Monday, June 27, 2011

Third Person, First Person, Head Hopping

Several writers, many of them New York Times bestselling authors, who have presented at my local chapter meetings told us that romance is best told from third person point of view. In third person, your reader can cast herself as the heroine if you put your story into third person.

For example, in one scene from my TWRP dark angel book, Sacred Guardian, the heroine first encounters the hero after she has taken an accidental overdose in her apartment, with no one around to help her. She can't remember what happened but finds herself in the bathroom, after *ahem* getting rid of the overdose, and "She looked down at the floor to steady herself and saw . . . feet? Raised her gaze higher. Knees, encased in worn khaki. Muscled thighs. An ivory T-shirt stretched across the broad expanse of a man's chest. A face. Her jaw creaked before her mouth dropped open. A man stood there scowling at her, but damn, what a face he had!"

The same scene, written in first person point of view: "I looked at the floor to steady myself . . ." H'mmm. If it were in first point of view, the rest of that portion of the scene could have stood as it is written, except "her" would be "my." This is known as "deep" third person point of view, where the reflections of the character are so into the character that they could be from a first person point of view, yet the reader can cast herself as the heroine.

The advantage of first person point of view is that the author can have a character so vivid that this character can carry a series. Examples of this are Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake and Janet Evanovitch's Stephanie Plum. Readers eagerly await new books by these authors so they can spend time with the heroine.

I tried this point of view in a book years ago and entered a contest with the first chapter. I got ratings as low as '1' and as high as '5'. The people who did not like it stated that they hated the character. The people who loved it stated that they loved the character. I didn't know any better so I scrapped the manuscript for a while. Recently, a very big author talked to my chapter and said, "When you get really low ratings and really high ratings for the same manuscript in contests, it means you are getting a passionate response. Keep going."

Oops! I ended up rewriting the hundred pages I'd written into deep third person point of view because I'd written myself into a corner. In first person point of view, you can only know what the main character knows. I missed being able to go into my hero, so I rewrote it. Now I happily go into my hero's point of view and accept my limitations in terms of first person POV.

So. Writing in deep third person point of view has its own limitations in scenes where you have your hero and heroine interacting. I bow to all the gods and goddesses who can successfully zip into one person's point of view and seamlessly into the other point of view without losing the audience.

I can't do it. I just can't. I need that scene break noted by a line of stars or a section break in a manuscript. Usually I give an entire chapter in the hero's point of view, then another chapter to the heroine. When I am reading, I don't really care about point of view. If an author grabs me, that author owns me. If I find I can't put a book down, it does not matter to me if the author goes into the hero, heroine, the heroine's poodle and the hero's mechanic in the same scene, as long as I know whose head I'm in. As for first person, I am delighted to spend time with vivid characters like Sookie Stackhouse.

Do you have a preference concerning point of view? I'd love to hear from you :-)


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