There's an article in February's Writer's Chronicle (remember that?), a copy of which I swiped from that desk in the Dey House, by Frederick Reiken, who teaches writing at Emerson, called "The Author-Narrator-Character (ANC) Merge: Why Many First-time Novelists Wind up with Flat, Uninteresting Protagonists."
It begins by describing his first novel, which he wrote in close 3rd with 3 POV characters. No one would buy the thing. Comments boiled down to "We love the writing, blah blah beautiful, blah blah great descriptions, but we were bored and uninterested in the characters. It's almost like you're not seeing them."
He shelved it, wrote another that sold, started teaching. He then noticed that those comments were his very own when reading a lot ("at least half") of his student work. He identified the problem with merged, flat characters as
"...the narrative structure that occurs when an author, for reasons ranging from naivete to authorial narcissism (which often go hand in hand), fails to invent and/or reinvent -- i.e. in the case of autobiographical novels -- the main character, both visually and in relation to some objective external context. What is happening, unconsciously, is that the author has not separated himself or herself imaginatively from the character being written, and hence inhabits that character from the vantage point of being stuck inside the character, usually right behind the character's eyes."
But the character has to be "an other," a fully imagined creation separate from the author. He then goes on to detail the separation of author/narrator/character, very simply, like this:
The author is forever outside the text. The narrator provides context for the character. And the character is inside the story developing the action. He says this is true even in an autobiography and goes on, to my mind, to prove it. Using Catcher in the Rye as an example, he easily shows the separation of the here-and-now Holden as narrator from the back-then Holden and claims it is this distance that provides context for the reader to determine the meaning of the text, as well as derive the pleasure.
Now, this is a much more sophisticated analysis of point of view than the one Ethan espouses, for example, where the goal seems to be to climb as far into the character's head as possible, the infamous close 3rd -- which Reiken says is called free indirect discourse. Maybe Ethan in his own writing is able to unconsciously provide the narrative distance and so doesn't think to teach it.
It struck me as I read that the narrator provides the second "eye," making what would be a flat perspective into a 3-D one. It made a lot of sense to me. One other quote poked itself out to me:
"Most third-person narratives proceed with constant modulation of the psychic distance, moving like a camera eye between long-range establishing shots to very limited, close-range character POV, [and out again]. But in a case where the author has not fully imagined the point of view character -- often because the author has not yet truly conceived the character as a bona fide other -- the ANC relationship gets structured in such a way that there is little or no psychic distance between narrator and character, no way for us to see the character moving through a setting or situation, and hence, though unintentionally, what I am calling a merged affect."
Again, a subtler, more detailed view than the one I got from the Workshop.
He uses other examples, such as the fact that the Bloom sections of Ulysses are more vivid and engaging than the Stephen sections, speculating that Bloom is a better realized character because Joyce conceived him as an other, whereas he pretty much saw himself as Stephen Dedalus.
How many stories did we read and write with merged ANC? Countless, as I think back. Thoughts?