One piece of advice often given to newbie writers is to choose the point of view that best fits the story you’re trying to tell. Something that’s shared less often is that for many flavors of genre fiction there seems to be a consensus on that ‘best’ point of view choice. Certainly that’s the way it works for the four hundred or so books in the main menu of my kindle.
For straight romance, I like to know what both hero and heroine are thinking, and I like to get deep into their heads. Two or more viewpoints suits a third person narrator. That’s how I write it, and that’s what I find in all my keeper historical, suspense and paranormal romances, and most of the contemporaries.
I don’t read much young adult, but I believe it’s usually written in first person, supposedly because younger readers enjoy the immediacy and feeling of closeness with the point of view character. I suppose that makes sense, because our teens and twenties are a time of new experiences and self-discovery, so a degree of navel-gazing comes with the territory.
Elizabeth said in her recent post I said, she said that cozy mysteries are also often written in first person. I’m not much of a cozy reader so I’m not sure why that would work well – maybe the mystery is secondary to the cozy detective’s personality and world, and this is the best way to showcase those elements?
And then there’s my current obsession – fantasy. I’d say about one in five of my favorite e-books are fantasy or urban fantasy, and they’re overwhelmingly written in first person. They may have romantic elements and strong secondary characters, but they all have a dominant lead character who is the voice of the story and who carries the reader through their magical journey of challenge and change.
That’s the kind of story I’m currently writing, and sure enough, I want my heroine, Alexis, to be the one to tell it. I’m finding it difficult to adjust, though, because letting a character recount their own story offers a particular kind of intimacy. The story is all about them, but if they spend too much time talking about themselves they come across as some kind of self-obsessed windbag, all me, me, me, I, I, I. Everyone knows somebody who talks endlessly about themselves, and it’s not an attractive trait. That person is not somebody you’d pay money to listen to. And just as in real life, somebody else can say things about a person that they should never say about themselves.
So I’m discovering that writing well in first person is a more subtle challenge than I had appreciated. I’ve been revisiting the first person books on my kindle to see how authors I like have set up their story and established their main character, and to see how they avoided the problem of me, me, me, I, I, I. Take a look at the excerpts below and see what you think.
Ben Aaronovitch – Rivers of London / Midnight Riot
It started at one thirty on a cold Tuesday morning in January when Martin Turner, street performer and, in his own words, apprentice gigolo, tripped over a body in front of the East Portico of St Paul’s at Covent Garden. Martin, who was none too sober himself, at first thought the body was that of one of the many celebrants who had chosen the Piazza as a convenient outdoor toilet and dormitory.
Ilona Andrews – Magic Bites
I sat at a table in my shadowy kitchen, staring down a bottle of Boone’s Farm Hard Lemonade, when a magic fluctuation hit. My wards shivered and died, leaving my home stripped of its defenses. The TV flared into life, unnaturally loud in the empty house.
I raised my eyebrow at the bottle and bet it that another urgent bulletin was on.
The bottle lost.
Patricia Briggs – Moon Called
I didn’t realize he was a werewolf at first.
My nose isn’t at its best when surrounded by axle grease and burnt oil – and it’s not like there are a lot of stray werewolves running around. So when someone made a polite noise near my feet to get attention I thought he was a customer.
Jim Butcher – Fool Moon
I never used to keep close track of the phases of the moon. So I didn’t know that it was one night shy of being full when a young woman sat down across from me in McAnally’s pub and asked me to tell her about something that could get her killed.
Darynda Jones – First Grave on the Right
I’d been having the same dream for the past month – the one where a dark stranger materialized out of smoke and shadows to play doctor with me. I was starting to wonder if repetitive exposure to nightly hallucinations resulting in earth-shattering climaxes could have any long-term side effects. Death via extreme pleasure was a serious concern. The prospect led to the following dilemma: Do I seek help or buy drinks all around?
Karen Marie Moning – Darkfever
My philosophy is pretty simple – any day nobody’s trying to kill me is a good day in my book.
I haven’t had many good days lately.
Not since the walls between Man and Faery came down.
But then, there’s not a sidhe-seer alive who’s had a good day since then.
Megan Whalen Turner – The Thief
I didn’t know how long I had been in the king’s prison. The days were all the same, except that as each one passed, I was dirtier than before. Every morning the light in the cell changed from the wavering orange of the lamp in the sconce outside my door to the dim but even glow of the sun falling into the prison’s central courtyard. In the evening, as the sunlight faded, I reassured myself I was one day closer to getting out.
What do you think?
I didn’t notice when I enjoyed the book as a reader, but I was impressed to discover that Ben Aaronovitch’s hero Peter Grant doesn’t introduce himself until page 3 in the paperback version of Rivers of London. Instead he describes the crime scene, the Metropolitan police’s routine follow-up procedures and London life in general from the street-level perspective of a low-ranking insider, introducing us to his sharp powers of observation, pitch-perfect Londoner vocabulary and darkly funny asides, before he adds himself into the mix:
Which is how I came to be standing around Covent Garden in a freezing wind at six o’clock in the morning, and why it was me that met the ghost.
Did you especially like or dislike any of the excerpts above? Why?
Do you have any other favorites or recommendations? Please share!