Ugh. This will be the bugaboo that follows me the rest of my writing life.
I always write in third person as opposed to first. Don’t ask me why. It’s a gut thing. But I always, always end up woefully tormented within that framework. Mostly I eventually settle on limited third-person, multiple POVs. Never switching within a scene (let alone paragraph!), but sometimes adding a separate, paragraph-length passage with a switch in POV at the end of a chapter, to round things out or give further insight into/dimensions on the story.
For my latest exercise in frustration (read massive WIP ), I’m battling over whether to confine myself to a single third-person POV throughout. In the interests of reader identification. What I’m afraid of sacrificing is the ability to present storylines, subplots, information that the protagonist would not be privy to. But those who write in first-person manage to do this quite effectively, I keep reminding myself. How?
(The reason I would choose single, limited third person over first person would be…I don’t have the words for it. Just doesn’t feel right, not for this story.)
Anyone with any advice (Hugh?), libations (vic-k!) or suggestions on how to crash my computer and junk the whole thing (Jaysen…) please chime in (etc.)
Once upon a time, a very sexy broad, wrote a brilliant 653 page novel, full of subplots and story lines. She ended up taking a chain saw to it. My point, Sweet-thing, is, how much of what you`re fretting about having to sacrifice now, are you gonna end up butchering anyway, later on?
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your approach. What you are doing would not be considered head-hopping. You’re following all the rules that I’ve heard about at my writer’s group meetings. I wouldn’t want to lock myself down to a single character’s pov. I’m sure that I’d eventually find myself desparate for an out.
I’ve worked exclusively in third person myself until very recently. My last completed short story just wasn’t working that way, so I had to switch to first person. That gave me the intimacy with the character that the reader needed at that point in the series. The next one will be in first person, and the one after that? Well, I’ve changed my mind again about how I want it to play, and I’m going to have to convert my existing first person drafts to third. So I have no idea what I’m doing.
Crashing your system is a serious procrastination device, but it only delays the inevitable. So, while I can provide you several very effective means of destroying your system without leaving a mark, I think you will find it more satisfying to simply write your story, which I am completely unqualified to assist you with as is evidenced by this one, technically correct, sentence.
If you choose to take the “scorched systems” approach, remember this phrase; electro-magnet.
There must be a jillion ways to bring first person into a third-person narrative.
One character interviews another, who speaks in first person.
One character tells a story or describes a dream, in first person.
One character reads a letter/story/text written in first person.
I like third-person, myself. First-person is emotional, sweaty, panting…and scared, uninformed, limited. Of course, it can be really effective if that’s just the effect you want. Many of Poe’s early stories are told in a strictly defined first person.
I usually write first person, myself. (My short stories have a tendency to end up third, but novels are usually first.) I started it to begin with because my first novel attempts were all the standard third person, past tense, and kept ending up incredible messes with way too many MCs and plot knots and so forth. First person suits me so much better, overall.
However, if I need a tidbit from somebody else’s perspective, I figure out a framework for adding a piece from somebody else. For example, I have a currently shelved project that’s primarily first person, past tense (the narrator describing everything well after the crisis is over and done with), and each chapter ends with a tidbit from another character’s perspective, compiled at the same time as the narrator writing the story.
I’m also not above tweaking person and tense as needed within a story. My urban fantasy novel-in-progress has a primary plot that’s first person, present tense, and each chapter ends with a scene in a backstory plot (how the narrator got to where she was in chapter one) that’s third person, past tense. I played with every POV and tense combo possible between those two before I decided those worked best. My traditional fantasy novel-in-progress is divided into parts for year changes, and each year change includes a little instructional quote from the narrator’s dead mother.
So my main advice? Don’t worry about it. If the reader really needs to know something, you can work it in. You are supposed to know more than your reader, you know.
Have you considered third-person omniscient? Nowt wrong with it – then you can include all the sub-plots, observations and information kept secret from the protagonist that you might want. It was good enough for Charles (Dickens), Jane (Austen) and Leo (Tolstoy), among many others. Alternatively but less frequently found, you can have third-person partially-omniscient/partially-ignorant – for examples see John Le Carre.
With first person, (I think) sometimes plots can become convoluted in the effort to get all that extra stuff in. But as Carradee and Druid say, you are the god in your world. You can make it happen. People forget how complicated the first-person POVs are in Heart of Darkness. But Joseph Conrad made it work.
One can of course have multiple first-persons; there’s a well-known contemporary novel whose title I’ve forgotten for the moment that is distinguished by this. But even then all the first-persons probably wouldn’t know everything, and you’d have to have some device at the start of each new POV to identify whose view it was.
(OT: Another conundrum: which tense? Here the British novelist Philip Hensher inveighs against present tense, which he says has become voguishly over-used. I blame Hilary Mantel. )
Hugh, I love 3rd person omniscient, but you have to have such a strong, compelling narrative voice to carry it off properly. A writer whom I think does this beautifully is Alice Hoffman, but I am nowhere near her league.
I think what I am struggling with is singular versus multiple limited 3rd POVs–nothing shown that the POV character would not be privy to, either exclusively or in serial fashion. I think the singular POV would make for a more coherent book (cf Harry Potter!) but there are plot threads that would be much better served by being fleshed out with other POVs.
Guess I need to put on my thinking cap again, and it’s so loose these days it falls off with the slightest provocation. Sigh.
Back to se tairing & reading Heart of Darkness.
(I am entirely in accord with Philip Hensher regarding present tense. Actually, more in accord with Philip Pullman in the article. Once upon a time isn’t this morning, as far as I am concerned.)
I tried writing novels in third person omniscient – tried, hell, I wrote a quarter-million words that way – then backed off to third-person-not-quite-so-knowing-about-events-but-able-to-read-characters’-minds. What I finally settled on, of course, was first-person narrative.
I do cheat a bit, adding in narrative sequence things the protagonist could not have known at the time, but was credibly able to find out later; they’re in brief chapters which are clearly after-the-fact.
I write genre stuff, however, where I think it’s unfair to the protagonist for the audience to know more than he does.