She wandered lonely as a cloud…

My Point of View is in crisis.

After a year of starting third person novels, over-plotting, over-thinking, losing interest, abandoning them, I was finally revisited by my Muse and began a new book. In first person.

What it says about my ego, I don’t know, but I’m lured by first person voice as a reader and as a writer… and yet we’re told, endlessly, how debut novelists should stick to third. 

So I’m experimenting with shifting this new book into third – now, before I get too far in and such a change would be a pain – and comparing the results of the first 4k words in each POV.

Something is clearly lost – a sense of moodiness, obviously the closeness – and yet I figured there must also be gains. Distance has its own value, moodiness is a matter of word order – there’s more to change than just putting “I” into “she” – and, of course, third person means no restrictions on what the narrator can see. 

But even though I think the gains do outweigh the losses, I can’t switch off that inner first person and am still thinking through story elements in that voice. I’m a Method Writer – need to be firmly in the head of a protagonist to be able to enjoy writing them, even when they’re dark, miserable and being them means teetering on the edge of their abyss…

Oh. Yes. Hang on… I’d forgotten how horrible it got writing The Sky is Not Blue, sat in a dark, windowless shed, smoking a thousand ciggies and drinking way too much wine whilst the rest of the world was outside enjoying the sunshine.

Third person it is then. Let sanity be mine.


12 Replies to “She wandered lonely as a cloud…”

  1. Sanity is no excuse, Sand. If the book demands first person, you have to go with it. Some people smoke and drink in sheds for fun! I know it will work out whatever you finally decide. Good luck.

  2. Ha ha, thanks James. Yes, you're right, there is a perverse 'fun' to be had playing around with insanity – danger being, of course, it's a bit like having a laugh on the train lines only for such fun to be curtailed when 240 tonnes of thundering metal hits you…But I'll stick it out a bit longer, see if I can get into a third person rhythm and if not then I'll return it to its natural state.

  3. For me, third person is almost first person from a different point of view. If that makes sense. The narrator is a character too, the one telling the third person story, with a distinctive voice and view. Sometimes, for me, that narrator is not the same character as me-the-author.It took me a long time to get comfortable in third person. That's what made it click for me.

  4. Yes, you're right and I need to keep on with it until I feel the narrator voice stronger than the voice of my protagonist… because the 3rd person narrator can explore other characters to more depth – so ultimately it should be more fun.That's the theory. But, yes, I think it'll take me a while too.

  5. I think one of the advantages of first person narrative is that it stops me getting 'writerly'. When I'm being all omniscient, it's too easy to craft epigrams or get all self-indulgent with descriptions, symbols, fancy turns of phrase and other arty-farty curlicues (like choosing to say 'curlicues').I also think 'translating' a 1st to a 3rd person narrative voice distorts the story and the vision. Apart from questions of objectivity, character analysis and so on, they're SO different, stylistically, semantically, and in terms of immediacy of contact with the reader. My novel The Darkness was originally written with a double narrator – me and one of the characters. An agent suggested changing to all 3rd person. I did, and it was crap. I reverted to 1st and 3rd and I think it's maybe the best I've written.

  6. Agree with Bill here. A first person narrative is a mandatory discipline for anyone who not only has a tendency to overwrite but also a habit of surrounding the main building with distracting outhouses. In the first person it’s like carrying a torch into the darkness – you follow a coherent and virtually inevitable trail. Its chief difficulty is perhaps that it tends to lead to a denser text. You’re denied to some extent the jubilant swagger of lengthy dialogue. Dialogue too is honed down to the essence of its relevance. But there’s this myth among unpublished writers that dialogue is what people want to read – because visually it’s easier on the eye when you turn a page. But often I find the dullest mss on Authonomy are those whose first chapter consists almost exclusively of dialogue – realistic chit chat which poses as characterisation but is really just the dullest kind of banality. In terms of agent interest, my first two novels were written in the third person – both rejected. My next was in the first person – accepted. My next was third person – rejected. And my new one is 70% first person – accepted. So I don’t think it’s true that first time novelists should stick to third person. Every book has its own tone – and that’s what you’ve got to first identify and then keep resonating throughout the narrative.

  7. Yes, Bill & Glenn – some interesting stuff there.I do think 1st person gives clear purpose to a story – once in that head, everything is tunnel vision… in a good way (one hopes!). And I agree that it stops a person wandering into too many muddled areas and viewpoints. Have never been one for over-describing. In fact I think I under-describe – and am always jealous of those who conjure up vivid pictures of places… I tend to skip over the visuals. But mightily interesting about the dialogue, Glenn. That's a fascinating insight – and I'd never thought it was 1st person that restricted my dialogue so, but did often read other people's longer character conversations and wish I could do that. Incidentally, having put all mine into 3rd I looked at it and thought… rubbish. So am sticking with 1st.

  8. This is just a generalization. So I'm properly disclaimed.I see a lot of literary fiction and fiction intended for a female audience in first. When I pick up a thriller, hardboiled detective novel, something commercial and intended to appeal to a male audience, it tends to be in third.I know there's a lot of exceptions. But more often than not.It could also be just the books I pick up. I just wanted to make that observation.I think you should write in whatever your gut says; if you've gotta fight it and it doesn't feel right, there's probably a reason.It's good to challenge yourself, try things out of your comfort zone, but if it's not right for the work, then go back to what is.That's how I do stuff.

  9. Hi, Sandie; I’m just basically dropping in to say hello and thank you for your comment on my Victoria blog. But speaking to the subject here, I remember at school experimenting with fractured perspectives in fiction, switching from personal to impersonal as the mood took me.

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