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90-95% of what I write is first person.  I've tried third, but I could never get into it, and it always felt strange and uncomfortable.  However, I read and enjoy books written in either.  

 

In fact, I'm currently reading a book called The Survivors by Anne Edwards, which is written in both!  The MC, Luanne Woodrow, tells her part is the story in first person, but when the focus shifts to the other protagonist, a writer named Hans Aldik, it is in third person.  It's quite an intriguing story too, a combination of romance, horror, and murder mystery.

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2 hours ago, Spaulding said:

But I don't think it means it can't be done in first. When you started writing this story did you know everything that would happen? Maybe generally, but specifically? If you didn't know, couldn't you make room for the protagonist not to know also?

 

Well, here's the thing: the protagonist doesn't know 80% of what's going on.  He literally learns this along the way.

 

However, Book 2 is where he needs to keep secrets. not only from the antagonist but also from everyone else.  These are things he carries with him through the story that weighs on him, and also contributes to a final plot twist (I hint at it throughout the book).  Plus, the climax of the book reveals the character's secret desire.  And THAT is where First Person for this series will break down quickly.  This is stuff you hint at, sometimes not so subtly, throughout the course of the story.

 

Plus, there are repercussions to the secrets he keeps.  Stuff that haunts him, which gets revealed much later.

 

So you can't make the protagonist not know something he needs to constantly worry about.  You can say, "Well, make the secrets and the worry part of the story," but to be honest, it would make for an extremely boring story.  Bringing it up continuously  makes him look self-obsessed.  Plus, I want readers looking at clues.  I want readers wondering what a particular scene meant, and then provide the payoff for that later.  You don't have that if the reader knows what the main character knows.  It literally goes away.

 

You can do something like that with First Person, but you have to make the character completely ignorant of what's actually going on.  I can't do that, for reasons I can't openly discuss.

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29 minutes ago, Jeff Potts said:

So you can't make the protagonist not know something he needs to constantly worry about.  You can say, "Well, make the secrets and the worry part of the story," but to be honest, it would make for an extremely boring story.  Bringing it up continuously  makes him look self-obsessed.  Plus, I want readers looking at clues.  I want readers wondering what a particular scene meant, and then provide the payoff for that later.  You don't have that if the reader knows what the main character knows.  It literally goes away.

 

You can do something like that with First Person, but you have to make the character completely ignorant of what's actually going on.  I can't do that, for reasons I can't openly discuss.


I'd written the early drafts of my golem detective novel in the 1st Person, but when my editor looked at it, she said "If Clay isn't aware at the end of the novel because of (the thing someone does), try switching the beginning and the ending to another POV." So I rewrote Chapter 1 as a prologue and the last chapter as an epilogue written in the 3rd Person told by a journalist / narrator, and it totally worked. 
 

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Prologue:
A ruthless storm ravaged the land the night of Clay Golem’s arrival, as if Nature itself feared something unholy was taking place in the abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the forest city of Alysia. Rain lashed the side of the former chapel in giant sheets of water, and the wind shrieked through gaps in the walls like a banshee. The storm, in a word, was savage.
 

But the lightning was the worst. It ripped the sky and pounded the rocks and shredded the trees. The assault intensified until, at last, a gigantic jagged pulse of pure energy rent the air and smote the icon on top of the old steeple with an ear-splitting concussion, and the earth trembled under the strike.
 

And then, sudden silence.

#

 

The pounding at the heavy barn door had nothing to do with the wind. The door burst open and a short, shifty man wearing a leather courier bag slung behind his back slid inside. “Stop animating the golems!” he yelled.

 

 

And then I introduce the 1st Person Noirish voiceover from Clay Golem, and it is immediately closer, more personal, with an attitude.

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The watchers didn’t know I was watching them, but that’s what you can get away with when you don’t have physical eyeballs. I know how I appear—seven feet of heavily muscled pliable blue clay with two empty eye sockets where the brilliant blue light of mana shines through. I look formidable, and I am.
 

But that hadn’t stopped the watchers. They’d shown up a week after I arrived in this city in the middle of the night in the midst of the most violent storm in history, inhabiting this empty clay shell. I’m sure my watchers thought they were being circumspect, but the best watchers are those you never notice, and I’m nothing if not observant.


The watchers wanted to know where I’d come from. One empathizes–it was a question I’d been pursuing myself.

 

 

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On 5/24/2021 at 1:24 PM, Jeff Potts said:

So you can't make the protagonist not know something he needs to constantly worry about.  You can say, "Well, make the secrets and the worry part of the story," but to be honest, it would make for an extremely boring story.  Bringing it up continuously  makes him look self-obsessed.  Plus, I want readers looking at clues.  I want readers wondering what a particular scene meant, and then provide the payoff for that later.  You don't have that if the reader knows what the main character knows.  It literally goes away.

I suspect there are many styles of how to pull this off. (This reminds me of the problem with knowing what wasn't experienced by the POV character.)

My character experienced the death of a friend, but he couldn't deal with it because too much else was going on. He'd think in incomplete sentences, and swallow the feeling whenever something reminded him. 2-3 chapters after that event before the first novel ended. They dealt with the suppressed emotions in the second chapter of the second novel, but it's still coming out in dribbles. Truthfully, part of the problem with Book Two is what if the readers missed Book One?  Do you have that problem too?

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On 5/23/2021 at 9:38 PM, Jeff Potts said:

Well, the problem comes when the character needs to keep a secret from the reader. 

 

Roger Zelazny handled this with an unreliable narrator, and he was a genius with his execution. 1st Person storytelling doesn't have to tell you everything the character is thinking, it's just storytelling. You can put in or leave out whatever is best for the story. 

Take this paragraph from THIS IMMORTAL, for which Zelazny won the Hugo Award:

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I met her by accident, pursued her with desperation, married her against my will. (The last part was her idea.) I wasn’t really thinking about it, myself—even on that day when I brought my caique into the harbor and saw her there, sunning herself like a mermaid beside the plane tree of Hippocrates, and decided that I wanted her. Kallikan-zaroi have never been much the family sort. I just sort of slipped up, again.

 


There's a lot he's not telling you in this paragraph (which is part of his M.O. - he loved writing spare but poetic writing, trusting the reader to follow along without overexplaining anything). It can be done, and done well, with a little imagination. It helps to read widely in this POV.

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10 minutes ago, Spaulding said:

Truthfully, part of the problem with Book Two is what if the readers missed Book One?  Do you have that problem too?

 

Yes and no.

 

In the series I'm pitching, I do some backfilling about what happened in Book 1 in Book 2, but it's not absolute.  That being said, if you were reading Lord of the Rings, would you start at Return of the King, and expect to know what happened in Fellowship of the Ring and Two Towers?  The answer is: no.  I think the vast majority of readers know this by default.

 

The conventional wisdom is that every book shall be self-contained.  However, many authors don't do that with their books, George R. R. Martin being among them.  J. K. Rowling sorta got a break on that one, because she could center her adventures around a defined school year, but not every story has that convivence.

 

I've wrung my hands over this issue in the past.  And my decision is every book in this series won't be "self-contained," and I'm just going to stick to it.  I think it's a given when you're dealing with a series.

 

Plus, the one thing I've learned about "conventional wisdom," is that it usually ain't.

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10 hours ago, Johne said:

Roger Zelazny handled this with an unreliable narrator...

 

Yeah, I don't think that'll work, at least with me.

 

If an event happens with a character, it happens.  The only exceptions are if the character is dreaming, or he / she is insane, and imagining everything.  Great concepts, but that's not what my story is about.

 

If an event happens with a character during the course of the story, and you fail to mention it in your narrative, the audience - who has been sitting in the character's head the entire time - is going to get a wee bit irate that this was never mentioned, at all, through several books.  And, to be frank, they'd be correct in being so mad.

 

Imagine the main character being bitten by a werewolf somewhere in the middle of the book, not mentioning it at all, and then have the character transform into a werewolf themselves at some pivotal point in the narrative.  The audience - who had been sitting in the character's head the entire time - will essentially throw your book in the trash when this happens.  They'd be right to do so.

 

In Third Person, there's lots of ways to add this little detail without giving everything away.  But in First Person?  Unless the character is completely clueless to werewolf lore and legends, they are going to know that they are going to turn into a werewolf.  "Change your story," you say.  "Make it about the character's gradual transition to being a werewolf."  Great.  So now I no longer have the story I want to tell, and all of the cool stuff I plotted along the way gets thrown out the window.  Because I'm telling a completely different story based on one thing that, while important, didn't drive the whole of the story in the first place.

 

The concept that you can write a story a billion different ways sounds great...until you try to put it into practice.  Software works the same way.  Yeah, I can write this thing fifteen different ways.  However, only a couple of them will work in the application you're putting together.

 

Edit: Don't take this as some sort of rebuke.  I'm just cranky and need a Snickers...   🙂

 

Edited by Jeff Potts
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18 hours ago, Jeff Potts said:

Plus, the one thing I've learned about "conventional wisdom," is that it usually ain't.

Agreed. But as for reading Book Two after missing Book One? The Valley of the Horses is where I started The Earth's Children series. (And I'm glad I didn't read Clan of the Cave Bear, because I would have quit that story in the middle.) And I had the opposite experience with The Giver. It was the first in Lowry's quadrilogy. But, since it was the first, and trade pubs won't guarantee the whole series until they know the first sells, there was nothing in that book to tell me more is coming. It left me wanting. And I didn't hear about the rest for a decade, so I've refused to read the rest.

 

We're not really writing series. We're writing -ologies. (Mine will be seven books, so it's called a heptalogy. What yours will be depends on how many books there will be.) The problem is most people don't get anything but "trilogy," so, for marketing purposes, (and ease of explanation), we will keep calling them "series."

 

So, it doesn't have to be self-contained. But from a reader to a writer, do not leave me worrying about characters in between books, unless you'll be publishing them so quickly I can jump from one to the next always. I hate cliff-hangers for the end of novels. I love them for end of chapter.

For an example, at the end of book one, the stuffies are still on their own, but "their own" has become another kind of family, so that part is settled. At the end of book two, they are wrapping up gathering what is left after a flood. At the end of book three, they're on the Cape May-Lewis Ferry. The story doesn't end for four more books, but they are safe in the immediate future... until the next novel starts.

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On 5/27/2021 at 2:32 PM, Jeff Potts said:

If an event happens with a character, it happens.


But we're talking about POV, and you can be very clever about what you write about in the 1st Person. I've seen it done well, and I'm a fan.

For example, in her review of AGYAR by Steven Brust (an unapologetic disciple of Roger Zelazny, which is how I discovered him), author Jo Walton very carefully raves about how Brust writes about a kind of monster character without ever using the name of the type of monster. She also observes how Brust uses negative space to tell his story.
https://www.tor.com/2009/11/04/the-only-book-on-this-subject-i-like-steven-brusts-lem-gagyar/

What's interesting in this discussion is she is doing exactly what she's telling us Brust is doing, talking about something in the reverse, without actually naming the thing she's talking about.

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When my husband saw that I was reading Agyar, he pursed his lips and said “That’s going to be hard to talk about.” The problem is that while it’s a story that’s worth re-reading knowing everything, you still don’t want to spoil the joy of reading it for the first time without knowing anything about it. The thing is that it’s a completely different book when you first read it and when you re-read it knowing. It’s a good book either way, but it’s something where you want to have both experiences. And usually with some big spoiler thing, everyone delights in spoiling it and telling you about Rosebud and Bruce Willis and all of that. You wouldn’t believe how many books have spoilers in their back-cover material. But with Agyar I’ve noticed for years that people very carefully talk around it and use spoiler space because it’s not like that. The thing that Brust does here that’s most interesting is the way he takes the expectation inherent in the way people tell stories and does something with that. It’s like Attic red-figure vases—the action is in what you’d expect to be blank space, and the pattern reverses.


I'm going to assume here that most people haven't read this book (which was published in 1993), and further that most people won't be, and quote a little more of the review. She makes a fascinating point which I think is germane.
 

Quote

 

It’s really normal to leave things out of a story, and Brust plays with that. And it’s normal to use a certain kind of metaphor, and a certain kind of indirectness. When you read something like:

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I kissed her temple, her ear, and her neck. We sank down onto the bed, still holding each other.
 

I ran my hands along her body. Yes indeed, she was a dancer, or an acrobat, or a swimmer. She was strong, inside and out. I touched her and she shivered; she touched me and I trembled. I felt her enter the maelstrom of sensation at the same time I did, and we explored it together. She made low moaning sounds of pleasure, while mine were harsh and animallike, but the urgency was mutual.

 

You immediately read into that what you expect goes into the spaces. People write about sex like that when they’re not writing porn. That it isn’t sex, that her neck is what’s significant, is a level of indirection that’s really quite astonishing.
 

There’s also the thing where he mentions Byron saying something and you assume he’s read it, but no. The length of Jack’s life and the nature of his experience creeps up on you.

 


This takes a certain amount of both authorial confidence and restraint. Have you figured out yet which kind of character Jack the protagonist is? If you're writing a werewolf story, you're in the same general ballpark.

I think you could tell a 1st Person story where your protag knows at first he's a normal person, show him being bitten, thinking he's ok, and then showing his confusion thereafter as odd things begin happening in the region without ever tipping your hand. I imagine the bitten person might not remember transforming into a creature, doing the things the creature does, and then transforming back. All of that is possible from the 1st Person for an author willing to experiment with that POV and that situation.

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