Friday, March 1, 2013

How do you decide between First and Third Person?

In a previous post I wrote about giving the reader a clear signal that the point of view was about to change.

In this post I want to discuss one of the writers first and biggest decisions. Before you can write a single word, you need to decide whether the story will be told in the first or third person. I’m assuming that in either case, the author would use past tense. (If a writer wants to attempt second person or present tense, I have no suggestions, but I wish them luck.)

The Steve Dancy Tales are written in first person, while Tempest at Dawn and The Shut Mouth Society are written in third person.

writing tips
First Person Point of View
The standard first person narrative requires a single point of view for the entire book and the story must unfold in front of the main characters eyes. This makes first person popular for detective novels because, except for a few tricks, the reader knows as much as the protagonist. From a plot perspective, first person can be difficult to pull off, but the reader is more likely to become attached to the protagonist. These aspects of a first person narrative caused me to use this point of view for the Steve Dancy Tales.

writing tips
Third Person Point of View
I used third person in Tempest at Dawn. Third person is less personal and facilitates changing points of view. The Constitutional Convention is an iconic event in American History and I wanted the reader to view the events and people from some distance, as if it were a documentary film.

I had major difficultly deciding on the point of view for The Shut Mouth Society. I had just written my first Dancy novel in first person, but I wasn't sure that was the right way to go for a mystery/thriller. My technique for coming to a decision took a couple days of writing. I wrote the first chapter in both first and third person, and then put it aside for three days. When I came back and read the two versions side-by-side, the decision was easy. I wrote the book in third person. Despite having two protagonists, I never switched the point of view.

The connection between the reader and the story is through the narrator. I have a bias toward a single point of view because I think a single storyteller makes this connection stronger and the narrative more memorable. That said, I alternated points of view in Tempest at Dawn because it made sense in the presentation of the story.

A novel must take a reader to another place and time. The author decides how to transport the reader.

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