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When I started out writing Lilith’s Fall, it looked a great deal different than it does now. One of the biggest changes I made was in switching from first-person Point of View (POV) to third-person POV. There is a distinct reason that I chose to make this change.

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I should mention one of the big advantages to first-person POV is that the reader spends most, if not all, of the book in the head of the main protagonist. This has the tendency to build a deep emotional bond between the reader and that character. As opposed to watching things happen as if we were following along like observers maintaining some distance from the characters with third-person POV.

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Sometimes third-person can feel a little distant.

I personally believe that both methods work equally well if they are applied properly, but I am most comfortable with third-person POV, which is why I abandoned first-person for Lilith’s Fall (among my other many, many changes). I felt that third-person allowed me to explore other characters (for which there were more than just the Hero and the Heroine). First-person usually feels too restrictive for the type of book I was going for.

As a matter of fact, I’m so uncomfortable writing first-person POVs that Lilith’ Fall was the first manuscript I’ve ever attempted for it. And it turned out to be the last. (Weeeellll, maybe not the absolute last—turns out I have one or two more attempts that didn’t get past the early chapters. About halfway through the manuscripts, I decided I just couldn’t do it, and I switched back to third-person.

Despite my own comfort level with writing in third-person over first-person, I wouldn’t say one perspective is better than the other. Some stories are best told in first-person, where the reader is carried along almost inside the head of the main characters. This can create such a strong feeling of full immersion for a reader that they never want to leave.

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Oh yeah, I’m immersed.

In fact, in some cases, I find third-person to be a little more clinical. However, I like to write limited third-person, which can still bring so much of that heart a good story needs, despite the distance between the reader and the main characters. The beauty of third-person POV is that it allows me to build a world filled with differing perspectives that aren’t seen in first-person, especially in romances where sometimes first-person POV can become somewhat claustrophobic.

Of course, probably the biggest reason I struggle with first-person POV is to not author-insert. It’s a dangerous tightrope to cross, writing in first-person but making sure that person whose head you’re in doesn’t start to sound like you. I can manage to do this for short works, but the longer the work, the more of a problem of my own personality sneaking past my internal filters. Then I start bossing around the characters, instead of having them write their own story.

This little bit of cut-content below is from the earliest draft of Lilith’s Fall (don’t worry, the book has gone in a completely different direction). Those who have read it will notice a major change. This is how I write in first-person.

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“Lil, enforcers incoming!” Stacia whispered.

I could feel the tension ripple through the mall plaza and the food court and wondered that I hadn’t noted it earlier. Stacia was always a better sensist then I. If even I felt the shiver of other people’s fear like crawling ants over my skin it must be drilling into Stacia’s mind.

It didn’t take long for the steady babble of shoppers and diners to fade into a heavy silence as people took notice of the silver-clad enforcers. I heard the sound of an infant’s angry cry abruptly cut off as somewhere a mother desperately tried to avoid attracting the notice of the enforcers.

The enforcers moved swiftly enough that soon they passed our own small café table. Our frozen smoothies sat half-emptied, and we didn’t dare to move a muscle to stir the melting slush. The silver helmets turned to regard our table, nothing visible beyond their blank visors, and then the enforcers moved on. This time, they took no one with them.

Several moments after their exit, the babble of shoppers started up again, although this time there was an undertone of frantic and false cheerfulness to the din which suggested that we were not the only ones whose shopping trip had been ruined by the reminder of the regime we lived under.

I hate them. I would never voice the sentiment out loud, though there were those who did. No one really knows what happened to the ones that were overheard. Enforcers never physically harmed someone in public. Instead, they simply escorted an offender away, out of sight, never to be seen or heard from again.

What made them so awful was that you never saw one unless they were sent to find someone.  In the beginning, when the Elders announced that the people of Artura IX would no longer be ruled by a tyrant dictator and the last dictator was cast out, the pact made with the Lords of the Outlands seemed like a blessing. Artura IX prospered and freedom led to innovation. Then, the enforcers came—servants of the Lords—and people began to disappear.

“Come on Lil, what are you sitting around moping for? Your smoothie is totally melted, and I still want to stop at Shonna’s before we leave. They have the cutest jumpsuit. Would you believe it’s made entirely of moonfloss?”

I followed Stacia to Shonna’s, studying the line of stores we passed. Music blared from an audio shop and children screeched merrily as they played in the neighboring toy store where a frantic clerk pleaded with parents to reign in their brood. A serious older couple stood outside the twisted branch archway of the Exotic Plants shop, arguing the merits of the plants beckoning from the window.

I paused longingly at the boot shop, but Stacia continued on to Shonna’s. If I didn’t follow she would leave me behind in her eagerness to reach her moonfloss jumpsuit, and I would lose my ride and be forced to take the subterranean crawler back to my dome.

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It seems like every book I read lately is written in first-person POV, and I’ve often wondered whether I shouldn’t go back and revisit that perspective for new manuscripts. It’s possible that I’m missing something by not exploring this perspective more fully. At the same time, I wonder if the casual reader even notices the difference. Or cares.

What do you think about the different perspectives? Do you have a preference for one over the other? Have you noticed a trend of one type or another? I’d definitely be interested to hear some feedback on this.

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8 Comments

  1. I like both ways but think that 1st person POV works better in some stories – it can be quite intense. The novel I’m working on is 1st person and I do worry about losing the character’s voice at times – short stories are easier!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that some stories have more impact when told in first person.

      I think this is one of those many decisions we must make as writers that ends up being almost invisible to readers, yet has a huge impact on their enjoyment of the story.

      When writing first person, I feel Almost like an actor must when getting into character. It’s not enough to observe and describe, now you have to become that character in order to keep your own voice out of it.

      It’s definitely a challenge.

      Good luck to you on your WIP and thank you so much for sharing your feedback. This subject has given me a lot to think about lately.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. (Please forgive me if this posts twice, but I cannot find that my original comment actually posted.)

    Interesting topic, Susan. I also asked my husband this question as he is a much more eclectic reader than I am and writes reviews on almost every book he reads. While reading a story written in first person is an exercise in putting the reader directly into the book, it can be difficult to read for exactly that reason. It takes a good writer to make me comfortable reading a book written in the first person. For that reason, I’ll more quickly abandon a book written this way if doesn’t engage me early on. I am more forgiving when a book is written in the third person and won’t abandon it as readily if I’m not immediately taken with the story.

    (The one thing that neither of us likes to read is a book written in the present tense. Or a book that continually switches between present and past tense. Horrors!)

    In my opinion, you have a talent for putting “words to paper” and should write the way you’re most comfortable writing. Which style makes the words flow easiest for you? It might vary, depending on the story, but that is the question I would pose.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your insight (and your husband’s 😉).

      You actually make a point that I dealt with very recently. I was reading a suspense told in first person where the main character is a sociopath. Had my Mom not recommended I read the book, I would have abandoned it pretty early on because I didn’t want to spend so much time inside the head of this terrible person.

      The book turned out to be a good read, but also left me feeling (for lack of a more appropriate word) icky. Interestingly, my mom wasn’t as sensitive to this as I was, and a (very informal 😉) poll of other readers in the family tells me that the POV seems to be invisible to some people on a conscious level. They just don’t notice. Maybe we are just more sensitive to that. 🙂

      As for tense? Yeah, I’m not fond of present tense or switching tense either, in both my reading and my writing.

      I really appreciate your compliment and your advice. I am definitely asking myself these questions, and I do think it depends on the story.

      Like

  3. Yes, you’ve hit on another prime example of when writing in the first person does not work for me; attempting to place me directly in the mind of a killer. I enjoy a good murder mystery (historical mysteries are a favorite of mine) but I do not want to be “slimed” by being made a party to the murder. Jeffery Deaver is a gifted mystery writer – descriptive and intense – but I never would have made it through his first Lincoln Rhyme novel if he wrote in the first person.

    For the most part, I read to escape the realities of the world. Too much relationship angst will make me stop reading a story and I especially do not want to read about terminal illness. Reviewers are such a huge help in this area and I appreciate those who are willing to note spoilers; keeping them well marked for the people who want to be surprised by everything. (Okay – admitting, now, that I was the kid who would never read a story about an animal until I read the ending first. I thank my third grade teacher, for this phobia, after she read Old Yeller to her class.)

    Enough of that; onward and upward. I hope you and your family have a fantastic Thanksgiving!

    Liked by 1 person

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