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  1. Ice
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    Ice Member

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    First Person and Suspense

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ice, Jan 19, 2009.

    First person: Does it limit suspense? When you're reading a first-person thriller, is the suspense hampered by knowledge that, barring some weird paranormal incident, the protagonist survives? My current story involves a lot of sneaking around by the antihero (a burglar); I tell it through his eyes because I'm (a) interested in conveying his view of the world, though I know this can also be done in the third person, and (b) think it's (somewhat) more exciting to convey these sneak sequences through the first person than limited third, because of the immediacy.

    Back to the question, though. Does first person lessen suspense? Are you bored by the knowledge that the narrator survives?
     
  2. Leaka
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    Leaka Creative Mettle

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    I wouldn't think so.
    Because if it is in the first person view it really can get you inside the character. Edgar Allan Poe wrote somewhat thriller in first person and I think it added somewhat to the suspense.
    Because in that case you are the character even more, you know more about you.
    You can have them live, survive, or half alive. I don't think it would matter.

    Hope I helped.
     
  3. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    It wouldn't mean a thing to me knowing that the character survives. We don't know anything else about how it happens or what happens to any of the other characters. Besides, think of this. Whatever anyone has against Star Wars, did anyone care going into the last movie that they knew what the end result would be? As far as I know, not one person did. We wanted to see how it happened. Same goes for the Columbo detective stories. They aren't mysteries because we always know who the murder is. The fun is seeing how Columbo catches them.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The problem is not the presumption that the MC survived. There have been first person stories written by a character who did in fact die (written from the Great Beyond, etc.)

    The problem is that suspense is based largely on limited information provided to the reader but withheld from the main character. You can't really do this in first person without cheating and stepping outside the character, or stepping outside the chronology ("Little did I know that in the room with me was...").

    I've written about this in other threads. Search the forum for posts containing the word "Hitchcock", the master of suspense whom I am paraphrasing.
     
  5. Ice
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    Okay, this is encouraging. I really don't want to scrap that first chapter now ... Funny, Rei, that exact thought was going through my head as I was watching the movie. Still, the plot gripped me.

    Even if Hayden Christensen is a disaster on ice.

    I see what you mean Cogito. Eh, I've always thought those "Little did I know ..." passages are really hokey. I'll look up Hitchcock. :)
     
  6. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've always been a bit scared of using 1st person, for the reasons you mention. And it always really annoys me when towards/at the end of a novel the reader learns that the narrator has in fact died.
    I had a go at writing a vaguely suspense(ful) story recently in 1st person and I just posted it on the forum. I don't know if it works, or just confirms your/our fears about 1st person lessening suspense!
     
  7. Ice
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    Ice Member

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    Haha, I will look at it then, although I'm awful at critiquing.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the 'noir' genre of detective fiction relied heavily on first person narrative... those hard-boiled 'dicks' telling their own suspenseful stories grabbed us and pulled us into the scenes as well as any third person story could... however... they were written by master wordsmiths!

    so, if you can write as well as philip chandler or dashiell hammett, have at it!
     
  9. Ice
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    Hah, amateurs. :D

    Hmm, couldn't the same be said of third person? Or is it true that third person is easier?
     
  10. FlashScribe
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    FlashScribe New Member

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    I tend to write a lot of horror but I almost always use the first person. So far I didn't have anyone complain (neither test readers as well as publishers who bought my work).

    In fact I have a recent story that won a contest and was accepted for publication and it's a suspense story written in first person with the main character dying at the end. Got me around 40$ in total :D
     
  11. Ice
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    Ice Member

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    :eek: Congratulations! Wow. Mind if you tell how the death sequence plays out?

    Cogito, do you think creating a sense of atmosphere and foreboding can replace going out of character here?
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There is a difference between horror and suspense. Not all horror fiction really centers on suspense. You CAN build a certain amount of tension based on anticipation without actual knowledge that the reader has and the NC lacks. But the basis of susepense, according to Alfred Hitchcock, is based on partial knowledge that the reader has but the character lacks.

    His classic example is a bomb in the room with a character. If neither the reader nor the character knows there's a bomb, there is no suspense. Te greatest suspense is when the reader knows about the bomb, but doesn't know exactly when it will go off and what the outcome will be, and the character doesn't know about the bomb at all.

    You can get some suspense from implied knowledge. If two teenagers run into the woods at night neear Crystal Lake, you can pretty much guess that the thing in the hockey mask will go after them. That's kmowledge by genre formula, and it's a bit of a cheap shot.
     
  13. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    Who's to say a suspense story must feature the death of the main character...?

    I think first person can in fact increase suspense, since the narrator is limited in how much information they can reveal. My first serial was written in limited third person, one POV--basically, the same as first person, only with "she" instead of "I." And it was full of suspense, seeing as I could only reveal what the POV character knew; I couldn't tell what other characters could be planning or thinking, whether their friendly behavior hid ulterior motives, whether they knew things they weren't saying or what. I couldn't reveal information that the MC didn't know for herself, including background info, so although it was fantasy, there was a lot of suspense and mystery.
     
  14. Noodleguy
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    Noodleguy Senior Member

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    Who says? The first person MC can die. Actually, death scenes are oftentimes really fun to write and really fun to read.

    As for the grand first person versus third person debate, it really depends entirely on what you are writing. Each has advantages and disadvantages. I personally mostly use third person because I think it has a lot more freedom. But first person can have a lot more personality and closeness, so I use that for short stories. Either way.
     
  15. Ice
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    I'm still at a loss as how to kill the narrator within past tense, unless he's undead or in the afterlife or something. How do you do it?

    Tehuti88, you mean the suspense revolved around the mystery of the world and plot rather than whether the narrator would survive? Anyway, the narrow viewpoint you mention is what I thought would be so great, but I want to put my character in serious danger, too.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's been done many times... one of the most famous/classic examples, is james m. cain's noir novel that was adapted into an award-winning film, 'double indemnity... and the movie 'sunset blvd'... so, to find out how it can be done, just check out how the masters did it...
     
  17. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    I am trying to write a suspense story in third person. My question with all this talk of suspense, what makes something suspensefull.

    I am working on the story and figure this is the best thread to piggy back on
     
  18. Sekiko
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    TwinPanther13, please refer to Cogito's posts in this thread. XD

    Anyway, my own perspective:
    I don't have much of a perspective. Suspense is not really my forte, and I've never had a stomach for reading suspense novels. Really, I've tried to read a few multiple times, but I almost always put the book down soon after I start it. Soo... yeah. :thumbr:
     
  19. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    For me my favorites novels are Fear Nothing and Seize the Night by Dean Koontz. They are written in 1st person by the character Christopher Snow, and awesome character. For me they are very suspenseful. Some scene still made me tense after reading the novels for the third time.
     
  20. Ice
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    Hmm, I should mention that I'm actually writing a fantasy novel, but because it focuses on a second-story man suspense was something I'd like to implement. So ...

    It does seem that what I'm actually looking for falls into atmospheric anticipation or something along those lines rather than suspense, exactly. I enjoy reading and writing fantasy and historical fiction for their escapist appeal and mystery (by mystery I mean higher-concept, not whodunit); I also dislike thrillers in general.

    Those Koontz books, however -- those look good. What the heck is up with the all low reviews on Amazon, though? I'll try 'em anyway. I've been meaning to check out Koontz for a long time. :)
     
  21. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I'm not sure about the Amazon votes. Sometimes really great novels have a lot of low and high votes. Christopher Snow is one of my most favorite characters of all time.

    Those two books get really weird. They are like sci-fi, suspense, weirdness.
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    my best advice: ignore amazon votes and rankings!
     
  23. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    I like the bomb in the room example, but what if the MC is attacked by a mysterious assailant and runs away in his home. Is it suspenseful to show the MC's terror as he searches for a weapon and hears noises and is caught unaware by assailant
     
  24. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    No, that's exactly what creates suspense: the unknowing.

    You know something's going to happen, but don't know exactly what. If you can have your readers constantly be in that mode of asking themselves: "what's going to happen next?" and turning the pages, then you've done your job.

    Tension is a whole other matter.
     
  25. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    So is my description building tension?
     

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