Thursday, February 17, 2005
First Person POV
Before we continue with POV, some quick housekeeping. Yesterday someone suggested that this blog is receiving so few comments vs. number of people reading because a commenter had to register first. I had it set that way so folks who just happened upon the site couldn’t anonymously make nasty comments. But it did seem to hinder feedback from regular readers. I’ve now taken off that restriction, so comment away without registering. I do ask that you be kind enough to sign your name, however. In the end, the more feedback I hear from you all, the more effective this blog will be.
I did receive a comment yesterday from Stuart. Very thought-provoking. Stuart took up my challenge about writing in first person singular and said why he's doing it. His phrase about an "alien perspective" intrigued me. This will be an interesting novel to read when it's published. Stuart, thanks for showing me how this POV does work for you.
Okay, now to the first person POV issue. What did I learn about writing a four-book suspense series in this POV? It’s doggone hard, more so with each book. Here’s why.
Obvious first reason—you’re stuck in the protagonist’s head. As I’ve noted, that character better be mighty interesting to carry a whole book. But using first person in suspense goes beyond just this challenge. Because the reader is only in the protagonist’s head, and because suspense is supposed to be page-turning and exciting, that means the protagonist has to carry all that action by herself. That’s tough. How ’bout when the action’s going down with other characters? Does the reader just miss out? For example, if the cops pick up a suspect and question him, and I want to show that scene, Annie, my character, has to be there. So I have to establish a believable reason for her presence. Or when the Bad Guy is up to his no-good tricks, and I want to show that, how can I? He’s certainly not someone Annie’s hangin’ out with.
I found two ways around these probems. I’ll discuss them tomorrow.
Second reason—only one protagonist for four books. Said protagonist therefore has to find herself in major do-or-die trouble four times in a row. How to pull this off and maintain believability for the character? I mean, with each book, she’s surely going to be more savvy, less trusting. She’ll be more protected by others and more protective of herself. So how in the world is she still going to end up in trouble by the fourth book? Lemme tell ya, this was not easy. Character motivation and growth is big stuff with me, and I just couldn’t have Annie approach each new story as if it were her first. She had to display the growth she’d experienced in the previous book(s), or readers would have gotten ticked at me in a hurry.
After much cabinet-kicking, I figured out a way to deal with this challenge, too. Again, more on that tomorrow.
For now, let me finish this with a word to the writers, then to the readers about first person POV. Writer—if you’re proposing a three or four book suspense series, think long and hard before you decide on using first person. Especially if your suspense is fast-paced and tense, with lots of danger. This is going to be hard for you to pull off for the same character time after time. I know first person POV is commonly used for the detective, or “private eye” story, but these are different, in that they tend to be more mysteries than suspense. Suspense involves more action, more consistent intensity, while mysteries can play out more slowly. I’m not telling you to avoid first person—I obviously didn’t. I do want you to go into your series fully understanding the extra challenges you will face by choosing this POV.
Reader—if you read a rollickin’ good suspense in first person, give that writer some extra kudos. He’s pulled off a difficult feat. Start paying attention to the challenges of the story. How did the character end up always in the middle of the action? How did the character keep you engaged for the entire book? Try to imagine the story told from the third person multiple POV. Can you? If the writer’s done a good job, you won’t feel like you’ve missed out on any part of the story, because through the protagonist’s eyes, you’ve fully seen the thoughts and actions of supporting characters.
I have to admit, even though I kicked a lot of cabinets, especially when writing book #4, I’m still glad I used first person POV for my Hidden Faces series. But I did use some techniques to make the task easier. One of ’em, you purists might call downright cheating. We’ll see. More on this tomorrow.
Read Part 5