1. becca
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    becca New Member Contributor

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    Novel In First Person

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by becca, Aug 18, 2009.

    I am currently beginning a YA horror novel, and have thus far written it in first person. The issue I am having is I want to tell stuff that she doesn't know or see. So, I am thinking about switching to third person. Since I have only written one chapter so far this really isn't a big issue.

    My question is really.... Have you ever seen a whole novel in first person that worked successfully?

    I know I could pull it off in first person, I would just have to watch and only show what the MC sees and knows...But it might hold back the tension and suspense....

    Thoughts?
     
  2. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    There is no law that says you cannot successfully use third person pov in a first person novel to allow the reader see what the mc doesn't. Readers tend to accept given devices, especially if it's well written. If I were you, I would spend time experimenting to see if it proved suitable to the work in progress.
     
  3. becca
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    becca New Member Contributor

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    I just hate the idea of switching back and forth. Tenses are my biggest problem when I write. So, if I switch back and forth, the tenses would get super complicated. It's also a YA novel. I don't want it to be too complex for teens, one of my base marketing groups. If it gets so complex that they can't understand it, or they get confused, then I won't have been successful with taking them for a ride in their imagination.
     
  4. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Writing is not real life and need not resemble it. At least that's what the modernists said, and I agree. If you need to shift beyond the viewpoint of one character and want to stay in 1st person, do it. Its actually a lot more common than you would think, and often readers don't even notice if it is seamless enough.
    Ultimately, the only factor that will limit you is your own writing ability.

    (Also note that experimenting with the POV is not an excuse to disregard the normal rules that apply, with regards to grammar, tenses, etc, in case that wasn't clear.)
     
  5. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you don't understand what teens can handle it, don't write for teens. Respect their intelligence. The stuff you're talking about is not over the head of any 14-year-old. 95% of high school kids can and do reading all the same books adults read without a problem, even if the only time they do is when teachers assign them. They don't read books in the teen section because of the reading level (if they do it's because of the effort they're willing to make, not their level of comprehension when they do make the effort). They read those books because they have stories and characters that mean something to them.

    When it comes to complexity because of the number characters/point of view and a teens ability to understand, take a look at a show like Gundam Wing, which was very popular with teenagers. It was a show that had over twenty characters with their own personal stories that we follow within the space of only forty-nine episodes. The movie introduced even more characters to add to the history of charaters that already existed. The whole thing had a very complex political/military story with muliple factions that were always changing, with leaders that always had changing intentions/loyalties.

    Kids had no trouble following along and keeping up, no matter how complex it got. Parents were the ones who had trouble keeping up. What you're talking about doesn't sound half as complicated.
     
  6. becca
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    becca New Member Contributor

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    Have you tried to market a novel?
     
  7. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    You said you expected kids to get confused or have a hard time understanding it. You did not say that it would make it difficult to publish in that demographic. It's two totally different things. And I do pay attention to what gets published in that demographic. You usually have to look to the independent publishers, but there are plenty of books out there that recognise that kids don't still read at a grade three level once they reach high school.
     
  8. becca
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    becca New Member Contributor

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    What is the point of writing it if I can't sell it? I understand what you are saying. I agree that most teens can and do understand more complex plots etc. But there are a lot that can't. Plus, if my POV is all over the place what are the chances of an agent or a publisher wanting to publish the book. If I had a couple books already published and had a relationship with an editor/publishing house established, then I could experiment more. But since I don't. I am trying to keep things clean and simple and break into a market with a range of ages that will understand and enjoy the story. Taking into account, that a good amount of teens, don't read, or can't read at the level they should.
     
  9. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    becca, Edger Allen Poe was one of my favorite authors when I was a teenager. His short stories were anything but simple. Don't underestimate teenagers or the YA readers, because a lot of adults read books from the YA market.

    As much as everyone hates Twilight, it was a successful first person novel. Could it have been told successfully in third person POV...Possibly. I think also of the most recent example I noticed was the True Blood series. The show is great, because it follows more than just Sookie around. The books are written first person pov in through Sookie's eyes. I think it would work better as it is on the show more third person, more characters who are developed.

    I think if you want to cover more of the characters, you can do it one of two ways. Follow more than one character in the first person POV, or switch to third person POV.

    In the story I am working on right now, I am following three lead characters in the first person through the crisis. Each one has a different perspective on the situation, and all start out in different places, but at the end they will all come together. So far it's working pretty well.

    I personally like first person POV to read the best. I will read TP POV, but I never get into it as deeply as I do in FP POV. I know this book isn't a YA book, but Dirty Girls Social Club is one of my fav books, and the author follows five main characters, each getting their own chapter, in the first person. I just finished The Time Traveler's Wife, it was written FP POV from the two main characters perspectives. However, the chapters were often split between the two of them, sometimes several times a chapter, jumping from one time to another. It was a little hard to read at first, but once I got used to it, I flew through the book. I think I read about 75 pages last night to get to the end. I thought I might cry from it, because it was sad at the end, but I didn't. I went to sleep and a nightmare of my own life based on the events in the book made me wake up this morning sobbing in my pillow.

    I don't know your level of writing, but FP POV between a few characters can work nicely to move the story along. Give it a try, and try rewriting the first chapter in TP POV too. See which you like better.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Absolutely. Sue Grafton's alphabet novels are all written in first person.

    However, the very problem you're encountering is a fine reason to use third person instead. If you need to step outside of that character's POV, first person is not the ideal one to choose.

    There are exceptions to that too. Grafton's T is for Trespass intersperses some chapters written in first person from the antagonist's perspective. Perhaps more to the point for you, her S is for Silence contains third person chapters that flash back to scenes that took place thirty years before. The protagonist never learns much of what happened in those scenes, although from the reader's perspective they fill in pieces of the puzzle.

    Whether or not the mystery genre is your thing, Sue Graftons books are worth taking apart if you have aspirations of writing in first person. The danger, however, is that she makes it look easy. I've read a lot of published, and unpublished, first person efforts that vary from "ok, just doesn't stand out" to "god this is awful!"

    Nor am I saying that only Grafton pulls it off. There are quite a few good first person novels out there, but I don't recommend tackling first person for a first novel. You have enough stacked against you without starting out with a viewpoint that is much more difficult because of its restrictions.
     
  11. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is why you have to be very clear when you're writing, even on a forum like this. You should have said you were concerned about publishers, not teens' ability to understand. It really is too bad that so many publishers have such low expectations for people until they turn 19.
     
  12. becca
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    becca New Member Contributor

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    I have written mostly in First person. I was scared of it at first, so I forced myself to do it. Now, I switch back and forth, from third and first. (But I only use one in each story)

    Thank you for the examples of first person writing that was successful.

    The major issue is I want to show something to the reader, that the MC can't/doesn't see yet. If I keep the first person, I can't tell. I can only tell what the MC sees/knows. But, it's the end of my first chapter, and having her experience something this early on could hurt my timing/pacing. Hence my thoughts of changing to third. To show the reader something that the MC doesn't know, and build off of it, so they wonder what it going to happen to her.
     
  13. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    You should go ahead and write out the chapter or scene that is going to show this thing that is happening outside the MC's scope of things. Do it in the third person and see how it feels when you are done with that scene. There is always the possibility of making a chapter in a FP POV novel in the TP POV. I don't know of any examples on how this would work, but you could always try it. Not like there are any rules on it or anything, and if there are, break'em.

    :)
     
  14. becca
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    becca New Member Contributor

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    Right now, what I am thinking about doing is changing it over to third, and saving both, and seeing which I like better, and then continuing with whatever one seems to work best.
     
  15. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't necessarily have to do that. There are ways you can show things to the reader in less overt ways. Give visual clues that readers can put together but the character can't. It happens all the time. Things are right in front of our face but we can't put the pieces together when we are in the situation.
     
  16. becca
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    becca New Member Contributor

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    I am dealing with Ghosts. I can't tell that they are their in first person without her seeing them. I can meantion them without her seeing them in third person. There are only certain ways they can be seen. It's complicated, tightly linked with my choice of POV.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you want examples of third person writing that has a similar feel to first person, I'd also stay with the mystery genre. That genre tends to be very character-driven, and focuses very closely on the main character. Specifically, the Kay Scarpetta novels by Patricia Cornwell (but not The Last Precinct), or the Harry Bosch novels by Michael Connelly are written in a very intimate style of third person.
     
  18. becca
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    becca New Member Contributor

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    Sounds interesting Cogito. I will have to read some mystery. It's not something I read a lot of.
     
  19. Ghosts in Latin
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    Ghosts in Latin Senior Member

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    You can also write it in 1st person past-tense, where the narrarator is re-telling the story, opposed to telling it as it happens. That way, he can comment on things that he could not see / did not know at the time.

    "He was standing right behin the door. If I'd known that, I would have kicked it in instead of knocking, and walking away when there was no answer."
     
  20. becca
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    becca New Member Contributor

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    I wrote a short story that way once. It turned out pretty good. It was first person when he was talking, but then it was third person in between, because he was telling. So far I haven't been able to sell it. It has about 4 rejections under it's belt, and it's a short story.

    Another issue I get into with that is, that the ghosts will actually be able to tough/interact with the girl latter on, so I don't know that that would be a good idea. I will keep it in mind though. :)
     
  21. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    A Farewell to Arms is first person, and according to the back cover it was a masterpiece.
    I was writing my novel in 1st, and decided to change up and try third, and I liked it better. I think you should write the chapter you've finished over in third and see which you like better and go that route, or even have some freinds check it out and see which they think is more interesting. If you have time for it. Good luck!
     
  22. becca
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    becca New Member Contributor

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    Ok, I was gonna try it in third and see how I liked it. Then I realized I couldn't change it so easily. I would have to completely rewrite the chapter. Which is sad, because I really liked it. I finally got the ending of the chapter to where I like it in 1st person. So, hopefully I don't decide to change it down the line. I will have a lot of rewriting to do. Unless I just rewrite the chapter in third just for the heck of it when I have time. Might do that too.
     
  23. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Just start another chapter and write it in third person, and then switch to first person at the start of the next chapter. You need not waste time, energy, and motivation by rewriting the entire thing.

    Switching to third person (particularly, if it's focusing on someone else, or if it's a first-person narrative that looks at everyone in third person) is not an extremely difficult process, and should not be confusing.
     
  24. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    There's no reason to limit yourself by only showing what the character can actually know/see. Like I already said, this isn't real life, you pick and choose what laws apply and what you want to do with them. You can use what's recently been called the impersonal narrative voice to stay in first person but shift the focalisation away from the narrated character, thereby allowing you to stay in the "I" mode, but use it to experience things that the character would not be able to. If you write it well, it's totally seamless, and most readers won't blink.
     
  25. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    All of the genre fiction I see is first person, past tense.

    Jim Butcher - The Dresden Files series
    John Levitt - Dog Days series
    Charlaine Harris - Sookie Stackhouse series
    Rob Thurman - Night Life (Cal Leandros) series

    One benefit of first person is that it lets the reader feel intimate with the character. You get to hear his or her thoughts and experience the story through the MC's eyes. On the flip side, the challenge is that you have to come up with creative ways of getting all the info to the reader in a way that does not come off as contrived or info dumped.

    I think first person can work well for horror because just as the MC is in the dark about the reality of the situation, so is the reader. Of course, I've read plenty of third person King that was scary as hell, so there you go.

    I had the same struggle with a story I started a while back. I wrote the first chapter both ways, but I ended up liking the first person better. Since I'm trying to write an Urban Fantasy like what's represented in the list above, I feel pressure to conform to the pillars of the genre. I want my book to be marketable, so I don't feel comfortable just doing my own thing. The choice between first and third person may not be that important to a prospective publisher, but tbh, I can only go by what I've read. I suggest you jump on Amazon and try to find YA horror and see what's out there.
     

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