Monday, 24 November 2008

Writing in Third Person: Limited or Omniscient or Objective or whatevah

I am sad to say that I have not yet been able to write a sufficiently accomplished story in third person. That isn't to say that I haven't tried – all my book attempts (5) had been third person – until Possum Fall, which was in first. PS managed to fall from my fingers to the computer excessively easily, which makes a wonderful argument for using First person all of the time. In a way, I can agree with the old 'but first person is too easy' standpoint. But I can also agree with the idea that first person is limiting and difficult to do right. Here was a nice article saying, in essence, 'You have to decide.'

 

But. I must disagree.

 

I want to get better at writing in other ways, and I knew The Forester's Son would be third person because of the feeling I got whenever I thought about it. The boy. The location. Who he meets – and what he has to do. It's spooky, it's outside my comfort zone, but it's what I hazta do.

 

This seems to indicate that out of all the possible third person types, I'm a Third Person Objective (Or heck, maybe omniscient, but let's stick with Objective) with FS:

 

Third Person Objective : The author relates to the reader only what can be seen or heard by a character, usually the main character. The reader is left to interpret the feelings and thoughts of the other characters by what they say or do.

 

I've started, and I'm almost seven thousand words in as I write this now. By the time you read it, I'm likely even farther. But I want to make sure I'm doing this third person thing correctly, so of course I read about it and want to get all my links down here so I have them to look at – afterward – to check and read over before I start edits.

 

I found a nice article here detailing why first or why third? She actually had some nice reasons for writing in First versus not:

 

  1. You can fall into cliches. Think of all the first person detective novels about hard-boiled private eyes.
  2. If your book is plot-driven, as opposed to character-driven, it might be harder to pull off.
  3. If something happens to the main character that is very traumatic, first person might be too close.

 

I have two main viewpoint characters: The bad guy, Polkovnik Petrov, and my good guy, Jakob. The others in the story are all working off these two. I do want to show the inside of the bad guy's brain, (and yes, I *really* don't like him), but he does deserve some time on the page so that others can relate to Jakob a little more. The setting of FS is unusual, and I wanted to give them enough personality of the both to work on so that they were able to recognize human nature in it and work off that.

 

I do not think that FS would be the book I expect it to become if I used First person. That's just all there is to it.

 

Third person is better for you if you need a more detached view of the book, a detached narrative voice. PS doesn't need that – she goes through things but she grows and becomes a better person. This setting and place that FS happens in is much darker and more hopeless, and I want that certain distance between them.

 

This seems to indicate that I'm doing the thing the right way. Which is obvious, says my head, I'm giving you the book that way. Just deal.

 

But then, it begs the question I ask of you now: What is 'voice' in Third Person? Is first much easier to find a voice in than third?

 

My personal view is yes to the second, dunno to the first, but I'll have to let you know on that. I'm still researching it.

1 comment:

Heidi said...

It is an interesting conundrum. I always wrote in third person until SKON, and it needed to be first. I both loved and hated it at the same time.

Some stories really need one or the other. I liked all your links. There is some good info in there.

My own opinion? The more you write, the more you are able to know which way your story needs to be told. Like P, it comes to you that way.

Both ways have limitations and freedoms. I think third is harder to find voice, but certainly not impossible. One agent said I had a great voice because of the cadence of my writing... not because of Babs sassy southern voice.

And I have read lots of books where the first person is still very bland. First person can be really dynamic, but it takes hard work and skill to pull it off well.