Tuesday, November 15, 2011
A Reminder To Writers Using First Person Narratives
Writing in first person point of view is a great way to catch the immediacy of a scene and the intensity of the protagonist's situation. I've been reading contemporary middle grade and young adult fiction lately, and have seen some fantastic examples of this POV serving the story.
I also recently read an interview with an agent who was careful to remind writers that, when she looks at submissions written in 1st person, there needs to be a strong voice, or else the manuscript is really better off in 3rd person. She was, of course, not endorsing flat protagonists in 3rd person~ only saying that to carry an entire novel in 1st person, there better be a strong voice.
A strong voice does not necessarily mean that your character has to be extremely outgoing, loud, funny, sarcastic, depressed, etc.
I just read Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, and the two protagonists are definitely not the most colorful characters in the book (that honor goes to Tiny Cooper, a giant of a sidekick and usurper of the book’s spotlight). It means that your protagonist’s voice should be:
-Unique to the character, and hopefully somewhat unique in terms of what’s already being read in your genre.
-Distinct in a way that serves the story.
I’m coming off a 1st person manuscript where the protagonist had a fairly strong, distinctive voice. The voice of one of my new MG protagonists is quieter and more timid, and I didn’t understand what was wrong with the manuscript—why it wasn’t coming alive. Eventually, I realized that the voice of the manuscript was stronger in third person.
This is certainly not true with all categories and all genres and all manuscripts, but in my case, I found a creativity in 3rd person that gave body to the manuscript in a way that I couldn’t have done in 1st person, because of the limits of a single person’s awareness.
I lost the immediacy, but I gained ten-fold in richness of setting and the ability to see perspectives of other characters. Think how much we would have missed if the Harry Potter books were in 1st person limited, with Harry as Narrator.
My point is that I had a little bit of an epiphany: we should serve the story we are trying to tell. Don’t just pick a point of view for your manuscript. Carefully select the one that will evoke the most feeling and the greatest amount of engagement from your reader. Sometimes that POV is 1st person, but sometimes it isn’t.
*PS~ I just got my computer back (see previous posts for my brief, woeful account), and it wasn't earth-shattering expensive. Thanks so much to those of you who shared stories or expressed concern!