Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I’m still struggling to get going on Book Three. There are some beginning pages, but they’re from the point of view of the female protagonist as a teenager, including some of her fantasies. (Got to get the sex in there early, you know.) A fellow writer pointed out that this could cause some censorship problems. There’s no actual underage sexual activity, just a young person fantasizing, but is it too fine a line? I don’t know, but I probably should ask my publisher.

The other advice I got was to use third person. And I struggle with this, too. Both my other books ended up as this weird anomaly: first person from her POV, third person from his. Readers were taken aback but got used to it. I was going to make this one first person all the way through. When I’m trying to convey a strong female character, first person just seems to flow better. Third person seems to cramp my style; it goes wooden on me. But it’s not as if I haven’t used third person; why can’t I make it work in this case? The advantage being that my male protagonist needs a presence, too, and not just through her. I don’t know; I’m stuck.

The person who suggested third person also advised me to start with the protagonist as an adult, and refer back to the early days if necessary. This could work, but in this case something really major starts for this girl when she’s in high school, and that’s where I’ve been beginning. To convey that powerful event as a flashback and in third person seems to suck the juice right out of it. And yet…I’m sure it could be done. I just don’t know if I’ve got the skill to do it. (Or if I want to.)

Present tense is another thing I play with from time to time. Back when I was in the final edit stages on As She’s Told, I actually rewrote at least 50 pages in present tense. (There may have been a certain avoidance going on there; the longer the editing took, the longer I could put off searching for a publisher.) Since the book starts with a flash forward, it really didn’t work in present tense no matter how hard I tried. It finally dawned on me that present tense books have to have very straightforward timelines; no jumping around. You can refer to the past, but you have to stick to the present.

As you can tell, I seem to have this yen to do rather advanced structural stuff, without really having the literary chops to pull it off.

Struggles with the basic structure do tend to preoccupy me before I start, but I’d say this particular struggle is going on way too long. I’ve got a couple week’s vacation coming up and I’d like to make some actual progress.

So tell me, are your favourite books in first or third person? Does it make any difference to how you feel about a character? Two characters?

For the writers, any advice on how you get the structure sorted out in advance? I’m open to advice. Though I make no promises to take it. Because the reality is that I’m a just a tad oppositional. Not to mention opinionated. And stubborn.

On the plus side, your arguments might just make me push back hard enough to come up with a workable line of action and stick to it; wouldn’t that be great? ;-)


  1. I think my favorite books are third person, but there are some notable exceptions. In every case, though, it's because the first person's narration provides a self-conscious slant on what's going on, and the writer sticks to that and embraces the way that limits the reader's knowledge. I guess to put it another way, first person, for me, would be a choice to make if I *didn't* want the reader to know the second protagonists feelings/desires/etc, but only guess at them and wonder along with the viewpoint character what he's going to do next.

  2. Anneke,

    I usually enjoy third person over first, but there are a few books I've read that were in first person.

    As for exploring the character's fantasies and the incident in her teens, you could actually use first person as she recalls the incident, or she could journal her fantasies in first person, then the rest of the book would be in third person.

    I only have one book written in first person, "Meeting A Neighbor's Needs", but I'm going to start working on rewriting it into third person.


  3. So what makes you two prefer 3rd person? Any idea?

  4. I am in the opposite. I vastly prefer 1st person, especially if the 1st person is the sub. In fact, 1st person is important enough to me that I read excerpts before I buy a book, and if its not in 1st person, then I tend to stay away unless something really catches me. Anneke, I was completely fine with you switching from 1st to 3rd in your books, in fact that was one reason I found it so appealing. It just feels more personal, and it lets me escape into the fantasy easier. It lets me get into the character's head, rather than an observer.