Sunday, January 29, 2012
First and Third
No, I'm not writing about baseball. Today, I'm going to look at first-person vs. third-person viewpoint.
I've written in each and I don't think I have a clear preference. Each has its perks and drawbacks. With third person, I like being able to shift the POV around. If the protagonist is in a tight spot, it's easy to build suspense by writing a few scenes from other characters' viewpoints, allow some more action to happen, and then come back to the protagonist. With first person, I like the limitation that my POV character has to be present in every scene, so the readers (and the protagonist) don't see anything happening "off camera." There are occasions I think it would be easier to mix in the occasional scene from another character's POV. I've read first-person novels that have used such a technique, usually italicizing the other character's segments. To me, it feels like a cop-out. Maybe if your novel involves a first-person narrator ending up in a coma and you want to fill that story time by using other perspectives, OK. It still feels kind of cheap to me, though.
I got to thinking about first-person vs. third-person because of something I started writing late last year. We were deep in crunch time for the wedding and I had a character pounding at the inside of my head, demanding to be put onto the screen. I got a few chapters finished, realized I had to do a lot of planning and plotting, and moved on to something else. I had sated that new character jones and could go back to it later. When I wrote those few chapters, I wrote them in the first-person POV. Looking back on it, I think third-person would be better. The nature of the character and the story means a lot can happen "off-screen" and I want to be able to write about that. Besides, I've been writing a lot of mysteries lately and they're first-person (as mysteries tend to be). Writing something in another perspective is good practice.
At some point this year, I think I'll sit down, do some planning and plotting for that new character's novel, and revise it to be in the third person (or just start it over). As writers, I think we have to flex these muscles from time to time. We have to step away from what we know or what we do frequently to try something different. It's all part of the process and the evolution.