Are Blank First Person Characters on Purpose?

So, our Twitter book club is reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin this month–which is the first of a high fantasy trilogy that came out about four years ago–and we all noticed something pretty quick.

The book is in first person, following Yeine, who, as tends to be a trope sometimes, is an outsider to the society that the story takes place in. But while the world is very interesting, and the other characters are as well, Yeine herself is pretty…blank. We get a physical description of her, but when she expresses opinions, it’s more “in my country we do it this way instead” or “my grandmother always used to say this” instead of what she thinks about it. I’m about halfway through the book and she’s just starting to do and think things as opposed to just observing.

This is a book that’s been highly recommended to me, and is one that I think is generally well-regarded in the SFF community, which makes me think that the blank first person character is on purpose.

As readers, we often rely on the viewpoint characters to be our eyes and ears in the fictional world. And there is a theory that says that, the less detail you give to a character, the more a reader can insert themselves into said character, and the deeper they can get into a story. It’s the reason why video game characters like Link never say anything.

Now, I don’t know that that’s necessarily true, because everybody reads a little differently and experiences things differently. I’m not a huge fan of blank first person characters because I am never going to see myself further in that world, not in that medium, so I prefer to have a strong character that I can care about, that I can sympathize with when bad things happen, and cheer with when badass things happen. But I suspect it does work, to some degree, because these blank first person characters seem to be getting more common lately, especially with female protagonists. (If you can think of a blank first person male protagonist, please let me know!)

What do you think, Squiders? Blank characters you can “become,” yea or nay? Thoughts on The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms specifically, if you’ve read it? Other examples you’ve noticed, male or female, especially in speculative genres? If you’re a writer, is this something you use, and why?

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One response to this post.

  1. I think blank characters are kind of a thing, for that whole “reader insert” purpose, as is the fish out of water character (so you have a reason to explain everything because it’s all new to them.). That said, making the blank character first person seems like a bizarre choice. Why put the reader in the relatively empty head of a character?

    Reply

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