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First Person or Third Person?

 
 
sozobe
 
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 10:13 am
I'm sort of writing a novel. (That is, I have an idea, and I'm writing it, but I'm just kind of seeing where it goes -- if it fizzles after a while, that's OK.)

I'm very engaged with it so far though and having fun.

One thing I'm stuck on is whether to write it in first person or third person.

It's a young adult adventure-y novel, roughly in the Percy Jackson/ Harry Potter category. (Roughly. I'm not saying I'm J.K. Rowling, 'cause I'm so not. I just read the Percy Jackson series though and the meh-ness of Rick Riordan's writing is definitely some of what goosed me into this.... the whole "I could so do that" / "so DO it" thing.)

There is definitely one person at the center of this story.

I do want people to identify with her -- she starts out not particularly sympathetic (she's nice and interesting enough but her life is fine, she's not an orphan, nothing terrible has happened), then something big happens to her. First person gets people on her side/ in her head more quickly, as the big thing doesn't happen until maybe 30-40 pages in, after certain things have been established.

But I'm not sure I want to be constrained by first person in terms of staying inside her head for the whole book/ series. (Yes, if it works, and I'm really not saying it will, just an experiment for now, might be a series.) I'm already having trouble with organically getting descriptions of the main characters in. (Why does she need to describe what her best friend looks like? She knows what her best friend looks like. And I want to avoid the "Hi, my name is Sally, I'm thirteen and I have blonde hair and blue eyes" sort of thing.)

Percy Jackson is first person, Harry Potter is third person.

I think first person can be better for more plot-driven stuff, third person for more literary/ world-building stuff. (This will be more plot/ character driven, I think. It mostly takes place in our current world, with a couple of twists.)

Thoughts?

Thanks!
 
George
 
  2  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 10:27 am
I'd suggest writing in the first person, but setting the narrator some years
into the future. This allows the narrator to see herself as both first and
third person. Since the narrator is, well, narrating, she will have to
describe her best friend Sally to the reader. The narrator may perhaps
adopt an ironic tone when speaking of her younger self or drop hints
about what will happen in the future.

Just my reflections.
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 10:30 am
@George,
That could work.

The only downside is that it's adventure-y enough that her life will be in danger at some points -- if she's narrating from the future, that would remove the suspense. (I.e. it's obvious she survived the life-threatening situation "now" if she's narrating it from the future.)

Good points though, will think about it.
0 Replies
 
ehBeth
 
  2  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 10:52 am
@sozobe,
sozobe wrote:
First person gets people on her side


depends on how she's thinking about things eh
Sturgis
 
  3  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 10:52 am
@sozobe,
When I put together Irish... a few years back, it was third person throughout; until the final chapters when it became first. Although largely a work of fiction, it was based in part on my own life and I felt a need to acknowledge that within the pages.

To really confuse, use a method my grandfather tried, where you bounce back and forth between the two formats. It was more a matter of his telling a story from 2 different vantage points, 1 chapter would be from his, the next would be from another person and dealing with the next leg of the journey (I call all works of fiction journey, as I am traveling in a story). Mind you, my grandfather was not the most successful writer of his time (competing with Hemingway and Steinbeck was just not fair to him); but, he was able to hold a readers attention.

Essentially, you can craft a story and after it is completed, although it is a tedious task, change the way the story is told (from first to third or third to first). When I had some complaints about having switched over to first person at the end, I decided to find out what it would be like if I expressed the last chapters in third person. I didn't like that result at all.

Having read many of your posts here, I know you have the communication skills necessary, and sense the imagination is there as well. (and you are probably a lot better at grammar and punctuation than I am)

The main thing to do, is write the book and enjoy the action of doing it. Keep as updated as you'd like on the progression.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 11:00 am
@ehBeth,
That's a good point, and definitely tricky.

Let me put it another way -- it can be easier to get the reader on the main character's side if it's in first person than if it's third person.

At the beginning of the HP books for example, Harry is a poor besieged orphan living in a cupboard under the stairs and beset with a horrible family, no friends, etc. You are rooting for this creature to get into better circumstances pretty much right away.

At the beginning of this book, the main character has a pretty typical life, with decent parents, some good friends, etc. That all comes crashing down soon enough, but not right at the beginning. (And no I don't kill off anyone either, a different sort of crash.)



Thanks Sturgis! So far I have the first chapter, some of the second, some of a major scene that will happen later (probably fourth chapter), all the characters generally mapped out, and ONE of the major plotlines pretty thoroughly mapped out -- but the other major plotline is still up in the air. I have the broad outlines but they're very broad.
saab
 
  2  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 11:08 am
@sozobe,
I prefer third person books/stories. Somehow I can better indentify with a third person in a story than a first person. I find a first person is already taken up by the author. On the other hand, it is not always the main person I feel for or indentify with.
I also like the style of mixing first and third person in different chapers. Or the third person talks or thinks in part of the story as an I-person. It can also be a story where the third person gets his/hers place in the story and then tell it all in I-form.

Usually I get bored with an I - first person - story.
0 Replies
 
roger
 
  3  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 01:57 pm
@sozobe,
As a reader, I'm comfortable with either on. If you insist on telling the tale from several different points of view, however, I will be unable to be your proofreader.

Ask Roberta.
ehBeth
 
  2  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 02:03 pm
@sozobe,
sozobe wrote:
Why does she need to describe what her best friend looks like?


a general comment here - why does she need to describe what she looks like or what her best friend looks like? and if she does, can't it come up in the general running of the story (edit - organically Very Happy )

... brushed my hair after gym, looked at the x colour hair in the bristles, mine or Danika's? curly. this must be mine.

PUNKEY
 
  2  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 02:09 pm
My favorite author, James Lee Burke, writes in both first and third.

He just keeps the chapter consistent.
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 02:30 pm
@ehBeth,
Yeah, that's what I've been doing, it's just tough!

One thing I did, for example, is that the best friend describes the main character and a crush object as "coordinating." (Both have same color hair, same color eyes.) Main character disagrees, describes several differences, while lingering a bit on the better qualities of the crush object, to the friend's amusement... that sort of thing.

I re-read the first few chapters of Percy Jackson and Harry Potter and decided to go with third person. (They both do just straight-up describing though, pretty standard for the genre. Some of it's organic, most of it's not. Percy is basically the future-self narrating, as George suggested.)

Then I actually started converting and it's lousy! Too much is internal. Reads much more awkwardly when converted.

I can take the material and completely re-write it of course.

Definitely glad I'm trying to puzzle this out before I get too far.

Meanwhile, totally other question -- Sozlet has wanted to read "Hunger Games," I've been resistant, just decided to go ahead with it. We'll both be reading them, me first to screen a bit (I think it will be OK). Do you (everyone here) think it's a bad idea to read a book in a given genre just as you're trying to write a book in a similar genre?
roger
 
  2  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 04:08 pm
@PUNKEY,
I did notice one of the authors I read having done that. Perhaps it was Burke. I also read his daughter, Alifare's stuff, though it's quite different.

Sorry for the digression.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 04:23 pm
I got descriptions of all three main characters in pretty organically, I think I have to go with first person for this. The conversion (from first to third) was eye-openingly tough, and for story purposes it's actually pretty important to be inside the main character's brain for most of it.

We'll see though.

Thanks for your feedback!

(Any thoughts on the Hunger Games part?)
0 Replies
 
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 04:44 pm
@sozobe,
Part of my question is why the descriptions? are they important factors?

I haven't noticed anything missing from my enjoyment of books that have no or minimal physical descriptors.
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 04:47 pm
@ehBeth,
Oh I see.

That's partly a target audience thing. I noticed it was a staple of the genre (I've been reading a lot of YA books because of sozlet), and she was recently complaining about a book because of the dearth of descriptions.

Standard YA first chapter includes age sex physical appearance of every main character. Usually it's pretty unsubtle. ("Sally was thirteen and had blonde hair and blue eyes that usually had a mischievous look in them." Yadda yadda.)
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 04:52 pm
@sozobe,
ahhhh ok
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 05:47 pm
@sozobe,
I've a bias toward third person. How to defend that bias? I'd be sick of I, I, and I some more.

just one reader..
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 05:50 pm
@roger,
A bunch of novels I've read that bounce back and forth over time or points of view drive me nuts with the cuteness of it all. Once in a while I like a non fiction book that does that. But generally, tell me the story already.

edit to say I can take some of that bouncing back and forth, but there's a short leash.
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 05:57 pm
I believe for this type of story, third person. Why? Don't aks me. I'm no expert.
0 Replies
 
Butrflynet
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2012 06:11 pm
I like the way Janet Evanovich does the first person thing in her Stephanie Plum the bounty hunter series of books.

She writes the stories from Stephanie's voice as if she were retelling and describing the events to the reader. She makes good use of dialog between her other characters to break up the "always in my head" monotony.

You can read a lengthy excerpt from one of the latest books in the series to get an idea of what I'm talking about:

http://www.bookbrowse.com/excerpts/index.cfm/book_number/1838/twelve-sharp
0 Replies
 
 

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