Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Matter of Perspective

I have a love for first person perspective in both what I write and what I read, my current story (and novel-to-be) being in the first person perspective. I feel it's more personal and more connected with the reader, open to the thoughts, sights and sounds of the main character as if you were there in the story, however, while it can connect the reader on a deeper level it is not without it's flaws.

The main flaw is that the reader can only see/hear/know about things the main character does, so if the main character isn't always at the centre of the action, and that action is important, it can pose some problems. When I wrote short fiction in this style, I didn't come across the problems quite so quickly - with only a few thousand words to fill, it's easy to assume the character knows something from elsewhere without having to back it up with facts of where they got whatever information, and with short fiction it's easy to always put the main character at the centre of the action, but in longer fiction it gets more difficult, because regardless of the story - a character has to rest at some point.

Last year when making my first attempt at my story New World Order, I came across a major problem in using first person perspective. The main character physically left one of the main locations, that was her story - but what happened after she left was important. This was one of the major stumbling blocks of this story and what led me to abandon it. There are options open, but none of them seemed to fit. Whereas had I written the story in a third person narrative, this problem wouldn't have existed.

Third person narrative seems to make things a lot easier, but at the same time, in my opinion, less personal. For me as a writer, I would rather find ways to defeat the problems brought about in first person, than resort to third person. This isn't to say I will always write in a first person perspective, I won't - and I already have numerous unfinished projects that are written in third person, but for many of my stories the joy of telling them is in being in someone else's shoes, with their fears and thoughts as a constant.

Of course that often means one very important fact, if being told in the first person the reader will assume the main character cannot die, because if they are dead, and here's where tense plays an important role - how are they telling their story. I try to avoid killing these characters, there are ways to go about it, usually it's quite messy and doesn't always work. However recently I have been reading a novel called "Feed" by Mira Grant, this novel is written in the first person - and *spoilers if not read* involves the death of the main, first person character, told in a skilful way - where when the narrative is picked up (after the death of the first main character) by one of the secondary characters (in the first person perspective) the switch is smooth, and probably the best that I have seen and makes for a shocking, but very well written end to the book.

Another example of skilful first person perspective is the "Old Man's War" series by John Scalzi, where the main character changes between novels, yet manages to be clearly a different character with a different mindset from the other novels. In focussing on writing in this style, I have found it of great help to read as much of it as possible, and would recommend to anyone out there to pick up these novels. They aren't perfect, but I'd challenge anyone to find a novel that is. ~ Kitty

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