I’ve always been fond of writing in the first person. I can write in the third, naturally, but the kind of novel that demands this approach never really appeals — because, to me, writing is an act of at times quite extreme involvement. Whilst writing, I like to become my central character — use aspects of myself and my own experience to give it bulk and believability — and the first person fits perfectly with this.
But, if some are to be believed, such an approach can cause problems. There are a number of them, but the one I’d like to set before you for discussion today is this: the writer should not allow his own agenda to become too obvious in the actions and dialogue of his characters.
It makes a kind of sense — especially if, for example, you’re writing a romantic novel and suddenly have your female lead start spouting her (your) neo-con drivel during a particularly passionate love-scene (enough to dampen anyone’s ardour.) That would be jarring and contrary to the novel’s aim. My argument is, however, this; for certain kinds of novel, the writer’s agenda should, with necessary skill, be allowed to stand centre-stage — right alongside the author.
The more obvious examples of this kind of novel are the roman à clef works of Henry Miller, Kerouac, Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson — to name but a few. Dating back to the 17th century, it typifies and validates, I believe, the point I wish to make, but it’s at the more extreme end of the spectrum, and what I’m more concerned with is the novel that isn’t autobiographical, but which nonetheless clearly promotes the author’s ideas — be they political, theological or merely an expression of his preference for tea over coffee.
Can a novel, with skill but in a cynical age such as ours, successfully present biased opinion in a way that can entertain and challenge, without repelling the reader? I think it can, but I’ll be interested in hearing your views.