As I said in the previous article a first-person narrative is affected by the motivations of the characters but those motivations don’t have to be good, the first-person narrator is often used to create empathy for anti-heroes. Allowing readers to see everything through the perspective of the character can be used to persuade them of the character’s argument.
To return to Frankenstein it is often assumed that Viktor Frankenstein is the hero of the story because it is told from his perspective. Frankenstein is the protagonist in that he moves the story forward to achieve his fulfil his own goals, however, are his actions really heroic? He robs graves, creates The Creature who he shuns and his actions/inactions lead to deaths. Any yet, if you ask people who the hero of the novel is, even if they’ve read it, many will say Frankenstein.
While first-person/subjective narration can be limiting because we can’t move from our protagonist’s perspective it can also be the most persuasive. In Frankenstein there is a section where The Creature tells Frankenstein his story but by this point the story has all been about Frankenstein and reader in entrenched in his perspective, the man who’s all out of options and has been persecuted by ‘the monster’ he created. Such is the persuasiveness of Frankenstein’s perspective he can be transformed into a misunderstood genius who wants to help humanity when another interpretation is that he’s a narcissist obsessed with his own fear of death, there are other interpretations as well but too many for a short article.
A similar effect can be created by breaking the forth wall in visual medium where the character addresses the audience. Hamlet speaks to the audience and the audience wants him to succeed in proving his uncle’s guilt in the murder of his father on the evidence of the ghost of his father who hates his brother. If Hamlet wasn’t speaking to us would we stop and think, ‘but, wait, if he was asleep how does his father know who killed him?’ Similarly in the film Deadpool while we can’t argue that Deadpool’s enemies aren’t terrible people does that make Deadpool good while he revels in killing them? Morally, no, but Deadpool draws us in with his wit so we don’t think about whether Deadpool is doing ‘the right thing’. We’re persuaded by his point of view that knocking someone’s head in with a safe door is fine, not horrifying.
We could argue that it’s the ability to separate entertainment from reality that has this effect, we know it’s not real, so it’s not horrifying. However, if Deadpool had been portrayed as the villain or a malevolent force throughout the story would the murders he committed be justifiable or would they be shocking?
So despite the difficulties that can a appear when we limit the narration to the perspective of a single character there can be also be advantages to only having one perspective on a story. If there’s only one perspective who’s going to stop the reader and point out they might be cheering for the wrong team?
For more writing advice see my Advice Page. For more on narration/narrative see Finding Your Perspective and Finding Your Voice. You may also find my internal monologue series useful under Finding The Characters.
NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. This is the last part in this series but there will be more on first-person narration next week.