Cup of Dcaf: When the Narrator Makes the Book


This post is mostly going to be about other books I’ve read, moreso than anything I’ve written, because it deals with first-person perspectives. While third-person narrators can absolutely make an impact on the way a story is read (looking at you, A Song of Ice and Fire), some of my favorite stories are first-person novels. By and large, the reason for this is the way the first-person viewpoint structures and colors the story.

The first book I ever encountered like this that had a big impact was I, Jedi by Michael Stackpole. To the extent of my knowledge, it is the only Star Wars book in existence to feature a first-person narrator—in this case, Corran Horn, who was already an engaging character. However, the first-person series that truly showed me what that type of narrator can do was The Black Company by Glen Cook.

Across the ten books of The Black Company, we get several different narrators, or “Annalists” as they are called in the outfit, and each has a specific voice and tone that perfectly compliments the stories they tell. The major Annalist is Croaker, who has a knack for wry humor, bleak self-reflection, and a nice grasp of the big picture. While Croaker is my favorite of the Annalists, Lady is perhaps the most engaging, as she tends toward self-praise and a keen sense of dramatic presentation. Her book, Dreams of Steel, is perhaps the darkest in the series both in plot and in narrative tone, and it makes for a very intriguing case study.

Lady is one of those compelling characters who has deep layers, sometimes masked by the fact that she is writing about herself. While she is a protagonist in her book, and the reader is urged to sympathize with her (successfully, in my case), Lady is by no means an angel. It would not be amiss to describe her as cruel or merciless; certainly “ruthless” is appropriate. But layered in with that is a sometimes surprising tenderness and vulnerability, and all of this is only made possible through her first-person perspective.

It is a difficult thing to master, but first-person stories can be some of the most powerful. What books or stories told in first-person have stuck with you?

2 thoughts on “Cup of Dcaf: When the Narrator Makes the Book

  1. Have you ever thought about publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other websites?
    I have a blog centered on the same topics you discuss and would really like to
    have you share some stories/information. I
    know my visitors would appreciate your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.

    • I have actually collaborated with another author on his blog, and you can find a link to it on Dcafwriting if you look for “Lessons Learned With D. Emery Bunn”. I’m always happy to get to know another writer and work together!

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