“You read that advertisement: an offer of that nature is not made every day. You read and reread the notice. It seems directed at you, no one else.” (Fuentes, 1962)
These are the first sentences you will find if you open Aura by Carlos Fuentes. A novella that, among many other things, stands out for its second-person narrator.
Like many writers (including me), you probably find the second-person narrator intimidating. As the Merriam-Webster dictionary explains, this narrator is a technique in which you ascribe the character to the reader by using second-person pronouns. Essentially, you will attribute the character’s actions, feelings, and inner monologue to the reader.
It is one of the deeper bonds you can create when writing. You are placing the readers in a character’s shoes, and allowing them to walk, run, fly through your piece in them. The second-person narrator is often found in choose-your-own-adventure books, as it is the reader the one in charge of making choices to move forward with the plot.
But this is when it gets confusing: the reader won’t be your character. Just the projection of them. And the potential of your narrator lies in this projection.
You go back to Aura. It is gothic, suspenseful, baroque, even a bit apprehensive. It is whimsical and keeps the essence of magical realism ( I recommend checking out TYWI’s Instagram post on the genre by Sophia Kunkel). You will find witches, shadows, and symbolism in every corner of the antique house he uses as a setting. So, what is it about the narrator that this book captures so well?
Note: if you plan to read this book, please beware of the next trigger warnings: sexual content, violence, gore.
It is simple: Fuentes expands his limits. He takes in more than one character in narration and doesn’t quite stick to a verbal tense, but that is what works for his novella.
To begin with, you are never sure who is talking. Is it Felipes’ -the ‘false main character’- consciousness? Is it Consuelo, the old mysterious woman who owns the house? An oracle, warning Felipe about what he would do? It could be any. And every time that you read the book while taking in mind a new perspective, the meaning of the piece shifts, which adds depth layers to the novella.
However, it is not until the very end of the piece that the true narrator comes to light. And it is when you read that last couple of sentences, that couple of paragraphs, that the plot changes once again. And you might realize how it ties all its elements perfectly.
You just spent about forty pages in a narrative space that is as mystical as every other element of Aura. Feeling ever-shifting feelings and evolving as Felipe evolves. The narrator is unreliable and volatile, perfect for a horror setting.
When it comes to technicalities, this narrator develops the writing skill of information exposure and retainment. You can manage this narrator by asking yourself what should your reader know and discover throughout your piece, and how this information will play future roles in your plot. You might want to think in terms of both character arcs and reading reactions when experimenting with this narrator.
If this is how it relates your characters and readers, then how will it relate to you, as a writer? Remember that you will be the first, and perhaps the most important reader of your piece. Carlos Fuentes explains it better in his paper On Reading and Writing Myself: How I Wrote Aura for World Literature Today, Vol. 57, No. 4, back in 1983.
He writes that, while revising the stack of papers that would become Aura, he felt confused and was not sure about the constant metamorphosis that was his book (yes, even Nobel-prize winning writers go through this stage too). And here was his answer, as if given by Felipe:
You read the advertisement. Only your name is missing.
You think you are Felipe Montero . You lie to yourself. You
are You: You are Another. You are the Reader. You are
what you Read. You shall be Aura. You were Consuelo.
So, in other words, the second-person narrator offers far more proximity than a third-person narrator. However, it still allows you to navigate and change like the third-person, just in much more subtle ways. Aura took the writer on a journey through Consuelo, Felipe, and Aura. The line “You are what you Read” makes emphasis on the experience we go through while reading. That unique transportation that the word “you” makes much more vivid.
When choosing to use this narrator, keep in mind the themes of your piece. Part of the reason why it works so well in Aura is that one of its central themes is duality and mirroring characters, which is once again reflected in the author-work and work-reader relationship. Furthermore, Fuentes says that “ (...) the YOU structures desire in Aura”. The choice allows him to translate this specific feeling from page to person.
I am not asking you to go full-out on your first try and formulate and change narrators the way Fuentes does. But try to take a chance to experiment with how deep you can establish this connection. Don’t be afraid to tear down that fourth wall. For example, during this article, I tried out merging different narrators while keeping the second person dominant.
To finish up, here is one of my favorite lines from On Reading and Writing Myself: How I Wrote Aura, which I hope you will find intriguing.
“YOU: that word which is mine as it moves, ghostlike, in all the dimensions of space and time, even beyond death.” (Fuentes, 1983).
is a young planster with too much passion and too little time on a day. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, whether they are thoroughly researched flash fiction pieces or improvised bedtime stories.
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