Monday, November 14, 2011

In Search of a Little Writerly Advice




So I’m super busy this week and don’t have much time to write or visit until later, but I wanted to ask you all for a little advice.  When you’re starting on a new project, a new book, how do you choose the point of view?  What’s your process?  I know a lot of you write YA and so first person is the preferable choice.  I feel the same way and greatly enjoy those adult thrillers written in the first person. That’s why I wrote my first novel in first person.  But now that I’m starting out on my second book, the choice isn’t nearly as clear. 
My first book was primarily about two people, so I chose to write in their voices.  This time around, however, it’s proving a little more difficult.  I really want to write about the whole family involved in this story, not just because I need all their POVs to tell the story, but rather because they each play a distinct role in how the story plays out, yet they are each unaware of the other’s role.  So they’ll each be holding onto their own pieces of the puzzle and will play each one according to who does what before them. 
So my question is this, because this story is such an emotional one, I wanted to tell it in first person, but I worry about having four voices and hopping back and forth between them.  Not that I haven’t seen this done, because I have, but I worry that it will be difficult for me as a still-unpublished-author to get this story publish.
Since the story starts out with one of the four main characters—the antagonist— having a mental and emotional breakdown and being hospitalized, I thought of just having the story unfold during therapy, but not just for him—for all of his family, since his problem is related to the family dynamic.  This can be supplemented through journaling, as well, and all the details are revealed to the therapist treating her patient and his family as a whole.  But once the main conflict is revealed, the action will be in real-time, so to speak.  Not in flashbacks, memories, or recollections. 
Or I can use the old standby and write in the third person from all four POVs.  But then again, I worry about all that head-hopping.  And since the conflict originates years in the past, I don’t want to tell the story in a purely linear fashion, but rather slightly out of sequence so the details can build until the story reaches the present day and the reader learns how the sins of the past have affected those living in the present.  
So I know most of you don’t write or perhaps even read adult thrillers, but I’d be interested in what you think.  How would you tackle it?  What is your process for choosing POV and revealing a series of events over a very long period of time while trying to keep everything in the moment?  Have you ever had to tackle a story like this?  

25 comments:

Linda King said...

Hi Nancy. I'd be inclined to write in the first person but limit it to one character per chapter, even if that means short chapters. I've read books before where this has worked, both in diary form and in story-telling form. Good luck - hope you get it sorted soon!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Linda's advise of one character POV is good. You might see if you could limit it to 3 characters just because it's easier to be drawn into characters if you're writing from less POVs. Or I've seen authors write from one or two POVs in the first book in a series and then expand into more as the series continues when you as the reader don't mind as much.

I've only written in 3rd person limited so far and with one character.

Laila Knight said...

I started out writing in first person but I think third person allows for more mobility. My head hopping is usually between two characters. I did a little research before embarking in third person and some writers will start out in one character's head, then show them doing something together...maybe a short paragraph...before jumping into the second head so it's not jarring to the reader. And you can always start another chapter with the new character. :)

richard p hughes said...

Your story will usually dictate the pov. Start out with what seems right, and if it works all the way thru, then fine, if not, you may have to change pov. Third-person omniscent allows the most range.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've never written in first person, so I'm afraid I can't weigh in on this one.

Peggy Eddleman said...

I guess I kind of just choose what feels right. I think that the more POVs you use, the harder it is to get it right. When it's done really well, though, it can be awesome. I guess just plan on spending a LOT of time in revisions if you decide to do it. :)

Murees Dupé said...

I tend to gravitate towards the first person POV, but only because I can feel and tell the story so much clearer.

Cassie Mae said...

I had the same problem when I wrote my second WiP as well. What I did was write the first chapter in first person then I tried it in third. I had written my first novel in first person, but when I switched it up, I found I actually enjoyed third person much more and it gave me more freedom to 'head hop'.

And a lot of third person POV books evoke the same feelings as first person...Harry Potter comes to mind, but try both and see which works better for you. Good luck!! :)

JeffO said...

I agree with Peggy. I tend to write in the first person, it's my 'default' setting, but I've done thirds as well. As much of a pain as it is, you may have to fish a bit, play around with each one, and see what feels right.

Jennifer Hillier said...

My natural voice is 3rd person, so multiple POVs (especially in our genre) tend to be okay. But I still think you should give your 1st person multiple a shot, if that's what feels natural to you. If it works, great. If not, you can always revise!

p.s. Let's get our tequila on, lady!

Robin Weeks said...

I tend to shy away from multiple 1st person POV's as a reader. Maybe just because I want to connect to a single hero/ine? It can be done well, but I don't prefer it.

Will all your characters have equal weight on the story or does one stand out as an obvious protagonist? I'd suggest 3rd person limited with head-hoppong. But keep your head-hopping in separate chapters or obvious section breaks, and let the protag have the most sections. If you'll be including journals and letters, those can be 1st person, obviously, and could provide a fun variety.

Good luck with this!

Lisa L. Regan said...

Well you know my thoughts on this from a prior email. For us unpublished people I think close 3rd person all the way through would probably be the most marketable but you could totally pull off 1st person with four characters. Just make sure each chapter is marked clearly. You can easily convert to 3rd person if you do it that way later although that is more work. I think you should do one or the other though--jumping from 1st to 3rd might make it a real challenge getting published. Not that a buttload of published authors don't do that but you know how it is--if you're not established, the industry is more restrictive. Have you tried writing a little in first and a little in third and seeing what feels and/or sounds better?

Lynda R Young said...

You need to write the book that calls to you the way it calls to you and worry about publication later. Anything can be changed later down the track. For example, pick first person, not because you think it's more marketable, but because it's a more intimate POV.

Carrie Butler said...

I'm a 1st person writer, through and through. (Though, I'm always up for challenging myself with 3rd.) I think you should write whatever flows naturally. If that's 1st, just be sure to separate and label the POV by chapter. :)

Alleged Author said...

Head hopping can be pretty hard to write well. I think that's why I stick to 1st person pov.

Melodie Wright said...

Hmmm. I agree w/ Carrie and Linda on your POVs but must ask - where does your story really start? W/ the breakdown or its aftermath? If the latter, you could start w/ a prologue before jumping into the aftermath in ch. 1. Then remove it later once you have a better grasp of your beginning. My beginnings are always last to be finished.

Reviewer11 said...

I know it gets frustrating and difficult to figure out how to write a story. The best advice I've been given and share with you and everyone else is to write what you like. People have different tastes. You write what you like and others like your taste will follow you. Write your story the way it sounds good to you.

Good luck! :D

L.G.Smith said...

I normally prefer to write in third person. It's what comes easiest for me. But my trilogy I'm working on is all first person, but that's because the story is all about the MC. It's her story I'm telling, and her POV and emotions I really wanted to delve into.

Personally, I think if you divide POV's by chapter you can get away with multiple first person accounts. Just be aware that because it is such an intimate way of storytelling it can get confusing for the reader when there are that many personalities to keep track of. Each will need to be very distinct in voice. Barbara Kingsolver did this brilliantly in The Poisonwood Bible (though I heard she wrote the entire novel from each person's POV before melding them together into one story. Took her ten years).

Juliana said...

I literally just read a blog where someone else asked this question. The advice they were given is to write the first chapter in both styles and see which is right. Usually, you'll get a feel for one and it will fit with the story.

Good luck!

Joylene said...

Wonderful questions. And oh boy do I relate to your dilemma. I felt exactly the same way during the early stages of my current ms. I wanted two main characters to tell the story in 1st person. But convinced I couldn't pull it off, I spent 5 drafts using 3rd person past tense for one and 1st person present for the other. And then one lone day I changed his voice to match hers: first person present tense, and ... wow! What a difference. It was as if I'd been sent free to tell Danny's story without holding back. I felt so free that the final draft was completed in weeks instead of another year.

So, you're probably guessing what I'm going to suggest.

Do what that inner voice is telling you to do, no matter how much negative ego-BS you hear. If you're true to your characters, the reader will read the first line of each new scene and know exactly who's speaking. I promise.

Let me know how it goes.

Al Penwasser said...

I usually like to write in the first person (a look at my blog confirms this). In fact, the book I'm writing now is in the 1st person. Still, 3rd person gives you flexibility that restricting your story to one POV doesn't give you. With a book such as yours, I would think you need differing points of view. Since it has elements of the psychological in it, I believe this would be crucial. The last book I wrote was in the 3rd, so I'm no stranger to it. I just needed other characters to weigh in for that particular story. Without another perspective, the thriller would just be seen from one set of eyes only. For what it's worth......

M Pax said...

I mostly write in the 3rd person -- as when I was submitting that's what editors preferred in my genre. I find 1st very challenging.

Julie Musil said...

Hmmmm....good question. I haven't written a story like this before. I've only written from one character's pov, either in 3rd or 1st. And that choice was based on trial and error. Tried 3rd, didn't work, switched to 1st, and vice versa.

When I've read adult thrillers, I'd have to say more than two pov's throw me off. Not that it can't be done, but it does get confusing. So I'm not sure what the solution is!

R. Jacob said...

I think it would be a gradual intermingling of all subjects in the story, first solo points of view and then like walking into a room everyone shows up.

Lora R. Rivera said...

Wow so many answers! To a great and difficult question. I want to weigh in because the book that came to my mind immediately was The Poisonwood Bible. 4 1st person narratives, jumping through time though with a linear thread with some honestly suspenseful moments. The book's not a thriller, but I think you could use Kingsolver's mechanics if you haven't decided on a different route. The big thing with this book was voice. Each 1st person is so radically different, I didn't even need the heading [Name, Date] to place myself in time and character.

Well, then, good luck!