Explorations: my author blog

This world is full of marvels-

I've thought, sometimes, of the inspiration for SF and Fantasy. We'll go to great lengths to invent strange creatures and monsters - dragons! chimaeras! shape-shifters, and so on. 

But who could invent a creature that stayed buried in the ground for *17 YEARS* before emerging and living its short adult life of only a few weeks? Or a creature that turned its own stomach inside out to devour its prey? Or butterflies that migrate thousands of miles? Or - 

Well, you get the idea. That alien in the movie of the same name? There's a creature, right here on earth, with a similar life cycle. It's called the ichneumon wasp; Alec Guinnes wrote about it, and it's really pretty horrifying. Or George Lucas's Saarlac? That exists, too, also in the insect world. Or at least there's something very like it; it's called an ant lion.

But it isn't just monsters that are real. Think of those butterflies! It seems they manage to find their way back to the very meadows their great-great-grandparents were born in, without ever having seen them. No one knows how they do it. Another astonishing thing - my sister and i were watching a documentary about wood ducks the other day. When the babies are hatched, the first thing they do is to climb up to the hole - the mother nests high in an oak tree - and jump off to get to their mother, who is waiting for them below. Sometimes the nest is 70 feet in the air. These babies are so small and light that they actually bounce when they land. Who could believe it?

Point of view, part 2: The real weakness of first person, present tense

Okay - last time, I was talking about the various meanings of an author's voice, and how tricky it could be to write from the perspective of a character very different from you. This time, I'd like to discuss what seems to be a very popular point of view in YA fiction - first person, present tense. 

The classic way of telling a story is in third person, past tense. It might be tight third person, showing only what one character experiences, or it might shift point of view between characters. It might even be omniscient third person - a pov that, I think, isn't used much anymore, though it was common in the 19th century. 

Another common way of telling a story is first person. That can be extremely effective - I can name several YA stories, right off the bat, in which first person narrative shines. Mike Mullin's "Ashfall" is one; Patrice Kindl's delightful "Goose Chase" is another, and Catherine Gilbert Murdoch's "Dairy Queen" is a third. I'm sure you can name many more. This point of view has one very great strength: if readers empathize with the narrator, they'll identify closely with him or her. As youngsters read about Alex's struggles, or Alexandra's, or D.J.'s, they can feel that a kid like them is speaking directly to them. That's powerful. And there can be some really good reasons to use this point of view. If the story is really about that one character and that character's growth, first person is a very reasonable choice. But should you use it?