Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Current Musings for Today

Happy mid-week, BGs.

It was great reading the comments from y’all yesterday. Emily, Bret and Scott—thank you for posting. Great to see that you’re with us. Tina—sheesh, ya make me nervous. Five books, eh? I’d better come through for you, or you’ll never read my blog again. ’Course you didn’t say which five you bought. I could do some quick back-pedaling, claim I had a ghost writer . . .

Becky asked an interesting question. I thought we’d take a one day break from our Never-Ending Saga and talk about it. Her question: “Since you found it difficult to sustain a first person POV for 4 books, are you back to third person with Paige? And, if so, how will you maintain the level of intimacy, especially revealing internal conflict, as you did for Annie?”

I know the background to Becky’s question. Hope she doesn’t mind my filling y’all in. Becky does not typically read suspense. However, she had read my Dread Champion. (Remember that naggingly as yet unknown Chelsea Adams book 2 in our NES?) Becky also recently read Dead of Night. She loved Dead of Night. Liked it better than Dread Champion because she felt closer to the main character. Here’s the thing—Dread Champion was in third person multiple point of view (POV). The Hidden Faces series, including Dead of Night, is in first person (Annie Kingston’s POV).

When Becky told me her reaction, I thought about it for some time. Now she asks the question that her reaction immediately brought to my own mind. Can a third person multiple story present the characters with as much intimacy as a first person story? Especially the main character?

I’m not quite sure of the bottom line answer here, and I’d love to hear your opinions. If we’re talking about Dread Champion versus Dead of Night specifically, the answer begins with the fact that they’re in very different series with very different objectives. Eyes of Elisha and Dread Champion not only are in third person, but they both feature ensemble casts. And they are bigger, more complex stories. Yes, Chelsea Adams is the main protagonist. But there are quite a few other major characters, and a slew of minor characters. Both of these books run at least a dozen POVs (some of course appear far more than others). Dread Champion is particularly convoluted, with one main plot and three large subplots, all of which finally converge. On the other hand, the Hidden Faces stories are much shorter, more linear, and in Annie’s first person POV. (Except for the short third person “bad guy POV” chapters.) Page for page, the reader therefore spends far more time in Annie’s POV than in Chelsea’s. More time spent in a character’s POV = greater intimacy with the character (if he/she is written well).

So. I look at these two different set-ups, and my first thought is: how could a reader possibly feel as close to Chelsea as he/she does to Annie, just given the difference in sheer number of pages spent with each one? Then I think: Dread Champion was my fourth published novel. Dead of Night was my eighth. Maybe I’m just better at characterization now?

Well, I hope I’m better. Hope to be learning with each book. Maybe now I could write Dread Champion with better characterization than I did at the time. Still, I’m left with the fact that these are two very different kinds of stories.

A reader who likes a big cast, plenty of subplots, and intrigue in each major character’s life may enjoy the Chelsea Adams books better. A reader who loves the fast-paced, high intensity novel that also features strong characterization may like the Hidden Faces stories better.

Of course the whole point of the question is how this effects the series I’m now beginning to write. It will be in third person. However, the cast will be much smaller. Maybe the protagonist’s (Paige) and about three to four others (including the bad guy.) This will give me more pages spent with each character, especially Paige. Still, besides this set-up, I do think my growth as a writer will also play a part.

Does this mean I don’t like Eyes of Elisha and Dread Champion? Not at all. I still really like both stories. I just think their strength lies in the more complex plot and large cast, while the Hidden Faces strength lies partly in the intimacy with the protagonist.

Bottom line question remains. Can the major character within a large cast, written in third person, ever be as intimately presented as a protagonist in first person? What say you all? And second, how much does this matter to you when weighed against the difference in complexity of plot?

Comment away. And—don’t think for a moment our NES is over. Tomorrow, it'll be baaaaaaack.


Hope said...

I rarely enjoy first person POV. I don't know why, but it's always harder for me to get into the story. I have read occasional ones here and there that I did enjoy, but they are few and far between. I really think it just depends on each reader's preferences.

Suzan Robertson said...

I like to write and to read third person multiple pov in suspense novels. When it's done right, (and Brandilyn does it right) I believe that the reader can get as close to the protag as a first person pov novel. It works when the author remains in the main character/protag/antag pov long enough to give the reader a sense of the character. I think internal monologue helps, especially when the character thinks one way and does the opposite of what she's thinking. I think first person is fine for literary and general fiction, but for suspense, I enjoy third person. It's fun to get into the hero's head, and then the villain's head, and compare the way each one reacts/responds to the plot twists. Sometimes, I write my characters in first person, let them "speak" to me, then convert it over to third person. It's a fun exercise!

Ron Estrada said...

POV fascinates me. I just started reading "Vanishing Acts" because the whole thing is told in first person present tense with multiple POVs. She pulls it off well.

My biggest writing influence is John Steinbek. Correct me if I'm wrong, but he used third person POV almost exclusively. I cannot name an author who has brought me closer to his characters. So, yes, it can be done. And in a complex story, it sure makes life easier. Imagine Clancy trying to write some in depth techno-thriller in first person.

I think it's important for an author to try different POVs, especially with today's reader, who gets tired of routine. Boy, I'm still fascinated by Vanishing Acts, though. What say, Brandilyn, multiple first person present tense? It makes my head spin to think about it.

C.J. Darlington said...

I think the only way a main character with a major cast can be as intimate as first person (done well) is if you give that main character more time on the page than the other supporting characters. If he/she has the same amount of time as others, I don't have anyone to root for. Just whose story is this, anyway?

Using Frank Peretti's Darkness novels as an example, they are notorious for their large casts, but I think he still accomplished us relating to his main characters because he made sure not too many scenes went by before we were in their heads again.

Kelly K said...

I think if the author knows their character inside out they can create intimacy regardless of chosen POV.

A dozen or more POVs has to make for less intimacy because of the pages involved. I haven't read Dread Champion but I have read EOE. IF it would have been 600 pages with more of each character's life displayed, it would have felt more intimate.

But with a gripping edge of seat thriller, do you want to be intimate with all the characters, or do you want to be swept up with the characters who know as much as we know?

We all have our preferences. And we all have our voice that is going to sneak through. If you know Paige and write her to your satisfaction, the book will be hard to put down.

Your 8th book should be different than your 4th, or 1st. Unless you stop learning and testing your limits.

Becky said...

So, I have to actually form an opinion--you're not just going to tell me how it's done? Hahah.

OK. " Can the major character within a large cast, written in third person, ever be as intimately presented as a protagonist in first person? What say you all? " From everything you said, I'd have to say No, a large cast of POV characters can never be as intimate as first person, 1 or 2 POV characters. I think it's the large cast that dictates this, not the 1st vs 3rd POV. (Less "face time," if you will).

So then the natural question: Can a plot still be layered and complex and not have a large cast of POV characters? My gut reaction is yes, but I've never tried to write such a thing. What say you, expert Published Writer, Author of Eight?? ; D

BTW, like Hope, I'm not a fan of 1st POV. But when it is done well (Dead of Night), I get lost in the character as much as in the plot. Seems to me that's the perfect balance, something that great fiction accomplishes.

Katrina said...

Intimacy is honed in more ways than one. Sometimes you learn a lot more about the character by what the other characters think and observe about them.

Lynette Sowell said...

I love to read and write both 3rd person and 1st person. First person, poorly done, can start to ramble. That's why it's as important as ever to make sure why your Chatty Cathy goes on about something. Like we all have friends who talk and talk and talk and either never get to the point, or else they say the same thing three different ways (how's that for a run-on?).