Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pointing Out the Views

I go both ways. Hey, settle down. I’m talking about POV. First person, third person, writing it or reading it, I’m okay with both. I made it all the way through Bright Lights, Big City, so I can handle second person present tense, though I wouldn’t care for a steady diet of it. That one’s best saved for special occasions, in my humble opinion.

Most romances are written in third person. First person seems to go better with urban fantasy, maybe because of UF’s grittier nature. First person in UF recalls laconic voiceovers in 1940s film noir. Third is the voice of the people; first is the voice of one person. If you’re going with first, better work on that voice to make sure it isn’t annoying.

Which is better? I won’t say best, because that’s not up to you. The story will tell you how it wants to be written. When in doubt, try writing a scene or a couple of pages in both first and third and see which one sounds righter. If you go with first, you’ll be stuck in one person’s head for the duration of the story, unless you write multiple first-person sections. I’ve seen that done, and it can work. Third person lets you roam around with abandon in various characters’ perceptions, which sometimes leads to head-hopping. I don’t think you can head-hop in first person, unless your characters are telepaths. Yeah, I write science fiction on the side.

Fortunately, if you’re writing standard romance, third is pretty much the default position, so POV’s set right off the bat. I’ve seen first used in M/M/M+, as a solution to dealing with all those confusing “he’s.” Third gives you distance. You’re observing this person as she falls in love with that steamy hunk with the dimples and the six-pack abs. With third you have the added advantage of getting the guy’s reaction. Some people go for that; others would rather stay with just one character. Again, it’s up to the story to tell you what it wants to be.

Can first person work in a romance? I may get a chance to find out. I’ve been fiddling around with a dragon story that started life as a flash piece for Shapeshifter Seductions. It went a couple of pages beyond what I posted before it petered out. Then I read a Nocturne Bites story told in alternating first persons between the girl and the guy. It had an immediacy you don’t always get from third person, which worked well in a fast-paced action/romance story.

Two things hit me as I read this. 1) I didn’t know Harlequin buys first-person stories. Maybe just for their shorter e-books, since the category print books are always in third. Or maybe you have to be well-established for them to take the chance. 2) I’ll bet this would work for my moribund dragon story. If nothing else, a switch in POV might get the juices flowing again.

So I tried it. And it worked. The story came to life. Instead of slogging through turgid descriptions, we get the full, immediate impact of her reactions when this powerful, deadly creature (in human form, of course; it’s a romance) stalks into her shop. We won’t be getting into his head, but in this case it’s okay. Really, did anybody want to know what Hannibal Lecter was thinking?

I still don’t have a plot, but with the POV question settled I get the feeling that won’t be a problem now.

Will this work for 20,000 or so words? We’ll see. Even if it comes out okay, will publishers be interested, or will they demand a rewrite back to third? That depends on how compelling I can make it. If I can pull this off, you’ll hear about it here first.


Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, oooh! I like that idea of alternating first POVs.

I'm going to try that one at some point. I've got a few first person WIPs going. Kytaira, my tigress for one.

Also, I know third person and first person has been used together, as in the hero being third, the heroine in first by other romance authors.

If your dragon isn't publisher-accepted, Indie might be an option.

Seems like pretty good sales for that type of fantasy.

Pat C. said...

I can't recall reading it in a romance, but MZ Bradley's The Heritage of Hastur (science fantasy)had alternating chapters in first and third from the POVs of the two protags. (She was also the first author I came across who wrote what came to be known as M/M, though everything was all flowery language and implication. You had to be discrete in the '70s.)

The alternating firsts story was "The Ninja Vampire's Girl" by Michele Hauf. First time I've ever seen that, and done very well.

I can't believe how much better the dragon story reads in first. Oh lordy, I'll have to write the sex scene that way. That'll be interesting...

Savanna Kougar said...

When I still had time to read through the RT mag, there was a featured romance author, can't remember her name, who wrote the heroine in first person, and the hero in third. Don't know how that release worked out. But, I think okay.

Alicia White said...

POV's...Every time I write I have some major issues. I always think I'm doing a great job but I always put people's opinions in.

When reading, it doesn't bother me. But when writing, I have to really watch out because some readers care about that.

My editor told me once that it's easier to please the readers who are bothered, that way, they will read more from you.

Rose Anderson ~ Romance Novelist said...

Great insight Pat. First person to me is the difference between a biography and an autobiography. I wrote Hermes Online in first person, but I think it might be fun to to write first and third in one story.

Beth D. Carter said...

One of my best selling erotica romance books, Spirals, is in first person, present tense. You're right, the story demanded I write it like that and I'm very proud of the story. But it is a futuristic/apocalyptic type story so maybe that's why it works. :-) Thanks for the great article!