1. AmberDextrose
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    AmberDextrose Member

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    First person, third person, agh... Help!

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by AmberDextrose, Aug 25, 2008.

    Nearly 3 years ago I finished the first draft of a book I'd been obsessing about writing for ages.

    I put it aside for a while, re-read it some months later and then decided that maybe my '3rd person' approach wasn't right. I wrote 4 sample chapters in 1st person and then hit a block: in the original manuscript the viewpoint changed to another person at this point. I didn't know how to continue.

    I put the whole lot away for a long time and bought myself a whole load of textbooks on writing.

    A couple of years on I'm feeling ready to retackle the problem. I'm following the advice of some excellent books on plotting and I think I'm ready to start draft 2.

    I've been writing notes, I've been using index cards to pinpoint key scenes, I've been plotting hard and felt satisified with my plots and my subplots. I was happy with the pace and the action, I had slashed away a lot of the preamble of the original story and cut straight to the first bit of action because [thread on build-up preferences noted] "That's what editors want".

    Then I started gathering together all the various notes I had stored on my computer on my characters' back stories and I stumbled across my 1st person account.

    It sings.

    Nothing else I've written for this book has felt so fresh or immediate. I feel it's appropriate for my audience (girls 9-12), but my recent work has cut out this part of the storyline and I'm torn.

    So, do I go with my heart that says 'this text is exciting and good' or do I go with my head and follow the tighter plotting I've since worked out that cuts out the build-up of character and setting?

    And if I go with the 1st person attempt, how the hell do I work in the other character's viewpoints (which are so far essential to the plot - a murder mystery) elegantly?

    I feel like I'm torn between my two brain hemispheres - Right (creative) and Left (logical) - because they both have valid points.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    First person POV is most frequently used when the entire story is told from one character's perspective. Mystery novels are often, but not always, written this way.

    It is possible to write in a first person POV but change POVs periodically. One good example is Sue Grafton's T is for Trespass, in which most of the chapters are written from the point of view of PI Kinsey Millhone, buts a few chapters are from the POV of her adversary, a chronic identity thief. Patricia Cornwell's Trace also uses this approach. Another of Grafton's books, S is for Silence, uses the accustomed first person perspective for Millhone, but third person limited perspectives for chapters that flash back thirty years to events at the time of a disappearance she is investigating. These glimpses of the pasts of key figures in the mystery are held before the reader as pieces to the puzzle, but are never known directly to Millhone.


    Most mysteries work very well by staying with the protagonist's point of view, told either in first person or third person limited. The reader only determines the adversary's motivations through the clues, observation, speculation, and deduction of the protagonist. This format emphasise showing over telling, because everyone's true nature, other than that of the protagonist, is revealed indirectly.
     
  3. AmberDextrose
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    AmberDextrose Member

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    Sue Grafton is my utter fave, so it's possibly quite shameful that I hadn't looked to her for example. I'd completely forgotten that T is for... had any switch of viewpoint!

    I will excuse myself by saying 'read it months ago' (ie a hundred books read since) and that I'd only got to about F in my 'let's re-read the whole works of SG' marathon before picking up something else. And this 1st person conundrum has only just reared it's ugly head again.

    I'd been looking instead at books where the writer manages to effectively convey the thoughts of the protagonist whilst still being in 3rd person. I find Candace Bushnell and Jackie Collins do this so well and I love that seedy, punchy stream of conciousness they achieve.

    But, weasely excuses apart, I shall throw aside my keyboard and race to the bookshelf for a bit of legitimate skiving. After all, I've already stolen KM's propensity for lying for my protagonist, so why not a few other tricks from my writing hero? Only problem is, do I (in the interests of continuity) pick up from F...? Agh again!

    Cheers, Cogito!
     
  4. Scarecrow28
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    Scarecrow28 Contributing Member

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    Many mystery authors (JA Konrath comes to mind) will write in 1st person when following the main character while switching over to 3rd person when following the actions of other characters, like the murder.
     
  5. ParanormalWriter
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    ParanormalWriter Contributing Member

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    I'm another one of those who's read books that switch between 1st and 3rd person. If done carefully, I think you may be able to get away with it.
     
  6. AmberDextrose
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    AmberDextrose Member

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    I am heartened and will get on to the task. Once I've finished re-reading all those Alphabet mysteries (let's hope U isn't out before I've done T)
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the only time i can abide first person in fiction is when it's done by a real pro in the 'noir' genre... the hard-boiled shamus kind of stuff that dashiell hammett and raymond chandler did so well... otherwise, it makes me cringe to see it and i usually won't read it, since it's nowhere near as effective in telling a story as third, imo...
     
  8. Silver Random
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    Silver Random Senior Member

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    There is nothing wrong with writing in 1st person i would say, and it may work particularly well for children or young teeenagers in this situation from what i see here. If you think it reads that much better, i think you should go with it.

    As for incorporating another point of view, as has been said earlier, you can just change and write from 1st person again in the other POV. Howeveryou can simply write that part in 3rd person, the same as you did normally, but have the main character's POV in 1st person.

    Some people may have qualms about breaking away from the black and white "Its 1st person or 3rd person" view, but 2 series i have read which use this, and i found no problems reading it; there was never any confusion about who the "I" was, it incorporated 2 or more POVs, and maintained the 1st person POV for the main character which is extremely important for some stories imo.

    From what you've said, this sounds like the perfect solution to your problem, if you think you can make it work :cool:
     
  9. Palimpsest
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    Palimpsest Senior Member

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    It worked in the Mists of Avalon, and I'm sure in a couple other examples I can't remember... little milestones in the story where the reader reflects upon it in their own voice. So, if it's just a matter of using first person in a usually third-person text, I don't think it will be a problem.

    If it's a matter of squeezing in what you've already written, um... I've recently read what I thought was a revelationally good piece of advice: if you write prose-- description, or a conversation-- that is so stunningly beautiful or brilliant that you wish you could have it tattooed on your forehead for everyone to read, and then find it doesn't fit the story... by all means do not twist the story to accommodate those brilliant words. You'll write prose to be proud of, that will fit the story, some other time.
     

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