Aug 01 2009
One of the tricky parts about first-person narration is that the story is largely limited to what the narrator knows. What if you want to cover an event that happens without the narrator? Here are some possible solutions.
1. Even if the character isn’t there, he can still make inferences afterwards. For example, the protagonist of a detective novel almost never witnesses the crime he’s trying to solve. But he can still come up with some conclusions about what happened just by examining the crime scene. Observations work outside of crime scenes, too. For example, let’s say the protagonist notices that his girlfriend is noticeably less interested in him after his ex-girlfriend has a chat with her. The protagonist isn’t sure exactly what happened in that conversation, but he can probably narrow it down to a few possibilities. He can also talk to people that might know more than he does. For example, even if his girlfriend isn’t returning his calls, he might be able to get a hold of one of her close friends.
2. Recount it indirectly. For example, maybe the character learns of the event because a witness describes what he saw. This is a pretty straightforward way to cover an event that the main character can’t plausibly witness. Just please make sure that the conversation isn’t an info-dump. Two tips: keep the description brief and don’t neglect the witness’s voice/perspective. If a police officer has to ask a drug dealer to describe what happened because he’s the only available witness, the description will probably fall apart if the drug dealer sounds like the cop doesn’t. He shouldn’t. People notice different details and usually speak in noticeably different ways.
3. The character hears a retelling of the event. For example, maybe he gets a hold of someone’s diary, or a newspaper article, or a rumor, or a video tape, or a blurb on a news channel, etc.
4. The character eavesdrops on the event. Be careful with this one– it will probably get cheesy unless the character has a plausible reason to be within earshot when the conversation starts.