This week, the workshop I’m taking was focused on the narrator. One key learning for me about the narrator is to actually refer to the person in a personal essay as the “I” narrator. Duh! In retrospect, this makes a lot of sense. And, I find it really helpful. Somehow it makes it easier for me to allow the narrator to be flawed if I’m not thinking, “Hey…the person in this essay is ME!” It also helps me in not worrying about whether or not people like that narrator (aka me). Finally, it makes it easier to treat the narrator as I would any other character (allow the reader to see the narrator, paint the picture of who that narrator is).
One technique that Lisa shared with us for how to differentiate the writer from the narrator is to make a list of the ways in which the I narrator is different from the current-day writer. This was a useful tool for me as I drafted a brief, personal essay about an experience I had in Japan. Here’s the list I made:
Ways in which the “I” narrator differs from the current-day writer
The I narrator…
- …was not yet a mother.
- …was afraid of conflict.
- …was working in her first job.
- …was actively trying to immerse herself in another culture and another language.
- …enjoyed drinking beer and singing karaoke with her colleagues.
- …worried about being an obtrusive American.
- …hesitated to speak her mind.
- …loved teaching ESL, though she had no training in how to do so.
- …taught at a new school each week.
- …wondered if she would ever fall in love.
- …was easily swayed by the opinions of others.
- …spent excessive amounts of money buying CDs and calling home to the United States.
- …felt tired from the energy it took to communicate in a foreign language every hour of every day.
- …didn’t drink Starbucks coffee.
- …stored her food in a refrigerator only slightly larger than one made for a child’s play kitchen.
This helped me a) get closer to the narrator and b) get some perspective that will hopefully make the personal essay more universal.
Please be sure to stop by on Tuesday for my Q&A with Young Adult Novelist, Gayle Forman!