Monday, December 7, 2009

Writing in First or Third Person

In my forty-plus years of writing experience, most of my characters have been portrayed in third person.  He, him, she, her, they, them… but I’ve also written a few stories in first person.  I, me, we, us.  (Those pronouns are so much fun.)

One of my favorite authors in the world right now is Sue Grafton, who's written up to "U" in the alphabet mysteries (the Kinsey Milhone series), and her books are in first person, written in Kinsey’s POV (point of view).  I like reading them, and Sue somehow manages to get through each book without glimpses of what other characters are doing while Kinsey is busy having dinner with her sweet, elderly landlord Henry or bopping around in her beat-up VW.  Some authors can’t pull that off.  It’s hard to be exclusive to one POV in a story since serious stuff might be going down somewhere else that the first person perspective can’t report since they’re busy getting it on with their main squeeze or chasing down a bad guy.

But each story has its own choices, its own entity that dictates the POV and each author has his or her own brand of tale-telling.  When I was younger, I downright despised to read any story told in first person, but now, since I’ve enormously broadened my spectrums, preferences and genres, I can truthfully say that I enjoy first person books.  You get a more in-depth understanding of the character, his/her thoughts, wants, needs, values – even aches and pains.  Who wouldn’t be able to associate with the inner emotional, mental and spiritual working of an ordinary human with all the same feelings every person experiences?  To read that a woman gets out of bed with a migraine, that the headache is complicated by inflamed sinuses and neck pain puts me in that role for a while, and I am totally sympathetic.  I can follow her as she drags her aching ass into the kitchen where she pours cold, day-old coffee into a cup, heats it in the microwave, stirs in a spoonful of powdered creamer and trudges to the computer to check her email.  But to read that a character hops nimbly up and sings while cooking eggs and toast, then goes on a five-mile sprint – I simply can’t relate to that woman at all.  She’s way out of my league and makes me feel inferior.  Sure, I’d like to be that woman.  Wouldn't anybody?

I’ve written a few stories in first person.  My story ‘Retrospect’, published by Torquere Press was actually three stories, each in a different man’s POV.  Shelby, Tim and Micah each told their short story, all three connected with the ‘going back in time’ theme.  It was great fun to write, and I’ve thought about doing that again with longer stories. 

Most of my stories, though, like the Mirror Twins series and the Tag Team chasers, are in third person.  It’s easier to write multiple characters if you can insert the three asterisks and begin a new section with another person’s POV, so that you can see the developing romances and possibilities as the plot progresses.  Keeping the POVs straight isn't that easy sometimes, making sure every character has a distinctive personality that shines through.  With the help of Iris, my awesome editor, it’s been fun distinguishing my Mirror Twins, Pan and Leo.  They’re identical, but they’re very different.

Either way, first person or third person POV, I’m no longer discriminating about the way I read or write.  I like ‘em all.


Anonymous said...

I microwave old coffee first thing in the morning, while I'm waiting for the new pot too! I need it fast at 6am!


Rozlyn Sparks said...

Great topic. I'm torn between first and third. Like you, I have written stories in both. It all depends on what the muse tells me when I am writing. Some stories will only work in 3rd and some will only work in first. Each on has it's perks.

Willsin Rowe said...

My first published story was called "Hearts and Beats" and I used shared first person for that one. It was an interesting exercise. Throw in the asterisks, then continue with "I" but in a different head. I don't really have a preference for one over the other, though.

Sarah Levin Colter said...

Secretia, I love my microwaved coffee. :) I'm drinking my second cup of day-old coffee now, while the pot is brewing a fresh batch. :) It gets me through the day. :)

Roz, I seem to alternate back and forth between first and third, too. it just depends on the story and the characters. :) Thanks so much!

Willsin, I would love to read 'Hearts and Beats'. From what I've read of your blogs, I know your stories are going to be awesome!

That's a good idea, having a first person story with the asterisks! I haven't done that yet, but I've thought about it. :)

Hugs all around!

Jenna Alexander said...

I love Sue Grafton also!! I haven't read T or U yet so don't tell me what happens.

Most of my stories are in the first person. Right now I'm working on a fluffy paranormal piece that is third person. What a challenge! It was hard making the switch.