Writing about Writing

New Project – First or Third Person?

For the past few months, I’ve been planning a new writing project. I say project instead of novel because this idea is more than one novel, more than two or even three. I’m envisioning something more akin to a Dresden Files or Walking Dead type series.

But there is one thing that I’ve gotten hung up on, and that’s the decision on what perspective to write from.

The vast majority of fiction writing I’ve done has been third person. Because that’s what I grew up reading. On the rare occasions I read a book with a first person perspective it felt like a jarring transition, like I was being forced into something unnatural and certainly not comfortable. It would take me several chapters to get past it, and then I always ran back to third person for the next book.

Nowadays, I read a better mix, and I’ve gotten comfortable with the perspective changes. But I still have a compulsion to write in third person. And I’m forced to ask myself, do I want this because it suits the narrative? Or because it suits me?

I wrote a few chapters for my new project, as a test to see how the concept felt. I wrote it in first person. The whole time I kept asking myself, “Is this right? Should I switch?’ Will it work for future novels?”

I enjoyed the test chapters and definitely think the idea is worth exploring. But as I ready myself to restart from scratch, I’m stuck facing two doors. Do I go with the first person concept I originally based the idea on? Or go to what I’m comfortable with?

The reason I originally decided on first person is because I was partially inspired by Dresden Files. For those not familiar, Dresden Files is a series of first person novels written from the perspective of a wizard named Harry Dresden. I like that the novels are relatively small, fast-paced, and offer a consistent perspective. By not switching between characters all the time, the novels are able to keep a good pace and the story lines are small enough to not get boring. A bonus of it being an ongoing series is the ability to introduce serialized elements as well. There’s a lot to like structurally about this series, and hence my attraction.

Also, I’ve noticed what seems to be a bias toward first person in a lot of writers I’ve come across recently. A writing course I did a few years ago was run by a published author that insisted first person is the only way to go, and anything else was a sign of a weak writer. I’ve seen similar opinions on various writing blogs I’ve perused, as well. The main argument seems to be the immediacy offered by telling the story from the mouth of the protagonist. Descriptions of events, feelings, and more all benefit from not having the extra layer of separation third person creates.

While I understand the arguments, I don’t necessarily agree with them all the time. I did, after all, write What Dark Passages in third person.

For me, a huge benefit of third person is the freedom it offers. There are types of third person where the narrator makes his own thoughts known, and speaks with a voice that seems to know what’s coming. IE: “It would be the last time they ever spoke.”. Or there is the style I like to use, where even though the writing is third person, the perspective and thoughts still belong to the character, not the narrator. In this way, the ‘outside’ narrator is meant to become basically non-existent, making it much closer to a first person style in terms of immediacy and connection to the characters actual thoughts and feelings.

When I look at my next project, I need to ask myself, what does the story demand? Am I going to start with one character and run with that character’s perspective only for the entire series? If that’s the case, I should probably go first person.

Do I plan on introducing multiple characters and switch scenes between them? Then third person.

But maybe there is a third option, one I grew to love while reading the Drizzt Do’Urden books by RA Salvatore. Third person, but with first person added in specific sections. In them, the bulk of the novel is written in third person. But where it differs is the first person introductions (like a diary) at the beginning of each major section of narrative. This is a technique that I’ve always loved because it offers the freedom of third person while giving the extra benefit of first person where it can impact the story the most.

And truthfully, the more I think about it, the more I’m leaning towards that style for my project.

l free to leave me your thoughts on what style you prefer and why.


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