the third person limited omniscient, but most all of my prose is first person or third person. It does relate to control…
    AND I really needed this post today. Thank you.

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    1. Nice, I’m glad the post helped you and on a day where fate seemed to call for it. The reader/writer relationship is an important one. Even subtleties like POV come into light when considering how we as writers engage with our audiences. I’m think of writing some short short fiction, or flash fiction I guess it’s also called. But I think POV is very different in pieces that short, which is similar to poetry (that’s the reason I bring it up, with you mentioning your poetry). I’m interested in POV and shifts between the “gears.” I said, you said, she said. First, second, third. And all points in between and further out.

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  3. I’m busy with a creative writing course right now, free through the University of Iowa, Novoed, called Moving the Margins. I haven’t seen a module discussing POV but perhaps it is still coming. POV has always confused me. At the moment I write almost by instinct. Of the flash fictions I’ve written I think I’ve used 3td person omniscient, that is, one gets to know what goes on in the head of all the characters. I’ve heard it said this approach is mere head-hopping and apparently it isn’t so cool anymore. So, then according to what you say here 3rd person limited is working from the head of the main character only, who will have a ‘subjective’ opinion about the other characters? You don’t mention 2nd POV which apparently isn’t used much. Howver, in tis course they presented a short story from the 2nd POV but the main character is talking to himself as if into a mirror – in the case of this story, a hall of mirrors and it worked well. As I said I wrote without knowing what it is I’m doing. I’m considering a novel but it’s very difficult.

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    1. Second person is the use of “you” in writing. So you’re talking to the reader. “You know the ins and outs of writing,” as opposed to “I know the ins and outs of writing,” or third person “He knows the ins and outs of writing.” Then we can get into the shifts between. You can jump to second person (you) from first or third, but you can jump first to third without complete confusion. There would need to be something of a setup for that shift to occur. But you can apply a second person omniscient where you use “we” or “us.” There is a lot to work with as writers when we consider POV. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Petru. Good to see you again.

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