A Narrative issue

January 14, 2013 Uncategorized

I had probably the most useful,  short, and pithy feedback from an editor yet on the current novella:

“It’s better in third person. Drop the I’s.  Otherwise good story.”

(Yes, over email, he can be very terse.)

This involves changing a virtually completed novella from first person into third person limited which, not surprisingly, is a lot of work and means going back from near completion to revising several times. So I did the first chapter, and I can see what he means. It becomes a very different story, and I think a better one.

Most YA is written in first person, and I used that for myself for The Docks. It is more immediate, you can hide things from the audience that the character would not know, or alternatively put clues in for the readers to pick up that the character misses or misinterprets. In some ways it is very easy to write an everyman hero like this, where the reader can think of them as a friend.  Readers  may even project themselves into the story, as a generation of teenagers did with the Twilight series.  Unreliable narrator in the first person, such as Maclean’s Ice Station Zebra can be an incredible way to write that keeps the readers guessing to the end.

Third person is more distant, whether it is third person limited or omniscient*. Limited is the view from one character’s point of view,  which is what the novella would need to switch to. The difference is that with third person limited the reader will be seeing what a character does rather than what they are thinking.  It is more watching and following their story, rather than living it.  Ideally, unless you are writing a villain,  the reader cheers for the character and wants the best for them, instead of wanting to be them. 

In the case of this novella, the immediacy of first person works against the story. Since the lead character’s attitude is very matter-of-fact to some extraordinary circumstances it makes it harder for the reader to feel for them,  to get excited during action scenes, or afraid at critical moments. Seeing it from the third person gives a wider view,  a more valid assessment of the risks than perhaps the main character is aware of.  Because the character has very distinct viewpoints and a detailed background, it can be hard for a reader to put themselves in the character’s shoes if they see the character’s thoughts, rather than their actions.

Unfortunately, with the end of the month approaching and a very strict deadline for then, I can’t let it sit for a few days and come back to it.

So, my task for this week is a fairly hefty piece of conversion work. And just to round things off, there’s also an arguement going on over the cover.

Which form do you prefer to read, or, if you are an author what’s your prefered writing style?

*(I have encounteed an editor who did not know what third person omniscient was. This is not an editor I used again. No, I do not have good luck with editors.)