It’s the fight of the century.
An integral battle for the aspiring author. The outcome of which, has major repercussions for the tone of any potential novel. It’s the smack down between First and Third person narrative.
Or, at least that’s how it was for me. Though I cannot speak for every potential author out there. I can only speak for my own experiences. Which is essentially the whole point of this blog.
When this wannabe author began to write, I went with my gut. And started writing in the first person. It seemed natural to me, the little stories I’d previously created in my mind had always been in first person. So why should this be any different?
That was, of course, before my last batch of edits. When the story focused more on mental illness and less on magic. Which I changed when I completely re-wrote the first few chapters. I kept the mental health issues, because that is integral to the characterisation of the heroine, but increased the preternatural elements.
During the first, first draft of my novel, I was convinced that first person was the right option for my story. Despite reading online that first person is typically used for Young Adult and Urban Fantasy, while Fantasy is typically third.
Now, my novel falls between Urban Fantasy and true Fantasy. It begins in an urban setting, in modern day Australia, before moving to a newly created world. I’d thought about targeting it toward the Young Adult market, because that seems so popular right now. Except it didn’t fit with the story. My heroine is highly sexual, has had many real, and dark issues in her past, and she curses a lot.
But, I chose first person. I believed that it was better for the novel. Because that was what I was comfortable with. And, because I believed would be a better way to tell my heroine’s story. She is a highly emotional person, her whole life revolves around feeling. So at the time I believed the story needed to be told in first person, to properly describe her experiences.
Regardless of the strong lead that first had in the beginning, third came to steal the win in the end.
When I went back and re-read everything during my editing spree, I realised how wrong I was. Though even when I, on a subconscious level, came to this conclusion, I was resistant. I insisted that the first person was right for my story. That I had been right the first time. Until I finally couldn’t resist the idea of third person narrative any longer.
First person is great. I have nothing against it. Many of my favourite series are written in the first person (the Mercy Thompson series gets a particular mention, as Patricia Briggs is in Australia right now and I wont get a chance to see her, despite my everlasting love for Mercedes and Adam).
But, when you have a main character who is exceedingly emotional, with severe PTSD, anxiety, and depression issues, who also tends to experience emotions physically, first person becomes a bit too much. Or so I thought after re-reading it.
When I re-read everything that I had wrote, it was too personal. Whereas when I first began writing I believed it had to be written this way, so the reader could understand my heroine’s experiences. Now, I see it was too much. At least for the way I was telling the story.
So on a whim one day, I decided to see how it would read if I wrote everything in the third person. And the moment I did, I wondered how I could ever think it worked the other way. The whole story just seemed to fall into place when I changed this one detail.
Once I changed to the third person, I realised that the story would benefit from occasionally hearing from one of the other major characters. Then it became apparent that one of the main plot points, that I had originally intended to keep a secret from the heroine and the reader (with the occasional hint, that would only make sense at the end), worked better when only kept from the heroine.
Because really, is there anything more frustrating in a book than when you know something that the main character does not? Then you shout at the book, shake it, and throw it against a wall, before picking it up again and reading the next chapter (Sarah J. Maas is the queen of this particular phenomenon).
For me, third person eventually seemed to be the right choice. Though it can be harder, and less intuitive. I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, this post is very similar to the one I wrote about sex scenes. The message is, it depends. It depends on the writer, on the story, on the main character, on any other characters that may or may not need their point of view expressed, and on a myriad of other things.
The great debate between first, third, and occasionally second (but really, who uses the second person?), is one that most writers will have to content with. Whether it be by themselves, with their friends/family/beta-readers, with their editor or publisher.
I hope that my own experiences can serve to help others. To overthink their choices, with the hope of improving their story overall. To accept it when they re-think things, and change their minds later on. And to defend their position to the bitter end, if they decide straight away, and refuse to change.
Because only the writer, and the characters, know how the story is to be told.