Thursday, November 5, 2009

First Person POV

I find it interesting the surge in First Person Narrative books lately. First person is when a story is told from the main character's perspective. I, me, we, are used frequently rather than he, she, them which is Third Person Narrative.

Not only has more books been published in First Person, but they have been hugely successful. Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series. Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson novels. Maria V. Synder's Poison Study trilogy. Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi.

You want more? From the USAToday Best Seller list:
Push by Sapphire
The Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
The Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead
The Lighning Thief by Rick Riordan
The Time Traveler's Wife (yes, both Clare and Henry are narrators, but the author identifies who is narrating at the beginning of each scene.)

I could go on, but I've made my point. There are a number of current best selling books that use First Person.

So what, right? Out of all the books out there, it would make sense for some to be written in First Person. Well, not exactly. There are numerous articles and writing advice that consistently say to use Third Person for creative writing. I won't list them all, but here's one. The general opinion is that writing in First Person is something that beginner writers do. Some literary agents refuse to consider it. There is nothing wrong with that; that is their choice. However, look at the best seller list again.

Personally I'm thrilled that First Person is getting so much success. It's darned easier to write than Third Person.
1. You place yourself in the head of a single character.
You totally submerge yourself in this other character. How does she see the world around her? How did her upbringing and events in the past affect her choices and personality? What does she think of other people? How does she perceive herself in the group dynamic?
First Person narrative is easier to do character development with because you know every thought the character has, without writing something corny like, that's enough television for today, she thought. First Person allows you to write, I've had way too much boob tube today. The character's personality and vernacular are allowed to shine.

2. Plot twists are easier.
I find the limiting view of First Person narrative to be not limiting at all. Readers often complain they are only getting one side of the story, the side the protagonist sees and what she can figure out. That's true of First Person. There will be a lot going on behind the scenes that the protagonist is not aware of. Then again, did Harry Potter know everything that was going on? So that argument is not true of Third Person either.
As a writer, I love the fact my protagonist only knows things from her perspective. That's more like real life. And I can throw twists into the story that she, and hopefully the reader weren't expecting. For example, your protagonist is skipping along living a happy life. She notices one of her friends, Matt, has been in a bad mood for a week, but she figures it was because he got in trouble for something at home. She totally wasn't expecting his bad mood was because she said she'd go to the dance with another guy. The clues that Matt is in love with her are subtle, but she (and the reader) miss them, until they go back and analyze the events up to that point.

3. Emotions are easier to portray.
Third Person narrative is tough when it comes to emotions. Let's use anger for example.
A boiling wave emanated from Annie. Her fingers shook at what Tim said to her.
Melodramatic, isn't it?

I wanted to kick his ass, and I thought about all the ways I could do it. Baseball bat, copper pipe, headbutt, spiked heel, etc. I wasn't in the mood to be picky.
Better, yes?

Maybe the creative writing experts are correct, and First Person is the mark of a beginner writer. Oh well. I find Third Person to be laboring, and who the heck wants to labor through a 90,000 word manuscript? Bring on the First Person, baby.


J.Rose Allister said...

Sometimes it is a bit trickier for me to write, but I agree with everything here. My favorite thing about 1st person is it draws the reader in VERY close to the action, especially compelling during tense, romantic, or scary scenes. I'm surprised it didn't take off sooner.

Clare London said...

Thanks for a very encouraging post on first person POV! I must admit, I like for all the reasons you state. I like to immerse myself in a character's mind and actions. I admit that it requires skill to make sure you have the other character's motivation strong enough, but it's much more of a writing buzz for me. And of course, it helps prevent me head-hopping LOL.