Monday, February 20, 2012

The Writing Craft: Voice First and Third Person

Greetings to all my faithful followers. I am amazed you still come by. My own visits to you are on and off again due to illness and internet troubles. So here we are, discussing writing once more.

As you may know, there are many methods of putting down that book. Omnipresent is one that was popular ages ago and doesn't have much of a place in today's market. So we will not discuss this method. Instead we will discuss the two most popular methods. First Person point of view and Third Person point of view.

More and more books are coming out in first person. What does this mean?

As the writer, you must decide which of your characters you will tell the story through. No other characters thoughts should be expressed except through dialogue with the main character. Since this character is telling your story, the use of 'I' is predominate. That doesn't mean your character doesn't have a name, but we must learn their name through another character.


I pulled the car over clutching the steering wheel with both hands and gasping for a deep breath. Before me, and to the side, ten cars or better had slide on the ice into three semi trucks. Fire engulfed several. I had just missed being the last of the bunch by sheer luck. I grabbed my cell phone and dialed 911. (For those of you not in America, 911 reaches operators to dispatch the police, fire and ambulance personnel.)

As you can see by this example, keep your writing tight, full of tension. The reader will be swept away and find themselves in the same situation as your main character.

Third person point of view allows you, the writer, to give details about the story that your hero or villain is unaware of. This type of writing is just as full of tension and suspense as first person, but the reader is aware of more plot points than with first person.


Melissa clutched her heart. A loud dong sounded from the next room and made her jump. She heard feet shuffling toward her. A shadow crossed the threshold. She dialed 911 on her cell phone without looking at it. Soon a voice answered. "911, What's your emergency?" Before she could breathe, the person to whom the shadow belonged to bolted toward the door.

In this example as in the first, tension is introduced immediately, not back story to explain who your character is or where they are. With practice, you can achieve this kind of tight, tension filled writing too.

Many of you have considered multiple point of view shifts in your story. This is better done with third person. Take care though to use a page break or start a new chapter so your readers don't get confused.

What  you should not do:

Do not combine both styles of writing in one book. There are some well known authors who have a long writing history who can get away with doing this. But even they risk confusing their readers so that the readers will put down their books, never finish and never buy another book from the author. Do you want to be a best seller? Why not? We are allowed to dream. If so, avoid this pitfall.

As always, your comments are appreciated.


Southpaw said...

I've had loads of internet problems too. It is terribly frustrating.

I have noticed that most books I pick up are in 1st person. My current WIP is in third, multi-view.

LTM said...

First person is tricky because that one person has to be present for everything. Or hear about it. Or be told. Or be a super snoop! :D

I might have to use 3rd for my WIP. But I'm resisting~ :o) <3

Nicole MacDonald said...

Ooo, Nancy. 1st & 3rd person in the same story requires a different kind of mind to enjoy it, but there are lots of different minds out there. There has to be, otherwise my books would be tanking.
I hope you're feeling better now and that Tiger & the grandson are well :) I popped a link to Tiger's formatting services on my formatting page, so hopefully that'll send some business her way :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've never attempted first person, only third person, and so far I've stuck to just two characters. Any more and I'd confuse myself!

Carol Kilgore said...

My preference is deep third person. But I enjoy most anything that's well written.

Sorry about your illness and internet woes. Hope all is well now.

The Golden Eagle said...

I'm currently debating whether to rewrite a project in third or first person. I'm leaning toward third person since it more easily allows for shifts, but I know some readers consider first person easier to connect to.

Interesting post!

Clarissa Draper said...

I hope you're on the mend! I have been sick lately too and I just hate it.

I prefer third person but I'm trying to venture into first-person writing just to say I've done it.

Great post.

N. R. Williams said...

How nice to see you all. I can't tell you how much I have missed our regular visits. I'm so glad that you all enjoyed by post. Of course, at times there will be a difference of opinion as with Nicole's comment. To each their own. We all know what we love to read and write. Improving our skills is a challenge that is well worth it.

Thanks everyone.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Nancy .. do hope things improve - particularly your health .. that's always 'down-pulling' .. and it's the first thing that needs getting right.

As long as it's well written it's fine - but I'd write first person for personal stuff I think .. the rest would be third ..

Cheers Hilary

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Hilary
I am getting better. It's slow. I have most of my things in third person but a new challenge is a story I'm developing in first person.

Thanks for coming by.

Anonymous said...

I had to rewrite my first book just because of this very reason. My editor was a huge help in this process. I learned much and my second book was so much easier to write because I stayed with the program of one voice.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Stephen
This is such an easy mistake that writers make. Even after years, I still have to edit POV shifts from my writing. We often don't know we're doing it until its pointed out. Unless we do it deliberately because we don't know better.

Thanks for coming by.