Saturday, May 8, 2010

First or third person?

Kristin Nelson blogged this week about an author's choice of first or third person, and I am stealing her topic today. The conventional wisdom is to use third person if you have two or more points of view, and first person for a single point of view where you want to bring the reader into the protagonist's head.

I don't know if I'm alone here, but I disagree with the generally accepted idea that first person is more intimate. First person is someone else telling you (the reader) the story. The reader doesn't become the protagonist, he becomes the listener. When I read first person, I feel a sense of distance - especially if the protagonist has a distinctive voice that's vastly different from my own.

I'm not saying this is a bad thing - only that it's the opposite of what the writer may be trying to achieve. And maybe it's just me. Maybe most readers do find it easier to immerse themselves in a first-person novel.

A third-person novel can still be entirely from a single POV, of course, and the trend these days is for close third person rather than the more distant narrator-style POV. This makes it essentially the same as first person, but without the "Buy me a drink and I'll tell you a tale..." distancing effect.

3 comments:

Mardel said...

I know you wrote this a while ago, but I'm just reading it now...

Anyway, I love to read first person. In fact, I prefer it. I used to have the opposite feeling, in that I preferred third person, but tastes change.

Something else I've seen that I think works well (sometimes) is first person, with insertions of another pov, first or third person. Not many writers seem to do this, but it can be done.

On the third person narrative, even though I prefer to read first person, and would buy it over a third person narrative, I did pick up your book. I'm enjoying it so much, that I don't even think about it being third person while I'm reading it. It just flows so well. I guess I've read way too many awkwardly written books that were third person, with way to many descriptions, long-winded narrations, etc. (i.e. She threw her long, blond hair behind her bony shoulders as she tiptoed meekly throught the large, crowded room.) To be fair, I've been reading books for a very long time (I'm 49 going on 90 years old!). Debut books used to come out a bit more awkwardly written, or poorly edited. Not "tightened up" I guess. So I used to see this type of narration with first or early novels. I have to admit that the last few debut novels, in fact most debut novels that I've read in the last few years have all read like novels written by very experienced writers.

This is probably a long winded way to say that I'm REALLY enjoying Song of Scarabaeus. By the way. I have NO idea how to pronouce the name. Is the last part pronounece like bee-us? :)

Sara Creasy said...

Thanks for your comments, Mardel, and I'm glad you're enjoying the book. I plan on tackling multiple POVs eventually - wish me luck!

You're not the first person ask about the pronunciation. The way I (or, let's say, the way Edie) pronounces it is: sca-ra-BAY-us.

Himani said...

Heh, I asked in a previous post (the one talking about getting an agent) why you switched from 1st to 3rd POV and then I saw this blog entry, which I think answers my question quite nicely.

I also thoroughly agree with you from both a reader and writer stand point. I definitely don't like the "let me tell you a tale" aspect of first person. In fact, when characters in books say phrases like, "If I knew then what I know now" or "what I didn't realize was..." I cringe. After all, that means whatever bad thing that happens to them, they survived it, which really takes away any risk/suspense I feel.

I feel that 3rd person limited gives the best of both worlds, and right now it's my favorite point of view.

Of course, saying that now means sometime in the future I'll have to try first person and then I'll [partially] eat my words. :P