I Say – Yeah but to Who?

When writing a story that’s in the first person point of view, who’s the narrator talking to? I mean, when the character starts off the book (as in Visions of Sugar Plums) “My name is Stephanie Plum,” who’s being addressed?

There are instances where the author identifies the audience. Often there is a silent character to whom the narrator is talking. It can be a bartender, confessional priest, psychoanalyst, or police detective. Dr. Watson explains that he is writing a journal describing Sherlock Holmes’s adventures. There’s even a few times in Narnia where C.S. Lewis directly addresses his young audience, although in that case, he’s becoming that seldom-used thing of the first person omniscient.

However, the sticky point comes up in most first-person narratives: who’s being addressed, and how directly does the narrator address them?

You can start with Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum example above. It highlights one of the stickiest areas relative to audience: exposition. When the narrator is explaining how (s)he got to this point in life, how does the author go around addressing the audience?

In part it has something to do with the involvement of the reader. It’s like the fourth wall in theater. When a play takes place in an interior, three walls of the location are built as the set. The fourth wall is imagined to be along the foot of the stage, toward the audience. A play is said to be realistic when the actors play within the set as though the fourth wall actually exists. The audience is allowed to peek in through the invisible wall to observe the lives of the characters. Some plays are more presentational. An actor will turn to the audience to deliver an aside; Hamlet will soliloquize to the audience.

Is the reader of the book outside that fourth wall? Does (s)he observe the story on the page? Or is (s)he drawn into the book and involved with the characters who are swirling around hir?

And what happens when the narration includes such catch phrases as, “Would you believe?” or, “Can you imagine?” That second-person pronoun, you, is there. but does that mean that the narrator is directly addressing the reader? Or is that part of an internal monologue being addressed to oneself?

It’s a good question. One I haven’t seen entirely answered.

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