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First Person or Third?:
Wolf1066My current work is unusual for me in that I'm writing it in first person - I usually write third person - and I'm having the Devil's own job with it. To the point that I'm seriously considering switching it back to third person. Both have their strengths and weaknesses and there were good reasons why I decided to make it a first person narrative - for a start, it'd make the story feel more like it's coming from those who actually went through the events rather than from someone merely reporting what happened to others. One major problem I have is finding my "voice" in the first person, another, I find it really hard to be descriptive of people and places in first person as I feel I come across as stilted and unrealistic branching off into descriptions when writing in first person - probably because I don't tend to use descriptions in actual speech (such as recounting a real event) unless it's utterly necessary. In third person, I generally have no problem describing the events and people. Anyone with any suggestions as to how I can make the transition easier?
Wolf1066As a for-instance, here's an excerpt - I have tried to put some actual descriptions in but only for a few of the characters. The other characters could look like the invaders from Mars Attacks for all we know.
Andrea, Catherine, Helen and I were sitting out in the shade of the veranda enjoying cigarettes and coffees, an eclectic selection of music blaring from inside the house, when a silver Toyota Prius, driving slowly down the road as if the driver were searching for something, came to an abrupt stop just past our gate, reversed up a bit and turned into the driveway. I tried to make out who was in it as I did not recognise the car at all but the angle of the sun was such that the windshield was a streaky pattern of glare. “Visitors, ” said Helen. Her voice was tinged with both puzzlement and expectation, it was clear that she also didn’t recognise the car. “Could just be someone wanting directions, ” said Catherine. “Yeah, nah, ” said Andrea, “they stopped too suddenly when they got a clear look at the letterbox. They were looking for us.” The Prius slowed to a halt on the driveway and a tall man with light brown hair got out. It had been years since I’d last seen him – his face was a little fleshier and his stomach was no longer flat – but I instantly recognised him. A slender woman with long light-brown hair, whom I also recognised, emerged from the front passenger side of the car. They grinned and the man yelled, “surprise.” I was very surprised to see them, of course, but I wasn’t inclined to show it. I looked at my watch. “You’re late, ” I yelled back, eliciting laughter from our visitors. “I hope we don’t inconvenience you, ” said the woman, “I told Artur we should phone but he wanted to surprise you.” “Das macht nichts, Bettina, ” I said, “Art knows of old that I always welcome a surprise visit.” Artur grinned. “I’ve brought us beers.” Attracted by the shouting, my children came running around the side of the house, Conal in the lead followed by Carlin then Vanessa, with Talia bringing up the rear. Artur said something I didn’t catch then the rear doors of the Prius opened and Artur and Bettina’s two blue-eyed, pale-haired children got out. There was a period of confusion and bedlam while introductions were made. This was the first time I had met Karl and Erika and it was the first time Artur and his family had met my children. Artur had met Helen on one of his earlier trips to New Zealand but neither he nor Bettina had met Andrea or Catherine. Once introductions were out of the way, I sent Carlin to fetch sun hats for our guests then my tribe dragged Karl and Erika off to show them their toys and the tree house while we adults settled down on the veranda with fresh coffees and cigarettes. “So what brings you back to New Zealand?” I asked. “We figured that if we didn’t visit now, we’d never be able to afford to ever again, ” said Artur. “The price of everything keeps going up and business was getting slack so we thought we’d come and spend some time in New Zealand.” “How long are you here for?” “Only a couple of months, ” Artur was the only German I had met that could pronounce “th”, “it’s all we could afford.” “We’re booked into a hotel in Hastings, ” said Bettina. “Well bloody-well unbook, you can stay here. You know you’re always welcome.” “Yeah, I know, ” said Artur, “but since we were making a surprise visit, I wasn’t sure if you were home or maybe already had guests. Besides, there’s more of us now.” “We’ll fit you all in somehow, ” I reassured him, “there’s a chook house out the back if necessary.”
edited 17th May '11 5:13:29 AM by Wolf1066
watching down on usWhenever I write prose I usually put a lot of thought into the form in which the story is told. For example, The Exile Of Borghild Brynlaging is told in the form of a journal by the protagonist, so it is naturally in first person. Other stories I have written are told by characters who are not the protagonist, so in the context of the storyteller they are in first person, but in the context of the story are in third. I think you're just going to start over if you want to change perspective. The differences between first and third person in voice are subtle, but fundamental. You are correct in observing that things in first person sound strange in third, and vice versa.
edited 17th May '11 5:44:37 AM by annebeeche
Banned entirely for telling FE that he was being rude and not contributing to the discussion. I shall watch down from the goon heavens.
Wolf1066Yeah, if I changed to third person, I'd have to rewrite from the start. I've already done that once with this work - going from third person to first. It had a different starting point though, so I would'nt be able to use any of the third person stuff I've already written. In my head, I can see how it would be done in third person and some parts would become easier. Other parts would become harder, too as I can see how they would easily come across in first person.
turning and turningWhen you write in third person, do you use omniscient or limited? I find omniscient narrator difficult, and first person can be awkward for the reasons you said, mainly that it's hard to work in description, but I would advise you to try third person limited if you haven't already; it means you can write in the character's voice but not be constrained by it.
Scepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom.
- Clarence Darrow
Wolf1066I usually write third person limited. I've never had much success with third person omniscient.
Short HairThe key to first person is finding the voice of the narrator. You have to put yourself inside the head of that character, and then you have to describe an entire world from there. If you are having trouble with first person, you may want to go back to third. On the other hand, you may want to stretch your abilities and do something that doesn't come naturally. Some day you may have a piece that won't work any other way, and you'll be glad you got some experience with it.
edited 17th May '11 7:49:04 AM by RalphCrown
Under World. It rocks!
I don't have any real ability to do third person omniscient, but I don't see first person and third person limited as being that different, really. The trickiest part is trying to give each character their own voice.
Wolf1066I think part of the problem is that I don't see the narrator branching off into vivid descriptions of everything and everybody, which leaves the story basically "what happened, what people did and what people said". When I'm writing in third person, I can fall back on literary conventions and make a more descriptive piece but I'm imagining that the first person narrator's telling you this story over a few drinks. The bits where I inserted some description seem to me to, as we say over here, "stick out like dog's balls" from the rest of the narrative. He's erudite - rather geeky, fond of words and word-play - but not very big on describing. Perhaps pick a different narrator or just switch to third person limited.
A first person narrator seems more prone to author tracts but that might be just my opinion.
If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied -Rudyard Kipling
^ I doubt it.
If I'm asking for advice on a story idea, don't tell me it can't be done.
Wolf1066I'm sure that there are just as many opportunities for Author Tracts in Third Person. A thought I had last night was that if I went with third person limited and changed the viewpoint character to whomever is most relevant to any given scene it would help the readers empathise with more of my Loads and Loads of Characters and make it less about one main protagonist and more about an Ensemble Cast. After all, even if the 1st-P narrator gave equal page space to all of the others, his are the only thoughts and feelings with which the readers are going to be truly intimate. The "fix" for that is for the narrator to be as objective as possible about his own thoughts/feelings (nigh impossible anyway) at the cost of the reader having anyone at all to empathise with. With 3rd-PL, I could have primary viewpoint characters from each of the Cast Herds for when I'm describing events within the various houses. For other scenes I could use the character most affected by the events of the scene as the viewpoint character. And ensure I have enough scenes between characters who are not the primary viewpoint characters of their herd so they get a chance to be a viewpoint character, too.
Writer's Welcome WagonIs there a way to use both 1st person and 3rd person alongside each other? I think that would make a great effect.
Wolf1066That naturally occurs when the narrator recounts things that happened to other people elsewhere but, unless it's made clear that the narrator later interviewed the people and got their thoughts and feelings, it would be a mere recounting of events. Short of having multiple narrators who are all involved in the events, I can't think of any way to mix first and third person views of the same person.
The problem with your excerpt is that it's too formal and doesn't match the dialogue. Yes, it is accepted that the narration will be somewhat more formal than the dialogue, but first person is supposed to match the speaker's dialogue.
“You’re late, ” I yelled back, eliciting laughter from our visitors.That's the epitome of Sophisticated as Hell. The narrator doesn't seem like the sort to use "eliciting" in speech, so seeing it in the person's thoughts is quite jarring. In fact, the formality isn't consistent even if I just look at the dialogue tag. It basically looks like you took a piece written in third person and switched some pronouns around. You also tell rather than show, in the sentence before that.
I was very surprised to see them, of course, but I wasn’t inclined to show it.Better example: I wrenched my eyebrows down from where they'd risen in my surprise. "You're late, " I yelled, which got a laugh from them both.
edited 18th May '11 8:38:37 PM by Leradny
Wolf1066Cheers for that. It is a bit of a mess, I admit. I actually wrote that from scratch as 1st person but you can certainly see 3rd person writing showing through. Hardly surprising, given I generally write 3rd person.
edited 19th May '11 12:38:07 AM by Wolf1066
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