Everybody has a personal narrative. Everybody tells themselves a story that helps them place themselves in the universe. It isn’t something most people do consciously, and the complexity of the story depends on the person.
It could be quite simple:
- My life is a struggle against overwhelming odds.
- I work hard and play hard.
- I don’t have to grow up.
It’s often more complex:
- I’m smart and talented, but I have really bad luck. I try hard but things never work out.
- My life is pretty good thanks to the other people around me. I can never pay them back, but I should try anyhow.
- People will take as much as they can from me, because that’s human nature. But if I try hard, I can get more than they can.
Sometimes it gets really complicated:
- Hard work is required for success, and I’ve worked hard. If I fail, it’s because I need to work even harder. I could be working harder. Therefore, I am failing.
These narratives usually evolve slowly over time. Sometimes, something happens to drastically disrupt or contradict a personal narrative, and then… problems can result. The personal narrative has to be rebuilt.
Figuring out the personal narratives of characters in a novel is an important task. Understanding how they view themselves and their position in the world can create a nuanced character, especially when the character’s personal narrative doesn’t fit nicely into other characters’ perceptions of them. Personal narratives can overstate or utterly ignore both virtues and flaws that loom in somebody else’s eyes. If actions support both perceptions, really interesting characters and relationships can develop.
A lot of literary, character-focused fiction is focused on exploring the most complicated narratives and their evolutions. The best non-literary fiction also explores the personal narrative, too. Well, I would say that– I tend to tell stories that are partially about the disruption and reconstruction of a personal narrative. Sometimes the emphasis is on the reconstruction, and sometimes the emphasis is on building to a disruption, and the reconstruction flows naturally from accepting the disruption.
Who am I?
Who does the world think I am?
Oh God, they clash! Now what?
Who am I now?