Monday, February 12, 2007

Point of view

I just heard back from my editor about the revisions I mailed a couple of weeks ago. She thinks everything looks fine

BUT---


some of you might recall my indecision about writing one character in first person when all of the other characters are third person. i originally wrote Kristin in first person, then i switched to third, then back to first. my editor is wondering if I should switch her to third. i can completely understand her reservations because i've gone back and forth on this issue myself. i think first person gives us more of an emotional punch for the most powerful scenes. some of that will be lost in third. but if the switch from third to first is jarring for some readers...

it's a tough call.

39 comments:

Trace said...

That's a tricky one. I am very comfortable writing in first person. Third is a nightmare for me. But the current book works better in third than first.

I'd write in first person forever if it were my choice. Doesn't always work though. *Sigh*

Heather Harper said...

You know, I really enjoy the M.J. Rose books that employ this technique.

I write first person POV most of the time, but I read both.

anne frasier said...

hi trace! what's weird is that i'm normally more comfortable writing in third! this one character just wanted to be written in first, so i finally quit fighting it!

heather, are most of M.J.'s characters written in third person? is her main character written in first, and the others in third? my one first-person character is a main character, but not THE main character. She's actually more of an observer in some ways. Kind of the lens the town is viewed through.

Kelly Parra said...

I thought this technique worked great in PLAY DEAD. Plus I didn't know if it was a he or a she. I would stick with it...is it your call?

anne frasier said...

kelly, yes i did use it in play dead. i don't know how you remembered that!! but it was the villain, which is more typical when doing that kind of switch. either the villain or the heroine. i think it's probably my call, but if it's too jarring i should definitely change it. i'm going to wait for feedback from my agent.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yes, it's a tough call. Pulling off third and first switches can be done, and done exceptionally well, but they can also fail spectacularly.

I know this has clarified the issue in your mind and given you confidence to proceed. ;)

Bill Cameron said...

I've always felt the decision to employ multiple POVs vs a single POV is driven by story, but the decision to use 1st vs 3rd is a decision driven by character.

My sense is that you should trust your instincts on the use of 1st in this case. Jarring your readers isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if you feel the 1st person for Kristin is going to heighten the emotional punch. Is it asking something of the reader? Sure. But I have no doubt you'll make it worth making the adjustment between the shifting POV. Stick to your guns! :D

Heather Harper said...

I believe her heroine/MC is the first person POV. (I read the first two about a year ago...I'd have to go dig them out of a box to see and make sure she didn't also use it for the villian. I can't remember.)

Heather Harper said...

How was that for helpful? Lol.

anne frasier said...

"I know this has clarified the issue in your mind and given you confidence to proceed. ;)"

lol! thank you, sandra.


ooh, bill. good points! i like what you said about jarring readers not necessarily being a bad thing. but i don't want to CONFUSE AND ANNOY. that's my fear. i know it will confuse and annoy some readers, but i'm hoping that's a small percentage.

heather, lol! please don't dig out the book! you actually did make a point that the first-person character was either the villain or MC -- both of which my editor feels are the more common use of that technique. my first-person character isn't either of those.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

A really close 3rd person POV can give you almost the same interiority as 1st person. That's what I'm doing in my novel, and it seems to be working. I just need to make clear which is the POV character at the beginning of each scene.

anne frasier said...

patrick, that's what i've been thinking. i do deep viewpoint anyway, so i might not be gaining anything by writing the character in 1st person other than setting this character apart (she's an outsider), and just giving the book more texture. might work just as well without the 1st person.

Hulles said...

I love this writer talk. Really. I think Bill Cameron is right on, for whatever that's worth. Glad you're back. Still.

briliantdonkey said...

When in doubt go with your gut is my own feeling on the subject. Then again what do I know? You aren't going to please all the people all the time no matter which way you tell it imo. There will be some parts every reader will thouroughly enjoy and some they won't.

BD

John Gooley said...

I definitely agree with Bill. But perhaps to avoid confusing and annoying some poor readers, you could use a device to get the character talking in the first person:

"Geraldine brushed back her knotted hair, gripped her gnawed pen and wrote in her diary thusly: I shall miss Diego after I've slit his throat..."

Jaye Wells said...

I guess it depends on the role of the character. First makes a character stand out, as in the example of a villain. I'd be less worried about jarring the reader and more about confusing them. Might they interpret her role as being larger than you intend? I'm tempted to tell you to do what feels right, but perhaps your conflict indicates this character needs her own story.

angie said...

That's a toughie. On the one hand, first instincts are usually right. On the other, if the change in POV knocks the reader out of the story, then whatever extra emotional punch first person carries won't matter much. I guess getting feedback from your agent is a good way to go - and then, of course you'll have to see what feels right/makes sense to you!

Bill Cameron said...

Deft prose will overcome the danger of confusion and annoyance, and you have no worries there! But patrick is right about tight 3rd offering the same opportunities for immediacy. Once you're juggling 1st and tight 3rd, it seems to me that it comes down to a matter of voice. Is there something critical you can communicate in the voice of your character that wouldn't be possible from even a cranial 3rd? If so, then 1st it is. If it's just intimacy and emotional wallop you're going for, then tight 3rd can fit the bill and reduce the likelihood of putting off readers who don't like -person shifts.

anne frasier said...

hi hulles!
nice to be back online, but not so nice to be back in MN!

briliant: my gut is on the fence. :D

hi john! and lol! i loved your example. :D i don't think there's any confusion over who the POV character is. the concern is over sending the wrong signal to the reader, telling him the 1st person character must be the most important person in the book. there are 4 main characters -- this person is one of them, but would be about 3 or 4 on the importance scale.

anne frasier said...

jaye, yes, that's exactly the issue. i know how i hate reading a book that doesn't firmly establish the main character or characters. i don't want to have to ask, who's story is this?

anne frasier said...

bill, the more i think about it, the more i've boiled it down to this:

kristin is the outsider. i used 1st to make her stand out as the outsider. it's more about texture than anything else.

when my editor read the manuscript, she had absolutely no problem with 1st. someone else read it and did. i think that's the way it's going to be. maybe split right down the middle. my agent is traditional, so i'm pretty sure he won't like the mix of 1st and 3rd.

on one hand, i think since the question has come up i should probably change it to 3rd. this will be very hard to do at this late date, because it's impossible to catch everything in one edit.

on the other hand, this is a good example of how anything that falls even a little outside the norm is discarded, and why so many books are so similar. but the bottom line is that i want the book to be read and i don't want to alienate readers.

anne frasier said...

angie, yes, instinct is so important when writing. this is confusing because it falls into that land of style. i tend to like things that are different, but that comes from a writer's perspective. i definitely prefer the book the way it is, but i'm not sure readers will.

Helen Brenna said...

Anne, I think readers have gotten much more sophisticated these days, so whatever you and your editor decide to do will probably be just great.

But you know the old saying, you can please some of the people half of the and the other half ... how does that go?

anne frasier said...

helen, you are so right about readers being more sophisticated. i think limitations often end up being imposed upon what they read.

congratulations on your debut! i can't wait to get a copy of TREASURE!

anne frasier said...

for those who read Pale Immortal, the 4 main characters in the sequel are:

Evan Stroud
Rachel Burton
Graham, Evan's son
Kristin Blackmoore

Kristin is the outsider and is in town making a documentary on Tuonela. She's the first-person character.

Hulles said...

Isobel lives on my heart.

bekbek said...

I've always shunned first person. I think it has something to do with being able to imagine I could meet the characters. When I get inside their head, I know they can never be "real" to me.

Wow, it occurs to me that I really am pretty nerdy. Oh well.

In any case, I've discovered with some dismay that I find it much easier to write in 1st person. So I dunno.

And finally, I like the mix of styles. My favorite use was a little book called Emergence, many years ago. The book was written first person in a style suggestive of short-hand, clearly a diary. But the diary-keeping is taken over by a couple of different people later in the story, so the style completely shifts --although 1st person is maintained.

I just find it really interesting that of all the characters to write in first person, you chose... the outsider. Are we as readers supposed to feel we are outsiders too? Because my first thought was that it would be hard to see this person as an "outsider" from the inside angle, if that makes any sense.

Hey, I proofread, nudge nudge, wink wink.

anne frasier said...

hulles, lol! isobel is still around. i'd planned to have her make a bigger appearance in book 3, but I don't even know if there will be a book 3.

bekbek, i thought about the outsider written in first person maybe not seeming logical. but when you think about our seeing the weirdass town through her lens it might make more sense.

i thought of you as someone who could proof this for me! my problem is that i never have time to send it anywhere but to my editor.

Julia Buckley said...

I'm reading a book right now by Morag Joss called Half Broken Things, and she writes the main character in first AND third person, and it doesn't bother me at all. Not that your editor cares what I think. Do you want me to write her a note, like Moms do for kids who want to eat lunch at school? :)

anne frasier said...

julia, thanks for the ammo. er, info! it will come in handy. personally i really like the idea of all these varying POVs. but then i suspect i have ADD. i'll let you know if i need the note! heh!

this ongoing POV conversation has been great. I've been thinking of John Gooley's comment, and John, you made an excellent point. i'm really thinking the jarring shift could be smoothed with the simple use of more blatant stage direction. a heavy handed sentence might actually be needed in order to give the reader better direction.

Alex Adams said...

I'm reading Diana Gabaldon's second Outlander book right now(I'm having a brain lapse on the title) and she shifts between third and first. Claire, the main character, is written in first, while a very small secondary character is written in third. I don't find it all jarring.

My own WIP shifts between first and third also. While it's out in the world trying to find me a new agent, I'm going to change the first to third just-in-case. I like the immediacy of first person, both as a writer and a reader.

The only time a POV change has annoyed me was in one of Jodi Picoult's books. The fault was not hers, but there were three first-person viewpoint characters, and each was printed in a different font. In the end it just hurt my head.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Changing person at the same time as character can be even less jarring than just changing character. With a character change, it's all in the voice, but with a person change you have extra clues for the reader to latch on to the change.

I'm writing my current WIP in 3rd person first tense, with semi-dream sequences in 1st person past tense. So far I think it's working, but I haven't had anyone else look at it yet.

I chose first tense for the bulk of the story because it's set in the present. The dreams are experienced by the MC so I thought that a camera pan in would help the reader feel as jarred as the MC.

If anything needs to change after I get feedback, I hope it's just the dream sequences. That would be far less work.

Anyway, what do I know? I'm still a babe in the woods.

Not a smoking babe, but still a babe.

anne frasier said...

alex, i really like the idea of moving a single character between first and third, but i can see how it could limit your chances when you're trying to sell. i do hope we'll continue to see more POV variation. i think it breaks things up and adds texture. sometimes all first can get tedious.

oh, man. i hate the font idea! i will not read a book if it has chapters of italics. that just pisses me off. :D

anne frasier said...

"I'm writing my current WIP in 3rd person first tense, with semi-dream sequences in 1st person past tense."

Daniel, I really like that idea. For me, anything that can be added to give the book more texture is a plus, but i know not everybody feels that way. i'm guessing/hoping that in a couple more years POV variations won't be that much of an issue.

i wrote my first-person character more as an experiment and exercise, thinking i could change it later if it didn't seem to work. i ended up liking it so i turned it in that way.

i think babes in the woods tend to do more interesting things because they haven't yet been hit with restrictions and limitations. i think that's why some of the better writing is coming out of small publishing houses. They aren't focused on mass appeal.

Daniel Hatadi said...

I suppose my day job gives me a living (and a decent one at that), so the pressure's off. One day, though, who knows. I might be a big hairy monster in the woods that succumbs to pressure from the publishing industry (doubt it)!

anne frasier said...

i noticed i became guilty of taking less of a stand once writing became my only source of income. that ends up coming back to bite you in the butt because often the book ends up not being what it should be.

anne frasier said...

update:
my agent read the manuscript and didn't feel the shift was jarring in the least. (i didn't clue him in to our first-person concern before he read it.)

that's a big whew. i was not looking forward to trying to revise something that massive at this late date.

Daniel Hatadi said...

AH, mucho reliefo!

anne frasier said...

daniel, yes, i'm so relieved! and now that the decision has been made i know it was the right one. that's a good feeling too.