While writing “Red+Blue”, I came to the conclusion that this method works only to a point. There are subtle differences in the resulting versions that only appear when you look at a quantity of words. This blog is a discussion about what I discovered.
Why Third? because … “I Refuse to Read Books told in First”
How many times have we heard that! I suspect some readers find it difficult to empathise with a character who is not of their gender or who they can’t relate to when it comes to moral and ethical choices. Perhaps others find it squicky to be involved as the “participant” in down and dirty sex scenes.
Shifting the perspective to third allows them a slight distancing.
Another characteristic of first person POV is that the character and the reader should have absolutely no knowledge of what is going on in another person’s head, i.e. doesn’t know their motivations or reasoning. Sure, interpreting body language can give them some indication, but it’s not the same as “being inside that person’s head”.
The current trend or fashion in romances is to switch the POV in deep third between the two protagonists. Although some, like Isabelle Rowan’s “A Note in the Margin” and Catt Ford’s “A Strong Hand” use multiple points of view.
Some books switch POV constantly, paragraph to paragraph. Marquesate’s and Vashtan’s“Special Forces” is a good example of this, reflecting the fact that the book was written by two writers, working on the same document at the same time. The serial soap I’ve been involved in with DSP authors, Andrea Speed, Jessie Blackwood and J.J. Levesque: “Redemption Reef” and“Second Chances” was also done that way.
The difference here is that you immediately know where the other person stands and how they have reacted to the previous action or word.
Some Good Examples of Effective First Person
I’m always intrigued by the way different writers have used the first person perspective to good effect. In “The White Knight”, Josh Lanyon told the story from the POV of the same person, but switched from first to third to show one was taking place in the present and one in the past.
It’s also used to interesting effect in Tom Collins’s “When Irish Eyes are Sparkling” where there is dual first person.
First person POV allows the author to draw the reader closer, almost colluding with them, by using little quips, as if they’re telling them a tale.
However, it can also be used to keep the reader distant by excluding certain facts. Typical of these is the unreliable first person narrative used in stories like Clare London’s “Freeman” where the viewpoint character deliberately conceals his reasons for chasing Kit. Or in the case of Ash Penn’s“Stray”, the viewpoint character’s harsh opinion of himself is only seen to be erroneous by the way the other characters relate so positively towards him. All bark and no bite.
When I wrote “Red” and “Blue” I wanted the reader to feel that the character was chatting directly to them. Giving them their versions of the events.
But You Can’t KNOW That!
Years ago, I’d watched “The Norman Conquests”, a great TV series in which the same scene is rehashed from the different perspectives of the participants.
Unless we are blessed with clairvoyance or have great communication channels open, we don’t know what motivates people or even what happens while we’re apart. I wanted to convey this part of my characters lives before they get together. The conclusions we draw from what we see and hear may be accurate, but they may also be wrong based on misinterpretation of signals or deliberate design.
The characters in long stories in first person POV can almost come across as self-absorbed or even self-obsessed. It’s all about “them”. This can be a good or bad thing.
Interestingly, when I tried switching the first person to third, the characters felt more distant. When using first person, in a lot of these scenes, the character and the reader are the ones most intimately involved.
Getting the Balance Right
This is all very well when the characters are by and large apart, but what happens when they are together? First person POV becomes almost impossible then.
What then was I to do when the two characters of the book are together? Keeping the story in first (using one of the characters) proved to be totally different from writing and then reading it in third person. The reader may not have been as involved, but the characters felt more of a pair, less self-absorbed. Perhaps this difference was just in my mind, my perception, but after experimenting a lot with POV writing, I could sense the difference.
I also discovered that writing directly in third person resulted in more showing and less telling.
“First” naturally lends itself to confessions and a lot of thinking. Because this doesn’t work so well in third, more dialogue is needed. This also serves to draw the characters together and keep them on a more equal footing in relationship to the reader.
Which to Use
When discussing POV choice with other writers and teachers, the usual remark is to do what works best. Linnea Sinclair (a romance scifi writer) says always use the viewpoint of the character with the most to lose in the scene.
Even at the final editing stage of “Red+Blue”, a suggestion was made to switch the POV to the other character at a crucial part of the story. The switch worked brilliantly. Thanks DSP editors!
A number of unwritten “rules” were broken when writing the book. All I can say is that each was done deliberately.
I’ll be interested to get feedback from readers and fellow authors about whether they noticed the changes and their reaction to them.