Thursday, November 6, 2008

Never Say Never

Just poking my head in during a quick break from writing. I'm so excited about my new book and how it's coming together. I'm surprised (astounded might be a better word!) to find myself doing two things I swore I never would--writing in first person and using present tense. I've always been partial, as a reader and a writer, to close third person as a narrative perspective. That's how I wrote Measure of Silence and I began writing this second book that way, too. But after a few thousand excruciatingly slow words, I found it just wasn't working. I fought making a switch out of principle, but since I have, words are flying off my fingers and the main character is showing me just how different she is from the protagonist of my first book. Writers are always called to challenge themselves, so I figure doing something out of the ordinary (for me, at least) can only help me grow. It doesn't hurt that first-person narratives are the popular ones these days in the genre (the novels of Michelle Moran, Catherine Delors, C. W. Gortner, and Lawrence Hill are all written in first-person).

As for my use of the present tense, which I've always viewed as an empty stylistic flourish--all I can say is this story insists on it, at least at this point. Whether I leave it in present or not, it's too early to tell.

I haven't abandoned third person all together. The way I envision it, sections from the main character's perspective will be in the first person, alternating with chapters from the secondary character's viewpoint in close third. I was wondering whether this sort of structure would fly when I began reading Vanora Bennett's Portrait of an Unknown Woman. Guess what? Bennett does exactly what I was considering. The chapters of her book told from Meg Grigg's point of view are in first, those from Hans Holbein's in third. I'll be in good company, it seems.

Do you, as readers of historical fiction, have preferences in regard to the use of first or third person? I'd love to hear what you have to say. Meanwhile, back to writing...

6 comments:

Marg said...

If I had a choice I think I still prefer third person, but so many books these days are written in first person, I think I am getting more used to them now!

Daphne said...

I really prefer third person as I find first person too limiting most of the time. Once in a while, an author can make it work, but too often I think they fall into the trap of having to have characters tell each other things that they would already know (in order to inform the reader of events outside the narrator's realm of knowledge). I find this really annoying.

Catherine Delors said...

I will just say: follow your bliss, Julianne! Some books are made for the third person, some for the first. My first book was indeed written in the first person, the second book in the third person (often works better for a thriller) and the third book is tugging at me from all directions.

So if you find your pen (keyboard?) flying in the first person/present tense, by all means, go for it.

Angela K. Nickerson said...

It entirely depends. I just finished Abundance which is first-person told from Marie Antoinette's perspective. Fascinating! And I thoroughly enjoyed it. If the story is calling for it, don't fight it. Trust your inner muse!

cindy said...

i write in close third past tense, because it is the easiest for me. know some people who loathe reading first--for me, if you do it well, i don't mind at all.

it took me a bit to get used to first person present in "confessions of an ugly stepsister", but once i got used to it, i loved it.

congrats on your writing moving along so smoothly. yay!

Julianne Douglas said...

Thanks for the encouragement, everyone! I do find that writing in first brings a different set of challenges than writing in third does. Primarily, it is harder to work in background information, as Daphne points out in her comment above. Harder, but not impossible! I'll give first person a chance for a few chapters and see how it goes.