Sunday, February 20, 2011

Third Person versus First Person

I've seen some authors who will argue relentlessly about the pros and cons about Third Person versus First Person.

This is the simple truth. It always depends on the story, as well as genre.

But no! Some will cry. Horror novels are always written in the Third Person! You'll never publish the story otherwise. Never ever! Or, alternatively, pfft, First person is for amateurs and you'll never get anywhere with that.

*coughs* bullshit *coughs*

Dracula by Bram Stoker – first person.

Take your pick of stories, H.P. Lovecraft – first person.

Bag of Bones by Stephen King (as well as a number of books) – first person.

I could go on and on...

My point is, and I do have a point, all the authors and books mentioned above are written in the First Person because that suited the story, their own style, and the genre. Stephen King, for example, has written a number of books in the Third Person, because that suited the story.

I'll give another example from the opposite end of the spectrum: Romance.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers – Third Person.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks – First Person.

Both have done very well commercially, to the point they really can't be compared. If either of these books were written in different perspectives, I guarantee they wouldn't be considered well-written novels, because the chosen perspectives are true to the story and the genre.

Personally, I'll chose one over the other based on two things – the level of intimacy that may be needed for the story and how much of a narrator the main character is. If I'm dealing with a main character who is a good narrator, very observant, capable of seeing everything to tell the story, I'll consider First Person. If I don't have main characters who can really show everything, I'll consider Third Person. The level of intimacy I find is dependent on how much the reader needs to be put in the main character's shoes. I'll give examples.

The two short stories on my website, free to read, Never Could and I Can't Hear you, We're Breaking Up.

Never Could is written in the Third Person, but it's also told from the perspective of the main character, who isn't a very good narrator, because he doesn't see everything around him and doesn't realize everything until the end of the story. Also, there are some emotional issues involved and it's a drama. If I had written it in the First Person, the story would be too intimate and frankly, the character would have come across as whiny. Considering he's a full grown adult, that would just be wrong and an unpleasant read.

I Can't Hear You, We're Breaking Up, is written in the First Person and it's dark comedy with paranormal elements. Julia is a fantastic narrator with a strong observant voice, who has the sense of humor needed for the story. If I wrote it in the Third Person, that humor would have been completely lost. Hence, literary intimacy and more importantly, dark humor.

Understanding the elements involved with choosing a perspective, is more about getting into the character's heads and living in the story as if it's happening right this second. That takes imagination and innate talent. You can keep in mind all these technical details, but they will never replace talent. Both skill and talent go hand in hand with any fictional story. Talent is innate, skill is learned. Combine both, and you have a craft.

The fact remains, as I often say, and I'll keep repeating myself until the whole world bloody well listens to me, creative writing is a Craft. That's right, with a capital C. It's not a career choice. It's not a job. It's a CRAFT.

There's no secret formula. There really isn't one right perspective, Third, First, or even Second, all can work well for a story with respect to the genre. If the writer isn't very good or the story plain sucks, none will work. All anyone can do is keep practicing the Craft, read a lot of books, and hope to get somewhere someday.

Happy writing :)

My next post will be about Showing versus Telling.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
If you're not a spammer,
I'd love to hear from you.