Fiction Authors, Remember Who Your Narrator Is

I’ve blogged before about authors who write fiction in the first person past tense but clearly have no idea of in which situation or at what point in time their narrator resides while telling the story. This is one of the problems with David Tallerman’s 2012 novel Giant Thief. But what made me quit reading it was another problem: Tallerman forgetting who his narrator is entirely.

The book is set in a vaguely European world with giants and magic and a material culture apparently on the High Medieval tech level, just before the invention of fire arms. Yet the narrator’s voice marks him as a suspiciously modern fellow. And lo and behold, on p. 168 he describes how he makes his way stealthily down a dry stream bed, commenting that “It seemed at times like some surreal game”.

Really, Mr. Tallerman? Your Medieval fantasy thief uses a concept invented by Guillaume Apollinaire in 1903 and popularised by French writers and painters in the 1920s?


11 thoughts on “Fiction Authors, Remember Who Your Narrator Is

  1. In one of the Sunday papers last weekend, Ian McEwan said that first person narration is just an excuse for authors to indulge in sloppy characterisation, which this observation would also confirm . What company you find yourself in, Martin !


  2. I had the same problem with parts of R. A. Salvatore’s Demonwars Saga – though it is good enough to read all seven books…


  3. Your wife has good taste (but you already know that :-))

    There’s always that cheesy old chestnut in an author’s toolkit. Make the whole story a dream, dreamt by a modern day person, which makes it logically possible but still a very, cheap trick.

    If that was the case here you’re justified in not finishing it.


  4. “He also has his fantasy characters use modern-day vocab?”

    Just a few phrases – enough to be noticeable; my favorite, which IIRC appears 42 times just in the first book was using the word “figures” as we would… “he figured, …she figured, …the demon figured” – it was grating in the same way as having Milla Jovovich’s Joan of Arc yell “Come on!”.
    Other words were simply internally inconsistent .


  5. Milla Jovovich is cool, but she gets roles in substandard films.
    If you want inconsistency, read the Amber novels by Zelazny: modern terminology, feudal societies. This has blunted my sensibilities somewhat.
    -I bought “Giant Thief” while waiting for more favourite authors to come out with their next titles, the publisher (Angry Robot) usually has good Fantasy so I tried David Tallerman . Hmm…here is another inconsistency: German airline to build igloo village in Sweden
    Don’t the eskimos live in…oh, never mind.


  6. “Milla Jovovich is cool”
    Seeing her in a substandard film and/or skin-tight vinyl is really not something I would complain about. The dialogue in “The Messenger” , however was a hanging offense.


  7. Starskeptic: Since most 2nd person fictional narratives pretend to be translations, why should one old but not ancient expression annoy you? “To figure” as “to think” has been used in English writing for a hundred years (see the OED s.v. “figure v.” 12b); “to reckon” as “to think” dates back to Chaucer and Gower; and other languages have had that idiom for much longer (see eg. Latin ratiocinor “to reckon”)

    Latin also has invenire “to come on, come against, attack” …


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