Yesterday I read a comment from an author participating in National Novel Writing Month that made me wince: she was bemoaning the fact that she'd started her book in first person, but now realizing that third person worked better for the story, didn't want to go back and make the changes needed.
In my head, I was thinking, NOOOOOOOOOOO!
Trust me, it's worth the time to make the fix.
Been there, done that. Of my five published novels, four of them are written in first person: that is to say, one of the characters narrates the story, from his/her point-of-view, for the reader.
When it comes to fiction, this is not norm, for a very good reason: sometimes the story needs to be told from many points of view, or in “third person.”
Impossibly Tongue-Tied, the one novel of mine which was written in third person, didn't start out that way. I spent two weeks and many pages before I figured out that what had worked so wonderfully for my first novel, True Hollywood Lies, would be the death of my second.
True Hollywood Lies is told from the point-of-view of its heroine, Hannah: all the other characters are seen through her eyes, their actions and motives scrutinzed through the mess of Hannah's emotional pain, which comes from the sudden demise of a father with whom she never got to reconcile their differences. He was a revered film star who'd had numerous wives and lovers. As a personal assistant to a red hot film star who reminds her too much of her dad, Hannah has to work hard not to be blinded by his charisma, at the expense of her own dreams and desires.
The Candidate takes place in Washington, D.C., but follows several characters, all of whom have personal agendas or traumatic plights that put them at cross purposes, and puts the nation in danger.. The hero, Ben, is desperate to find a presidential candidate who won't implode on him. The vice-president wants a slam-dunk into the White House, and will do anything to get it. And the mysterious love of Ben's life, Maddie is a pawn in everyone's game.
Of course, the goal is to make it so that the reader enjoys the twists and turns–and hopefully doesn't see what comes next.
That's what makes the book so fun: lots of shenanigans happens before the explosive climax.
But had I kept slogging it out to make the story first person, the reader would not have gotten to enjoy all the fun leading up to the climax.
The best rule of thumb in choosing voice is this: Go with what works best for the reader.
Even if you have to start over and replace all the “I”s with “She”s or “He”s.
The pay-off will be a wide open vista of opportunities for your characters.
Their actions will speak volumes to your readers in the way that your first-person voice could never do.
(c) 2011 Josie Brown
I've got a question for you, and be honest: Have you ever started a story in the wrong voice, then had to change it? If so, how are were you into it, before you realized it?
Happy National Novel Writing Month,
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