This might be getting too metaphysical, but I’ve wondered lately if my introversion actually has some connection to the type of fiction I most enjoy both reading and writing.
I’ll start off by saying that any fiction that’s well written with good characters can touch me. Any tense, just about any genre, structure, length. I have my preferences, naturally. Anybody does. But I’m willing to try all kinds of things.
Yet what of those preferences? Could the fact that I’m an introvert in life influence my tastes in fiction? Can fiction itself by introverted?
Take present tense. More stories and novels are written “in the now” these days, as opposed to past tense. Leaving point of view out of the conversation for a moment, present tense is often described as being more assertive. More in your face. More intimate. There’s less distance than the standard past tense.
“Assertive.” “In your face.” “Intimate.” These are all qualities that in real life I’m not comfortable with much of the time, at least at first. At a party, I’m turned off by people who are always moving around in a clanging whirlwind of arm-touching, manic schmoozing and staccato small talk. I’d rather engage in slower, more meaningful conversations with fewer people at a time over a longer period. I tire quickly when these conditions are not met.
These preferences sort of translate into my tense preference for fiction.
Consider; I don’t usually like it when an author intrudes on my personal pacing for consuming their story. I often find present tense exhausting to read because of it’s very lack of distance. I like to hear a story from a step back. I can hear you just fine if you stand a few feet away, drunk stranger, thank you so much. I assure you that I’ll get up and dance when and if I’m ever ready. But until then I want to absorb the atmosphere, not have it injected into my blood stream without my consent. Standard past tense gives me the space I need to process what’s happening, while still allowing me to become immersed into the world of the book as time goes on.
That’s especially true of first person. First person narration is in quite a literal sense someone telling their story to me directly. If they are going to do that, I need it to be an easy, smooth ride. I’ll tense up at the party PDQ if I’m cornered by someone shouting, “So I walk up to her, she starts laughing and I say…” That kind of narrative just feels too intrusive to me for some reason, both in person and on the page. If you want to tell me your story, I find it more disarming to begin with, “When I arrived, I walked up to her. She began to laugh, but I said…”
Even more intrusive though, by a long shot, is the increasingly popular second-person point of view. (Which is almost always in present tense, as far as I can determine.) Talk about a violation of personal space here! If first or third person present tense is the one at the party that stands to close and regales me with stories of people I’ve never met and not letting me ask a question, then second-person point of view is the drunk guy who has already introduced himself once and thinks that means it’s okay to put his arm around my shoulder and guide me over to another group in order to “bring me out of my shell.”
Second person would be, “You walk into the room, and smell the chicken cooking in the oven. Looking around and seeing no sign of the cook, you sneak over to the oven, open the door, and check on dinner.”
Do I now? Is that what I do? And here I thought I was just going to sit here and read your book for a while.
Talk about a forced intimacy. Though truth be told I have experimented with second-person fiction. I’ve written exactly one story with that point of view. (“Living Ghosts”, featured in my upcoming, Thank You for Ten: Short Fiction About a Little Theater.) I honestly think that story works, but it’s probably the only time I’ll ever do second-person. I don’t like telling a reader, “you, you, you” for any length of time any more than I would like ordering a bunch of people about at that party. It just isn’t me. Usually, anyway. I can’t off hand think of an example of someone else’s second-person point of view that I liked, but I’m sure I’ll run into one at some point.
I think even my desire to get to know one person better at a time plays into all this. At a social gathering, I can’t get to know a dozen or so new people all at once. I prefer to spend more quality time with a single person for a while, and form an opinion. It’s probably no coincidence then that I both enjoy reading and writing third-person limited the most. I don’t like to keep track of all the head hopping that third-person omniscient often entails. But I’m not so superficial as to never care what other people are thinking and feeling, so I also limit my time spent with third-person objective. (Describing characters actions but not knowing what they are thinking.)
Back to our party with this:
“This is John, he’s an accountant. That’s his wife Linda, she’s a stay at home mom. Over there are the Burtons, they’re retired now, but he used to be a policeman and she was a teacher at the elementary school my daughter went to when she was in second grade. And I think Debbie’s floating around here somewhere, she’s an interior designer. I think you’ll like her because she likes to attend theater as well. I think she brought her son Mark, Mark’s the one who fixed my car that I was telling you about. He’s around here somewhere, I think. Come into the kitchen with me, I’ll introduce you to Ted…”
All right, already! Can I take my coat off first? Can’t I just meet Ted when I happen across him, and we can converse like civilized people? The above is how I feel about jumping from one character to another within a chapter.
On that same subject, I prefer smaller gatherings of say 15 people or less. Beyond that, and it’s just humanity to me. Novels with 20 or more named characters, all of which get to hold the podium at some point tend to lose my interest in no time.
Finally, most of the time I don’t enjoy conversing with people who fly off into tangents, and jump around their subjects so much they are always saying, “now where was I?” It’s common for introverts such as myself to prefer a linear approach to solving a problem, conducting a meeting, or having a conversation. This may play into my dislike for non-linear narratives in most fiction. This one I can forgive more often than others, so long as the time frames are clearly indicated. But given the choice, my knee-jerk reaction is to prefer stories that happen “in order” by and large.
So perhaps it’s all just coincidence. Perhaps, like many introverts, I read too much into myself. Yet over the years, I’ve not been able to ignore these parallels between how I most enjoy socializing, and the types of fiction I have enjoyed the most.
What do you think? Can fiction be more suited to introverts or extroverts? Tell me.