First vs. Third

This posting is an update on the progress of my trilogy of science fiction novels about the inhabitants of the planet Anthanos.  I’ve titled them The Anthanian Imperative (an explanation of where the name comes from is given in the first chapter of the first novel) and designated each with a color.  The first is The Anthnanian Imperative–Blue, which refers to the overall color of a planet they land on, i.e., ‘the blue planet.’  The second is Green (a green planet), and the third, Red.  The manuscript of the first is in the hands of a professional editor right now (I’m writing this on 5/29/2011.  Damn, I missed the Indianapolis 500) the second is also finished, awaiting the critique on the first and will probably be submitted later, and the third, well, that’s what I want to talk about here.  I’ve just started it, and I ran into a small problem.

Not an insurmountable problem, but I had to resolve a question in my mind about how I wanted to format the novel.  The first two novels were written in the third person exclusively, usually called 3rd person point-of-view, or POV.  In each of those two novels I’ve had at least two characters whose POV I’m using, but always in third person.  That’s a natural form for beginners like me, it’s the simplest and easiest to work with.

But with the third novel, Red, I wanted to do something different.  Before I ever started scribbling out notes to myself on paper or typed one word on the computer screen, I’d decided to write it in first person.  I’d try my hand at it, I thought, as though all I had to do was just make the change and everything would fall into place without difficulty.  So, I started out about a month ago, finally getting the story down in a tangible format where I could look at it, read through it, and work on it to my heart’s content.  After about 15 pages, I stumbled and fell.

The problem wasn’t that first person is more difficult than third; not really, I had no difficulty getting the story going and putting words on the screen.  The problem I ran into was that first person is substantially more confining than third.  To really make first person work, all the story has to be filtered through the sensory apparatus of the POV character.  The author has to get deep down inside the character’s head, and that’s limiting.  If that person isn’t aware  of something, the author isn’t supposed to put it down.  So I stopped where I was, took a good look at the words I’d written and wondered, is this the direction I want the novel to go?  After thinking about it for a day or so, I began to revise it, re-working it into  third person.  I was hoping I could have a first-person novel under my belt by the time the trilogy came out, but it doesn’t seem that’s the way it’ll be.  Third person, here I come.

Granted, in using third person, each POV character is limited to knowing what comes through his/her eyes, ears, etc., but there’s more flexibility.  In this case, the author is outside the character’s head, and areas of backstory, background, etc., can be written in more easily, and the flow of the story becomes smoother.  It’s that flow I’m after.  I want my novels to read easily, to flow from the page into the mind of the reader without the reader knowing he’s actually reading something.  In first person, I couldn’t get past the limited knowledge of the POV character, and couldn’t get around it either.  It was too jerky, knocking you around as you read and I don’t have the experience to work out the problem.  At least not yet.  I don’t want to take the time right now, either.

Perhaps I caved in, perhaps the story in Red isn’t made for first person, perhaps–perhaps–perhaps–you can say what you want, but Red will, in all likelihood, remain in third person.  I am thinking, though, of putting in small sections in first person, partly to vary the narrative, partly as a way of proving to myself that I can do it.  We’ll see.  Stick around.

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