Which narration should I use?

by Pip Dowd

Question: I intend to focus my story around an 19 year old boy who has suffered a lot of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of his family. I want to refrain from writing in 1st person as I want the boy to remain mysterious, confusing and seemingly unreachable; he needs to remain an enigma, something along the lines of the Gatsby myth. Which type of narration would you suggest using in order to achieve this? His love interest will also be central to the story, a girl of the same age, however I don't want to write a typical girl/boy romance novel. I'd prefer it to focus on how life can turn out, how people impact each other rather than merely reducing it to a story about a couple-I want it to be bigger than that. Therefore, I also do not want to write in 1st person as the girl.

Thanks for any advice!:)

Answer: You have a number of options here.

Since you have read Gatsby, you know that one possibility is to use another character as the narrator. This would be someone who exists within the story world and observes the events of the story.

Sometimes such narrators are actually the main character, as Tom is in The Great Gatsby. Tom has a moral dilemma which he struggles with throughout the book and ultimately resolves in Gatsby's favour. He also aids the plot. Yet Gatsby is the protagonist, pursuing Daisy and all she represents.

Other stories use a minor character narrator who has little impact on the story and no real arc of his own. For example, a lowly foot soldier or a future historian looking back on the events.

Of course, you need some explanation as to why your minor character narrator knows about all the events of the story, which is why some writers choose minor character narrators with supernatural abilities. For instance, The Book Thief is narrated by a personification of Death itself, who crops up frequently in the life of the main character.

If this doesn't appeal, you can use an omniscient, 3rd person narrator who is basically you.

Or you can write in 3rd person, limited narration. In this case, you are writing in 3rd person, but you are limiting the story to the main character's point of view.

All these are viable options, and you may want to try writing a few pages in each to see the effect and which one you like.

However, I will say that if you want your protagonist to remain an enigma, then it may make sense to write from the point of view of a minor character who sees the protagonist as an enigma because he/she has no access to the protagonist's thoughts nor to events that take place when he is not around (things which an omniscient narrator would know). This character would then be left trying to makes sense of the protagonist's actions from his limited perspective -- and he might ultimately fail to do so.

Best of luck.

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