How I Create History within a “Live” Story

How I Create History within a “Live” Story . . . or How I Create a More Intimate Close-Third-Person Point-of-View

I’m rewriting a novel of mine to try to create a style that brings the reader closer to the heart of my story. The story is told in both first-person and third-person point-of-views, using what James Wood calls the “free indirect style,” which is also called “close third-person.” The problem that arose with the story is that there seemed to be too much distance between the first-person narrator and the third-person narrator. In the first case the reader lives in the action and the mind of the main character. In the third-person case my first draft has the narrator standing well back from the present scene and also standing well back in time (as if he was telling stories from his youth, which he is doing as a device for the tale). This works on some level because it’s a historical novel and the “story” is written from the journals of the first-person narrator. On another level, as the story unfolds, there is a disconnect between the “alive-ness” of the story as told by the first-person voice and the dispassionate voice of the third-person narration. The effect produced in this contrast could be almost one of boredom, I’m afraid—that the third-person voice gets in the way of the story.

For me, it is a lot of work to change a mode of writing I’ve used for many years now. It does not seem to come intuitively. At least not yet. I’m removing any judgmental language and I’m removing anything that relates directly to a time-period outside of the action. Is there anything you do in a novel to relate complex action to its time period without sounding like some documentary narrating voice?

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