Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How did you choose your novel's perspective?


I'm really stretching myself with the new novel I'm working on - I'm telling it from a girl's perspective in the first person.

Why? Well, it makes narrative sense. I want this world to feel believable and felt like telling it in first person would help with the authenticity. Most importantly, and when I started it that way it felt like the right approach.

There are so many different ways to tell a novel. How did you arrive at your perspective?

Art: Guitar on a Table by Juan Gris






33 comments:

Curtis Edmonds said...

Voice.

If you can give the first-person character a strong, clear, interesting voice, and you can write in that voice consistently and effectively, then that's what you want to do. If your character can't carry the story by herself for whatever reason (maybe she's taciturn and closed, maybe there are too many other characters and perspectives to use just one voice) then choose another perspective.

CourtLoveLeigh said...

I wrote and scrapped two drafts that were both in first person, and I had sort of given up on figuring the story out. But then I read a book where the narration goes back and forth between third person limited and first person. I tried it and it seems to really be working!

The book that inspired this idea was WHERE THINGS COME BACK by John Corey Whaley :)

daniel t. radke said...

It's a little embarrassing to admit, but I've never written in anything besides first-person POV. Majored in Creative Writing, been writing since I was 12, but when I write in third or omni, it just feels wrong. Can't do it.

And now that I think about it, maybe that's why I have such a hard time with plot. Only able to get information out through one lens. Huh.

But all my POV characters are interesting/crazy, so I got that going for me, which is nice.

D. B. Sundstrom said...

My WIP spans a considerable length of time and has 4 MCs, so I decided to write it from each of their POV. Each chapter moves chronologicalally and focuses on one character (until the end), so I naturally chose third person omniscient with the head jumps being limited to one character per chapter. Once I am at the final scene, the POV character will be the one I most want the reader to end the story with.

Lane Diamond said...

I started out my first book as a third-person tight POV (protagonist), because so many literary agents indicated they profoundly disliked first-person narratives (no doubt because they tend to devolved into a narcissistic string of I, I, I, I, I, I, I).

However, a hundred pages in, I realized I wasn't quite capturing the emotional content that was so critical to pulling off my story. Thus, I decided to try converting it to first-person, to bring the reader closer to the character, and presto! That made all the difference.

A first-person narrative is laden with challenges, not the least of which is those I-Bombs I mentioned, but if you do it well, there's no better way to bring the reader right inside the character's heart, mind and soul.

Steven J. Wangsness said...

I always write in the third person, since this is the closest I'll ever get to being God.

Anita Saxena said...

I go with what feels right for that specific story and character. It's a gut choice with no logic behind it.

D. B. Sundstrom said...

Steven wins the internet today.

abc said...

I think you said it--it just feels like the right way to tell the story. But I feel more comfortable in first person, too. When I try to do 3rd person I always feel like it is clunkier.

Are you writing another middle grade? YA? Adult? Do we get to know or is it a surprise?

capitalkblog said...

I tend to gravitate towards third person narration. I'm not sure why. I hadn't really noticed it until now. Now I feel the need to challenge myself to write something in first person!

Shawn said...

My first agent told me that First Person was the mark of an immature writer.

She said that in this era, it has no place outside MG and some YA.

She said it was solipsistic, in only the way a kid could be solipsistic.

She wasn't much of an agent, but in the past couple years I've come to agree with her. Most of the bad crit work I see has it's suckitude magnified by First Person issues.

I know it's easy to write, but I'll never write in first person again.

Elizabeth said...

Do you need a beta reader? (pick me! pick me! pick me!)
I usually write in third person. I go with first person if the character has such a unique way of seeing the world that the story must be filtered through her viewpoint to capture that world. Think "Zazen" or "Swamplandia!" It's such a great trick when you need to keep something from the reader, because you don't have to withhold information, just describe it through the skewed viewpoint of the first-person character.
Good luck! I like writing better from a male POV.

Carrie-Anne said...

I've written exclusively third-person omniscient for over 20 years now, since that's just the POV I'm used to reading. It's also the traditional standard in my genre, historical. I tend to tune out when I see yet ANOTHER first-person book these days, since all the narrators tend to run together after awhile. There needs to be a strong, compelling reason why a story works best in first-person instead of the traditional third.

Shad Callister said...

I've got a WIP in second person. Pretty awesome. It's only been done successfully two or three times that I know of, which is scary but exciting. If I can make it work at all I'll be in the company of Italo Calvino!

G. B. Miller said...

I've written most of my stuff in the 3rd person, simply because it was the easiest to do. I've tried 2nd person but wasn't comfortable with it.

With 1st person, I've found a decent comfort zone with it, and since I've gotten decent response from a few readers on a novella that I converted to 1st person (which was not easy), I may look into converting a few others into a 1st person point of view.

Bruce Bonafede said...

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said "it felt like the right approach." I say that because I believe if you're writing a story that you feel you have to twist into another POV that doesn't "feel right," you should scrap it and do another story. Not that it can't be done successfully, but I think most bad writing is bad because it comes across as artificial. Authenticity is essential, and if you're constantly struggling to tell a story from a POV that doesn't FEEL authentic, it's totally obvious and a fatal flaw.

wendy said...

In the past I've occasionally discovered that when a male author writes a female protagonist, she can be a bit on the acerbic, bitchy side. (Is it because this kind of woman is most appealing for men, or is this how some men perceive women to be?) My personal preference is for the gentle and dreamy girl who is soft - and mildly quirky, please - on the outside but strong and rational on the inside.

I'm interested to read what you've created in this regard, Nathan. I'm sure she'll be admirable and lovely. What's her name, btw?

Jan M. Leotti said...

Great topic. Thanks for posting it.

I wrote my first novel in third person limited because I wanted to have a bit of distance between the reader and my protagonist. I chose this POV because my main character (out of desperation) commits some unsavory acts. Narrating the story in third person limited kept the POV narrow enough to allow my reader to experience some of what my protagonist went through, while also allowing me to pull back a little when some space and perspective were needed.

The novel I’m working on now is in first person. I decided to use first because I wanted an intimate portrait of the change my protagonist must make by the end of the book. I’m stretching myself as well, writing from the perspective of a seventeen year old boy. I like the idea of having a filter through which the events will be interpreted. His opinions are the most important aspect of the book, even if he, at times, might be unreliable. This POV works well for me with this story because it helps to tell the larger story of the novel. By zooming in, I’m also zooming out. I don’t know why this works exactly, but his problems, largely, are universal, even if the particulars of his story are unique.

Good luck with your new novel, Nathan! Looking forward to hearing all about it!

Lori Schafer said...

I'm actually okay with either 1st or 3rd person - I tend to choose based on how close I am personally to the main character. However, I've never written anything from a man's perspective - which sounds like an interesting experiment. I bet you'll really enjoy exploring your fictional world through the eyes of a girl.

Neil Larkins said...

Probably a suicide in the making: My current WIP is a - for want of a better term - dual memoir. The six weeks when I met my first wife (now deceased) each signature moment told first person from our personal perspectives. How do I keep it from becoming overwhelming/cumbersome for the reader? Don't know yet, but I'm working on it...or at least when I get back to it. Had a seizure and blackout two days after Christmas, whacked my skull on a concrete floor and now dealing with vertigo, the result of the concussion. Gotta keep stimuli, like computer/writing time down. But I'll be better in a few months. Good time to work on the mechanics of this thing in my mind.

Anthony Lee Collins said...

When I write mysteries, I write in first person (of the "Watson" character). For me, it's the best way to control what information gets to the reader and when, since the Watson never sees everything that the detective does.

Otherwise I use third person omniscient. I'm usually showing different plot threads in different places, and there's no way to have one person cover it all.

I've never done first person from a female POV -- but then I've never done first person except with the "Watson" character, who is male.

Tammy said...

The protagonists of my novels tend to be teenage boys in an adult world yet I'm a 53 year old women. It doesn't make sense, but it works so I don't question it. I do write in 3rd person because that is what I read and am most familiar with. 1st person narratives don't always work for me as a reader because if I can't identify with the protagonist, I can't suspend my disbelief to buy into the storyline.

tracikenworth said...

I go with what "feels" right. Of course, it's the character/s with the most to lose, but definitely, it has to be his/her story.

tracikenworth said...

I go with what "feels" right. Of course, it's the character/s with the most to lose, but definitely, it has to be his/her story.

Debbie Ouellet said...

You're not alone with trying different genders and age groups to write in first person, Nathan. Most of my books are from a boy's point of view, both first and third person depending on the book. The characters seem to work out the first person, third person decision for me once I get going along. As many have said, it just feels right when you read it back.

I will say, however, if it doesn't feel right, that's usually a good indication that I should try a different POV.

jennifermhartsock said...

I enjoy reading and writing unreliable narrator's. If you include subtle hints the reader notices, but the character doesn't, that's fascinating to me.

Great topic!
Jennifer

jennifermhartsock said...

narrators*

Laurence King said...

I usually go with what feels right. It doesn't mean that I end up with with I thought I was going for. After a chapter or two, I usually know...and sometimes, I have to go back and start again.

cinthiaritchie.com said...

Oh, man, in graduate school they pounded it into our heads that third person was "the" way to go, that first-person was a weaker perspective, that it wasn't respected--that no one would take a first-person narrator seriously. Well! Excuse me, stuffy professors, but I feel that you were quite wrong.
Maybe most literary magazines publish mainly third-person perspective but then again most literary magazines pay writers nothing but a free copy of the magazine.
I chose first-person for my last novel. It felt right, though I also felt very, very insecure and every few months I would frantically change it over to third-person, but it altered the tone and ruined the whole concept.
I also chose first-person for my second book. It allowed my character to speak more clearly plus first-person lends an intimacy lacking in third-person: Readers are directly connected to the character, without the third-person filter.
As a reader, I prefer first-person narration.
I think books come to us as a voice and as writers we have to understand and develop that voice, and one of the challenges is deciding which perspective will more aptly get that voice and story across.
Still, it isn't easy, is it?

Marion said...

I don't think I can write anything worth reading or writing if I can't write it in 1st person. 1st person forces you to focus.
I prefer reading first person, too. It's so immediate. It gets you right inside the mind and the world of the protagonist. Even if that protagonist, like me, tends to be out of touch with their emotions. There are ways for emotion to be expressed or inferred, without saying "I felt...," or even "I thought...."

Kentish Janner said...

My current w-i-p has two POV characters; a doctor character that 'speaks' only in the form of entries in a medical logbook, while the other - one of his 'patients' - is in 1st-person present tense. Because of the story I'm telling and the situation the main characters are in, it's the only way to make it work - any other approach would kill the story deader than roadkill. It is quite restricting in terms of how much the patient characters know - but for the story I'm telling, that's the point; they're discovering the truth about their world and their place in it at exactly the same pace as the reader.

I've heard that a lot of publishers look on 1st-person POVs as amateurish. Guess I'll just have to remember not to submit to them...

Sue M. said...

I'm a little late to the party, but I just had to jump in after reading your post today. First person not serious? It is absolutely the best perspective to use if you have difficult or complicated subject matter. For instance, if your protagonist is a neuro-oncologist, what better way to make your protagonist seem believable and knowledgeable than to allow the reader to look at the subject matter through his (her) eyes? I just read Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch (outstanding), and her ability to convey through first person her protagonist's expertise and knowledge regarding furniture making, art, drugs, etc. was nothing short of amazing. Unserious? Just not believing that.

SK Figler said...

Agents certainly can choose which writers they want to take on, but to claim that rules exist about POV, that the often used 1st Person perspective is not legitimate and won't sell as claimed above, is not only wrong, but is a disservice to the people who come to these agents for help.

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