Monday, May 4, 2009

Considering Rewriting in Third

Currently my WiP is in first person. Actually, it had begun in third, but after reading Kushiel's Dart and falling in love with the beautiful way Jacqueline Carey spun her words, I felt inspired to rewrite my novel in first person.

For those of you who don't know, which probably isn't anyone following my blog, but just in case... First person is using "I"/"me". The narrator is the main character (well, not always, Great Gatsby, for example, used a secondary character to narrate what he observed in the main characters). "I carefully approached the door, unsure of what lay on the other side."

Third person has the narrator as not a characters. This is what most novels are written in. "She carefully approached the door, unsure of what lay on the other side."

First person allows for deeper characterization since we are literally inside the main character's head. Third person allows for a more-well rounded view of the world. Although you can have omniscient (can observe everyone) or deep (it's third person but you are still looking through the eyes of just one character at a time). Jane Austin and her contemporaries wrote omniscient, but most modern novels are written deep. If I were to write in third person it would for sure be deep.


Why First?
I write very informally and sometimes one might construe some of the way I write as humor. I wanted to leverage that, which I really couldn't, or not as easily, in third. Also, there are huge changes that my main character will be undergoing and that can most easily portray that in first person. She's got a lot of things to be angst-y about and I think it is not as directly conveyed in third person...or at least isn't as interestingly conveyed.

Part of the journey is that there is this evil power and, while I haven't fully decided how she is going to battle it, I thought that it would be neat for her to have to internally battle it. Basically, she'd absorb the evil and then have to internally defeat it by her actions. This would be much easier to show in first person, although I could probably achieve a similar affect in deep third, but no where near as powerfully. Also, as a reader I do prefer first person, when written well.

Why third?
My main character is on a journey and much of this journey requires her to be away from the rest of the cast for a very long time. During this time many changes are afoot. I was thinking about having her find a way to watch them, but there is a very high cost associated with that. But that would only be able to occur when she is away by choice. Early-ish in the book (sorry, betas, slight spoiler) she is captured, but her two love interests join together and save her. The end up enlisting the help of this local boy in exchange for an object that the boy wants. Since it's in first person the reader sees her in captivity and then rescued and has to get caught up. That's not bad, but there is some drama that happens off stage that I can't show.

Also, one of my strengths is that the antagonist starts out as a fellow protagonist and the story could very easily be rewritten so that the protagonist is the antagonist and vice versa. Not because the bad guy justifies his actions to himself, but because there is a...philosophical difference between why the protagonist and antagonist have their motivations. One man's freedom fighter is the next man's rebel. Beyond that, there are a couple of secondary protagonists who seem to be countering the main protag, but really think they are helping her. Actually, one of the themes is that "everyone is out for themselves, even when it comes to the end of the world." The quotes are there because that's a direct line from my query letter (don't worry, I haven't sent it out...forming the query letter early helped me to focus my plot and premise).


Weighing my Options
First and third definitely have advantages, not just in general, but also in my story. I'm 35k words in so pretty invested, but definitely not impossible to switch at this point.

Now, some books have done multiple first person view points, but I find that jarring as a reader. I always get confused who the "I" is referring to--so that is not an option that I am interested in pursuing. I have also heard about one mystery author who writes in first person when it is the main character, but also does third person when wanting to show POV of other characters. I don't know who, I was just told by a friend who couldn't remember the author's name. I am considering this. I think it might be the best of both worlds, but I think that would be confusing and would pop the reader out of the flow. Ug...so not sure...and I really want to decide before I invest more time AND I want to get this thing done before my birthday so I don't want to spend too much time thinking about it!

I guess at the end of the day what is the most important is: which is more marketable. Obviously there are more novels in third. Is this because readers and publishers prefer this, or just because authors do? Kushiel's Dart's been out for awhile now so many other fantasy novelists have decided to try first person and I might be stuck with some fierce competition. I don't know. :-/

Any thoughts in blog land? I would *really* appreciate your input!

16 tidbits:

lynn said...

I've had to struggle between whether to use first or third person too. My novel on submission uses first, as does my current WIP. I guess I find it easier to submerge myself in my protagonists that way, and it works with the stories--with my current WIP because my protag is the one driving the plot with her actions. With the novel-on-sub, there's a lot of action that happens "off stage" from my protag's POV, but I think it works because what she's going through is just as interesting.

I guess my advice is to go with what fits the story best, but I'd stick with either first or third but not a combination (and I also dislike novels with two first-person POVs) because the switch from first to third is difficult to get right and possibly a technique better left to learn in future novels.

I love Kushiel's Dart as well (I met J. Carey at a convention once!) and am partial to first person. Your protag finding out about off-stage action could be written just as interestingly as seeing it through third-person, (it would give a fun opportunity for her to go 'wtf how did those guys get together to rescue me?' and also for her to show she can deduce things by interpreting the other characters' words and attitudes) and it'd be easier to convey all that internal stuff with first person, but really there's no right or wrong answer, just what feels best to you.

strugglingwriter said...

Multiple First Person points of view just sounds awful. I will never attempt that.

I prefer third person as a reader, but have enjoyed first as well.

I would say finish the story in first. Don't worry about "marketable". Just write your story. You'll be happier that way.

PJ Hoover said...

I've found it easier to make my voice stand out more with first, but I think each project calls out what it needs to be. I did my trilogy in third (very close third), and then my next two books are in first. At some point I want to try multiple POVs in first (and maybe even in third for that matter).
So many things to try!

Shelli said...

i love to write in first person - it feels more real and i think my voice comes out more.

right now I am trying to figure out if i do my first person in present or past tense?

stu said...

I'll agree that Jaqueline Carey's work is wonderful. As for the first/third person thing, ask yourself what, when all's said and done, your story is about. If it's about your main character and her transformation, then first person is probably the way to go. If it's about intertwining stories and the grand sweep of events beyond a personal level, then third person is probably better.

Charles Gramlich said...

I like first person but I only use it if the "whole" story can be seen from a single person's perspective. If you need to visit with other charcters or have secondary characters sometimes see events from their own viewpoints, then I think you have to use third.

Lauren said...

@lynn- See, both fit the story best for different reasons. That's so cool that you met J. Carey! She's my current favorite author.

@writer- some people really like multiple first person POV, but I just get confused. And I personally wouldn't be happier with writing a non-marketable book mostly just because what I have in my head is very marketable and I am mostly writing for publication because I want to share my stories with as many people as possible...if that makes any sense...

@PJ- I have read your trilogy, long before I started blogging. And I loved it. So it's actually an example of a good reason to use 3rd person. lol.

@shelli- Oh, past or present. There is something so immediate about writing in present. Hard to do though... I wouldn't be able to :). Which way are you leaning right now?

@stu- That's a really great point. There are two primaries. One, my main character's development and the other is the fact that everyone is basically out for themselves. My antagonist is very obviously not bad, just has a different place he is coming from and I'd be able to go into it more. Oh and I thought of your post on changing big picture things verses little picture things while writing this. Yeah, changing big picture things sucks. lol

Lauren said...

@charles- Sorry, you posted between me starting my post and clicking go :) Yeah, I agree with you. I'm definitely starting to feel more like third. Although one of my beta readers suggested re writing a chapter and she'd look over both and tell me which she preferred. I might go that route :)

spyscribbler said...

I went through a period of two novellas, where I wrote them in one voice, then re-wrote in another, and then re-wrote again in the first voice.

Honestly, it taught me a lot. When I wrote in third person and then re-wrote in first person, my first person was MUCH better--tighter. A lot of that clunky I, I, I was eliminated. It's easy to have too many words in first person, LOL.

Re-writing first person in third person taught me to go deeper with third person.

So it's a great practice. Rewriting it will help you grow as a writer. And once it's done, you can see which you like better.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Agents do not like fancy footwork by first time novelists, in general. Keeping things simple is a good way to go. They also like third person, but many first person novels get published. Re-writing from different POV's is great practice and will as others pointed out in their comments, make you a stronger writer. Good luck!

Beth said...

I think it depends on your market. Women's romance fiction used to be all third person - not sure what's expected now.
I find writing in third person a challenge - much prefer first.
Study your market!

Tia Nevitt said...

You can switch from first to third without jolts if you use a frame, like Pat Rothfuss did in The Name of the Wind.

Generally speaking, if you want to switch viewpoints, it's best to stick to third person. But first has the advantage of voice.

paintandink said...

As a reader, I strongly prefer third person.

I find that I am more forgiving of the main characters when I'm not in their heads. When I'm in their heads, and supposed to be seeing things from their perspective, I find too much of a clash between what they do and what I would do in that situation.

But when the narrative is in third person, I am more willing to let go of control and "should haves," and just go with the story, even if it's limited third person and I can still read their thoughts.

I can still ask, "What would I do in that situation?" but because I'm not in the place of the main character, my perspective doesn't class with theirs.

Does that make any sense?

I've read some great books in first person - a few of my favorites are in first person - but I strongly prefer third (this holds true when I read books in each style by the same author, such as Madeleine L'Engle or Octavia Butler).

Robyn said...

This will all depend on your story. If the story involves multiple events that you want to show it would probably be better to change. When we begin a rough draft, we have no idea of where the book is really headed. Only a limited view, but as we really get into the writing, we realize things are happening that we never thought would happen.Maybe your characters are telling you to change to third? Do what your heart tells you to do. :0)

Barry said...

I recall reading a Robert Parker novel where the chapters alternated between the first person and the third.

It was an interesting read because you could see the main character making erroneous decisions about what was actually taking place.

I would think that when you're 35K into a story, a major rewrite would be arduous.

Best Wishes....

Lauren said...

Oops...I fell a little behind in responding to my comments. Thank you all *so* much for your input :) It's really helping as I keep vacillating on this point :)

@spy- one of my beta readers suggested the same thing, although for different reasons. I think that it is a good idea :) thanks.

@Elizabeth- The problem is that I don't know if Carey's work has changed anything since it did very well. Also, there are more third person books but I don't know if that is because they sell better or people write more of them.

@beth- actually I find it easier to write in third!

@tia- Thanks, I am going to go look that book up and see how he did it.

@paintandink- That definetly makes sense. And it is a good point.

@robyn- That's very true that it can be tough to know early on which voice is better. And I still don't know because each voice has clear advantages for my story.

@barry- Just because I'm 35k in doesn't mean that the rewrite would necessarily take any more time than I was already planning on putting into my revising. I am going to look that author up and see if I can't find the book you are referencing. Thanks :)

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