Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Who's in First? Who's in Third?

Help me welcome my guest, author Lorena Streeter, to Terry's Place today. We've talked about Point of View here before -- let's see another take on the subject.

My perspective...vs her point of view: writing 1st person vs writing 3rd

Unhappy with the way my heroine was behaving—or at least my writing about her behaving—I took a leap this summer from the world of 3rd person point of view (POV) to the world of 1st person POV.

It was a little like stepping off a stair without noticing the ground was six inches farther away than I'd thought. So, for what it's worth, here are some of the things I didn't expect to find when I switched to telling "my" story instead of "hers."

1. 1st person changed the story. I expected the POV change to limit the story, but I didn't expect the story to gain a whole new emphasis just because I couldn't portray anything the heroine (whose POV it is) wasn't privy to. If I wanted it in the story, either she had to be there, or someone had to tell her about it. This may be why traditional detective stories are often written in first person, and suspense novels (where the reader often knows whodunit before the protagonist does) usually aren't.

Because you aren't able to drop clues via the villain's (or victims') POV, you have to find a way to increase the heroine's awareness without making it obvious or lame. You have to build the suspense/horror/etc through the readers' identification with the heroine and what she (and no one else) is going through.

Keep Reading...

2. 1st person deepens the emotion. Because we're deep in her POV anyway, relaying her thoughts and feelings is simple—just remember to avoid the words "thought" and "felt." Okay, I expected that—in fact, it's the main reason I took the plunge. But then there's...

3. Sex. Here's what I didn't expect: that writing a simple kiss in the 1st person POV would be a challenge (I know, anyone who knows me is laughing at this. But 1st person is so...personal). My solution? Write the scene in 3rd (thanks to a suggestion from my critique partner) and then do the changeover.

4. 1st person makes it really hard to dig into the villain's motivation. It has to be done through the things that happen to the heroine, or are observed by her. On the other hand, it's a great test of storytelling skill to draw that picture through the small glimpses the heroine has.

5. Author intrusion. Easier to sneak in when you're writing in 3rd person. If I tell you my heroine went to a park, you have a particular image in your mind, just from reading the words. That image will probably change if, in 1st person, I tell you "I" sat down on a merry-go-round, the wobbly metal kind like I'd skinned my nose on in the 1st grade. For the story, that might be all that's important. Certainly, for the heroine, that's all that's important right now. But what about later, when I send her back to the same park, but the villain is hiding behind a tree? My heroine was so focused on her memory of Bobby Taylor pushing her down so she skinned her nose, she never noticed that right off the playground, the woods are really thick....In third person, I can impose some of what's important to me on what the heroine sees, and not have to make her notice that there are oak trees all around her...and so I can set the scene just a little bit for you.

Mostly, these are technical/mechanical details—the one challenge that really threw me was the first one I listed—how it actually changed the story. I'd expected to change certain things, naturally, because I knew the heroine wouldn't be able to see/hear/feel them. But I had not expected that removing the other two POVs I was using would shift the story into a completely different path...it taught me a lot about what my heroine was/is really doing in the story, although I don't recommend it as a way to dig into your heroine's goals and motivations. There are shorter ways to do that!

Lorena Streeter is a central Florida writer who writes romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. She also writes erotic romance and is published in that genre under the name Lara Dien. You can check out her writing blog—which generally reflects whatever she's thinking about at the time—at www.laradien.blogspot.com.

17 comments:

Elena said...

Excellent commentary on the differences between first and third. I gave up trying to write first - it kept turning autobiographical. But in turn that became useful. It gave me the idea to write my characters bios in first person.

My book is in third, but having the backgrounds of the characters in first has given me a wonderful cheering section and I know them so much better.

Terry Odell said...

Hi, Elena --
Lorena's at work, but she'll be checking in throughout the day. I found that when I started a police procedural mystery, the detective insisted on 1st person. But since I write deep 3rd person, it wasn't that big a switch.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

This is very interesting to me. I've always chosen third person to write in (which is more prevalent in my genre.) I like the idea of the deepened perspective in first, though. Thanks for the ideas on making it work.

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Helen Hardt said...

Very interesting post, Lara. I've only dabbled in first person as a writer, but I enjoy reading it. I like how I, as a reader, can actually become the character. Best of luck with it!

Helen

Katie Reus said...

As a rule I prefer 3rd person, but if it's done right, 1st person is amazing and makes me forget I'm reading :)

Carol Kilgore said...

I normally write close third person, too. While it's similar to first in a lot of ways, it allows a little more leeway, especially in multiple viewpoint stories.

PS Terrie, there's an award waiting for you on my blog.

Lorena said...

That's exactly the process I went through--I've always written close 3rd--for pretty much the reason Elena pointed out. First person feels autobiographical.

But with practice, that part became easier. I am able to separate me-the-writer from me-the-heroine, although it can be challenging and I do have to keep an eye on it.

Lorena

Carol A. Strickland said...

I'm having a ball doing my current wip in first person! Our Hero has secrets that I want to keep from the reader for a while, and first person won't reveal them until Our Heroine discovers them as well. Also I want to dig really, really deep into the layers of my heroine's mind and thought that this was the best way to do it. At various spots in the book she has to do some intense introspection.

Plus the book has a lot of humor. Seeing a world through a person's comical mind is best done in 1st person, imho.

Lorena said...

I'll bring up one current "trend" (or at least I seem to see a lot of it lately) that I'm not sure I like--it works very well sometimes, but other times...eh, not so much.

That is, switching from 1st to 3rd in the same book. As I said in my post, I have a couple of scenes in 3rd because I'm not sure whether I can manage without them--and there's no way for the heroine to know this.

What do you think? Does it confuse the reader? Does it make the book read awkwardly?

Terry Odell said...

Chiming in before I head out of town --
If you only need a few scenes for an alternate POV (whether it's a book done entirely in 3rd, or 1st/3rd, I'd consider rethinking it, because it's asking a lot of a reader to jump into another head for just a few minutes.

However, Gabaldon wrote 1st/3rd from the beginning with her Outlander series; Claire was in 1st, the rest were in 3rd. I've seen it done very well, but it (for me) needs to be done when POV characters have comparable weight in the book. If it's just a short page or two, I always wonder if the author couldn't have found a less distracting way to get the info across.

Mary Ricksen said...

First person is so much harder for me. But they say it's the test of a real author to pull it off successfully.

Paul McDermott said...

It might be ANCIENT but this clip STILL makes me laugh ......

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbJwwJ33TEI

Lorena said...

Terry--Kelley Armstrong does it well, I think, but it really threw me the first time I saw it. And I recently read a book where the author used 1st person...for multiple points of view! And didn't head up the chapters to tell you whose POV you were in--it would take a paragraph to figure out from the context. On the other hand, it was an excellent book, so ultimately I forgave him.

Sheila Deeth said...

This was fascinating. Thank you!

Maggie Toussaint said...

I enjoyed reading this post very much. I have written in both 3rd and 1st person POV. Now I pretty much write my mysteries in first and my romantic supsenses in third. I like to share the heroes POV, so that's why I use 3rd for the romances. I don't feel comfortable rotating first person POV.

Once I tried writing a RS with 3rd person pov for the hero and heroine and 1st person for the villain. The villain took over the story. I had to go back and write him in third to push him back down to the correct level.

Lorena said...

Maggie--that's interesting. Do you think writing the villain in 1st originally got you so deeply into his POV that he HAD to take over?

Watery Tart said...

I have the same problem Elena does writing in 1st person (it always ends up too much like ME), so I write some stuff that way, but those stories get tucked away for when the masses are demanding a memoire (read: bottom drawer). Reading it, I love how much more inner conflict shows, and self-deprecation, a favorite personality feature, can come through without hokey dialog.

I write though, 3rd person LIMITED, so I always have characters that can only know what they know from the outset--i guess maybe that is an in-betwee...

On jumping POV--I think this is VERY hard. I've seen it done well, but I would agree with the comment on Galbadon--it works because it is one character in 1st person, everyone else in 3rd... There is an example though of changing 1sts that is FABULOUS: Poisonwood Bible. Each chapter is headed so you know who is talking, but all are "I".