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First or third person?

I'm thinking about story writing. I have been writing Breathing Space in the first person. I'm not sure if I want to write a whole book like that, it becomes very introspective and possibly a journey that's too personal for me... I'm just not sure. I love novels in the first person, I really adore them. Then again, it does have its limitations, and it's much harder to create the personalities of other characters in the story. And I think that's what is tweaking at the back of my mind. Breathing Space is lacking some depth in the other characters. I want to get inside their heads as well!
So. Do I carry on as I am, or do I go back and redo what I've written so far in the third person, and will that change a lot of scenes? I think it might let me look at Nick from the outside more successfully... I think I'll try a little bit and see how it feels. I guess if I don't like it, I can just revert back to the original first person. I asked Nick Earls about it once, when he had the blog on insideadog and he said this:

But back to the choice between third and first person. I think the word ‘choice’ should be the key - it should be a choice made in the best interests of the story, made with the intention of delivering the story in the most effective way possible. In practice, though, I expect habit comes into play. A lot of us are either habitually first-person or habitually third-person writers, and that may or may not influence the stories we stumble into or the way we stumble into them, and how we navigate our way through.

I think my drive, principally, is to tell one person’s story. To take one character, often a character with a life many of us can relate to, and to pick the moment in that person’s life that has a novel in it. A moment, which may be weeks long or longer, in which a bifurcation point is reached, big choices are made, external forces push and pull and we face the prospect of something transformative. My job, then, is to be in that person’s head, looking at it all through their eyes, going with their choices and their circumstances until we can all see them through it and out the other side.

A couple of weeks ago, that came up in the context of a question about the ending of 48 Shades of Brown. The answer for me as to how it would end came from getting close to one character and working out what his journey was to be. Maybe I could have delivered that in third person, but it felt like a first person story to me. Maybe a lot of stories do, since one of the strong early questions in my head is ‘Who is this about?’ Perhaps I tend to find my way in in a first-person way.

But I have written third person stories, and I’m open to the idea of working out part of the way in that a change in person is needed. I know quite a few other writers who have faced that, sometimes well into a draft or even after a whole draft. And I do ask the question. At some level I do ask it every time.

Each point of view gives us something and takes something away. First person narrows the aperture, gives you one pair of eyes, one pair of ears and one room to be in at any given time. Even if you’re writing from multiple points of view in first person and switching between them, you only have one view at one time.

First person makes you a character, in a sense, or makes you travel inside a character. Third person makes you an observer. Perhaps some stories need to be observed, rather than lived/revealed/exposed.

Third person gives you the power to see what other people are doing, and see things your central character (should you have one) can’t see. Does this add to the story, or the experience of reading it? I’m sure it does, sometimes. Does it comes at a cost? Maybe, since we lose the privilege of being resolutely in one head, and living with the limits that brings. It’s very human, first person.


And I love writing human stories, but I want more than what I seem to have just now... I certainly don't want to mix the two. I think I'll do a little experimentation with third person, see how my own Nick reacts, see if I can get inside the heads of AJ, Jamie, Ness... people you'll meet really soon, I promise *g* And maybe I'm just feeling like, will this story be okay, like this, first person? I'll try and give you an excerpt later, see how you feel, huh? Good idea? I trust you guys *g*

Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
greenpizzazz6
Apr. 7th, 2007 02:38 am (UTC)
Boo...I typed all this, then my internet exploded...let's try it again.

There are advantages to both third and first person. In first person, you really get to know the main character. You get to know all their thoughts in a situation. But third has advantages too. You get a wider view, a more outside view of the story.

I think it depends a lot on the story itself. Sometimes it's better in first, sometimes third.

We actually had to do an exercise dealing with this in 11th grade. We had to write a story in either third or first person, and then transpose it to the other view. Sometimes it just didn't come out right, but sometimes it was better.

I'd love to read excerpts sometime.
natesmountain
Apr. 7th, 2007 02:42 am (UTC)
-I think it depends a lot on the story itself. Sometimes it's better in first, sometimes third.
Thanks for your advice here. I think, for me, the first person is good for journeys, of the heart, of the mind, while maybe third is better for the storyline *g*

Well, if I can find my blasted USB thingy, I'll transfer a bit over to this computer later! Otherwise I'll do it tomorrow!
greenpizzazz6
Apr. 7th, 2007 02:43 am (UTC)
Well, if I can find my blasted USB thingy, I'll transfer a bit over to this computer later! Otherwise I'll do it tomorrow!
I've got two laying here! Wanna borrow one?
natesmountain
Apr. 7th, 2007 02:45 am (UTC)
Argh! I usually have it with me all the time, it's my backup for my laptop! But whenever I can't find it, I panic that I've lost it. I have other ones here, but that one is special to me for some reason. I will go look around the house a bit. Or maybe in the car... hmmmm...
greenpizzazz6
Apr. 7th, 2007 02:47 am (UTC)
I bet it's somewhere!
natesmountain
Apr. 7th, 2007 02:52 am (UTC)
Yeah. Right. Thanks...
natesmountain
Apr. 7th, 2007 02:59 am (UTC)
OMG I found it! You were right. It was there! hanging on my dressing table mirror! Yay.

*hugs greenpizzazz6* my whole books are on this thing LOL!
greenpizzazz6
Apr. 7th, 2007 03:02 am (UTC)
Glad you found it!

Maybe every so often back up your books on another usb drive too!
natesmountain
Apr. 7th, 2007 03:04 am (UTC)
Good idea. I'll share my opening, if you like. I'll post it under a lock though.
greenpizzazz6
Apr. 7th, 2007 03:06 am (UTC)
If you want to, I'd love to read it.
natesmountain
Apr. 7th, 2007 03:10 am (UTC)
It's posted. Under a new post.

*grimaces nervously*
moth2fic
Apr. 7th, 2007 09:43 am (UTC)
Having now read the first chapter I've come back to comment here as well!
You've been writing in first person so far and if the first chapter is any guide it's extremely successful. You can get inside the other characters from Nick's p.o.v. which will be interesting in itself. And this is so obviously Nick's story. A third person narrative would risk seeing Nick as less an individual and more 'just' a teacher amongst the others.As it is, we know instantly that the novel is going to be about him. The boys, too, come alive as seen through Nick's eyes - presumably because of your teaching experience. Third person woud take much longer, with more 'back story' to draw them properly.
I suppose it depends where the story is going. I rewrote The Scroll in third instead of first as soon as I realised (about chapter three) I had to give the reader access to scenes the heroine couldn't have witnessed, but that was a 'thriller'. My Harlequin diaries are first person to give the intimate individual voice. Where I need to talk about events elsewhere they are written in third person and sent to Harlequin by someone else! You can use letters, oral accounts(direct or reported), footnotes, whatever, to do that.
Another point is that if any of your other characters need more story, you can always base a future novel or short story on them!
I've only read chapter one, of course, but I think you'll find third person is wrong for this particular story just as it was totally right for Safe!
Hope that helps in the decision making!
natesmountain
Apr. 7th, 2007 10:51 am (UTC)
Oh, what a fabulous comment. Thanks, dear Mothy! I'm so glad you liked the first segment of the story. It just seemed when I started that it was Nick's journey, not really anyone else's, so I just kind of fell into his head.

-he boys, too, come alive as seen through Nick's eyes - presumably because of your teaching experience.
True, the boys live on in my head quite strongly! Even after all this time, I still remember them so clearly.

-I suppose it depends where the story is going.
See, that was what got me wondering, Nick wants to get his brother to do some research overseas and I realised that I couldn't just write that. But I will just have to be clever ;-)

-Hope that helps in the decision making!
Absolutely. What a boost, I feel quite happy now *g*

moth2fic
Apr. 7th, 2007 11:56 am (UTC)
The boys are 'real' but they are real as seen by the teacher - a third person would not have the same perspective or observed detail and would have to do lots of description instead of relying on one or two aspects of the boys.We need to have the teacher's voice!

In one my all-time favourite novels, The Map of Love, a lot of the research is presented through letters, newspaper articles and found diaries. You could use letters for the brother and that would let you explore Nick's reactions to receiving and reading them. The letters would sometimes be presented as Nick reads i.e.in the brother's first person, and sometimes recounted by Nick either thinking about them or telling a friend what they contained. Or even in a reply he writes. There are all sorts of methods. You could use essays for the boys.

This kind of comment is what I get out of the writing group Marg and Alex and I belong to. I find it helps to clarify my thinking and sometimes to set me off in a different direction.
natesmountain
Apr. 7th, 2007 12:29 pm (UTC)
-This kind of comment is what I get out of the writing group Marg and Alex and I belong to. I find it helps to clarify my thinking and sometimes to set me off in a different direction.
See, I find it really really hard to ask for input. I like to do it all by myself.

-a third person would not have the same perspective or observed detail and would have to do lots of description instead of relying on one or two aspects of the boys.
Cool! I'll keep that up then. I could write about boys in classrooms all day! I taught just teenage boys (no girls) for four years. What an eye opener! I started when I was just twenty-one!
moth2fic
Apr. 8th, 2007 09:10 am (UTC)
That's why you're able to get right inside Nick's head and see them from his p.o.v. which gives reality and depth to your writing.

When I was 21 I was teaching in a college - 16 up. Some of the students were my age, though not, of course, at my 'academic' level. A lot of the students were on one day 'release' courses and I was teaching law and English. One day, crossing the road, I was stopped by a policeman who was supervising the crossing. I had no idea what I'd done/not done, then he said, 'Miss, I'm afraid I haven't had time to finish my homework!'
natesmountain
Apr. 8th, 2007 09:29 am (UTC)
- I had no idea what I'd done/not done, then he said, 'Miss, I'm afraid I haven't had time to finish my homework!'
Hee! That made me laugh!

-That's why you're able to get right inside Nick's head and see them from his p.o.v. which gives reality and depth to your writing.
Thanks. I sure am inside his head. Sometimes I start writing and I feel like I am him, not me.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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