Writing Wednesday: Narrative Mode


All right, so this post is actually more about me and my preferences, rather than what makes good writing.

Lately, I’ve read a couple (2 or 3) books that use both first person and third person narratives. In the books I’ve read, it’s been first person for the heroine, but third person for everyone else. In one of them, the third person narrator wasn’t even the hero. It was literally everyone BUT the hero. His son. His mother. His best friend. I was shocked when the cat’s narrative wasn’t among them.

I HATE THIS.

In the first novel I read that had this construct, I thought, “Well, that’s an interesting experiment, but… ugh.” I firmly believe it was well done for what it was, but the transitions were jarring.

To me, it’s a lot like having too many perspectives when you haven’t written an epic. It smacks of either author hubris, or an author who doesn’t have enough plot to make it all the way through, so she has to go back and add something. Or, worse, an author who falls in love with her male lead (or other characters), but doesn’t have the ability or the desire to show us why the hero is such a great guy from the heroine’s perspective. We simply must have his perspective, too. Only, not in first person.

I think I could have handled it better if I’d had multiple first person POVs. Better than having both first and third. It’s either a clever literary device, or it’s laziness. And either way, you don’t want your readers thinking about your motives while they’re reading your book. Because that means they’re not paying attention to your story.

In the next book I read with this same construct, it was even more jarring, because the third person narrator was unclear. As in, it would start with the hero alone in a room. Okay, it will be from his perspective, right? Then, a friend of his comes in, and we get some stuff from his perspective. Is it omniscient? Uh, no. It was omniscient for about three lines, but, for the most part, it was a limited third person from a minor secondary character’s point of view.

This is for purely selfish reasons, but I beg of you: DON’T DO THIS.

I’m not saying this as a writer. Both of these authors had Big Six contracts, and I’ll be honest: sure, I’m published, but I don’t have one of those. They probably got advances, and I didn’t. This isn’t about writer jealousy or sour grapes.

This is me, Meggan Connors, the reader. DON’T DO THIS.

Both books had good stories behind them, stories I really liked. Both books are Book One in a series. Both books had a huge marketing campaign behind them (okay, there may be sour grapes about that).

But what I remember the most about them? The 1st person/3rd person crap. I wanted  to like this device, because I liked the stories. I enjoyed the first person story A LOT. I did finish both books, which says something, because, given how short my time is lately, if I loathe a book, I put it down. I wasn’t always this way–I used to finish every book I started, no matter how much I loathed it. But now, I have too much to do, and too little time to do it. It’s why I’m currently having a love affair with my crockpot. Without the crock, my family would never eat.

I don’t want my readers remembering more about a craptastic literary device I used than they do about the story.

Because I’ll be honest, I didn’t buy Book Two of either series, and I don’t really want to. Not because the stories and the world building weren’t great. They were. But because every time the story transitioned, I had issues. Every time it would start out in third person, I’d think, “Oh, no, not again.”

If you want to write in third, then write in third. If you want to write in first person, then do that. But don’t do both. Make up your mind and stick with it.

I, as your reader, will thank you.

–MCC

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17 thoughts on “Writing Wednesday: Narrative Mode”

  1. Great post and great advice. I especially loved your label of “craptastic literary device”. You’re not only a literary artist who paints pictures with your vivid words, you’re a linguistic genius. I’m always fascinated by your original terminology.

    1. Thanks Janna (I think).

      Some people don’t like first person. I really enjoy first person. I once read something in second person. I wasn’t a big fan of that, either, but I haven’t seen too much of that.

      But this first AND third thing? I’m running into it more and more often. Now that I think about it, I’ve read FOUR books in the last year and a half that utilize this, and though I loved one of the books, and I liked the others, I hated the construct. Maybe I’m stuck in my ways. I recognize that it’s different, and, maybe clever (I’m hedging my bets in that one), but I don’t like it.

      Frankly, I’d prefer head hopping, if it’s kept between two characters.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      1. I meant what I said as a compliment. I think your words and phrases are fantastic. I love the way you combine your words and paint a vivid picture with your unique phrases.

      2. You make me laugh, Janna. I figured you meant it as a compliment. Though, I’ll admit, when my boss says something about my colorful phrasing, it usually means I’m in trouble. (She’s not a huge fan of the word craptastic. Or froggleknockle)

        🙂

        M

        Sent from my iPhone

  2. Meggan, I wonder what it is you’re reading here. Maybe it’s just your personal preference? There are POV’s I can’t stand either and first person is a close…well, first on that list for me. Third doesn’t bother me a bit. Jumping POV never bothered me *until* I was told it was “wrong” and here’s the funny part: it’s used in a lot of the books I like to read. So, I have to guess it’s just a personal preference what POV we prefer. There are a lot of good books out there. All I can suggest is read the books you like, don’t waste your time on the others.

    1. Thanks, Juli.

      Third doesn’t bother me a bit. Love third. I like first, too. I just can’t stand them together in a book. It feels like author intrusion to me. Maybe because First person is like a diary. There shouldn’t be more than one perspective in a diary, but if there is, it should also be first person. That way, it’s like two people writing from a shared, personal experience.

      I’m sure it is a personal preference, though. These books are wildly popular, so people love them. Me, though? Unless you’re reading a story within a story, I can’t stand the “I” changing to “he” for really no reason other than to show the hero in another light.

      Again, there was nothing overtly wrong with what the author(s) did. I just didn’t like it.

  3. Meggan, you are on a POV jag. I love it. I think obsessions make us writers, and I bet you dollars to donuts your next title will be a POV masterpiece!

    I love a POV shift in the last paragraph of a book. It’s ballsy. I’ve read several lately that are all third person or first and then the last paragraph will drop from 1st to third, or third to limited, or even from 1st or 3rd to (gulp) second. It’s jarring and makes the ending unforgetable.

    How do you feel about a shift JUST at the end?

    1. At the end, I have no problem with it. It can really wrap a book up nicely. I don’t count those, because it’s so limited. Actually, epilogues and prologues don’t count at all in my word. Those are fine for story set up and wrap up.

      I don’t know about POV masterpiece, but I caught myself trying to be clever with POV and, well, I went back and changed it. I realized it wasn’t nearly as clever as I thought it was. 🙂

  4. Sing it, sister. For the back of the church!

    I’m not a huge fan of first person (because it is so rarely executed flawlessly) but when it’s good, damn, it’s good.

    I was going to get on my POV soapbox but you said it all. 🙂

  5. I could see how the author switching POV like that could get so irritating you want to tear your hair out. I don’t mean to argue with you here, it’s just that there HAS to be a tasteful way to switch POV within a work. Being the new writer I am, I don’t know it. I would bet it takes a pro to know where to make the switch and just how to do it. I read in an online creative writing course I took, that first person POV is often best suited for childrens and young adults novels/stories. I agree with this, because looking back, some of my favorite books (like Ellen Hopkins “Crank” series and other books by her) were written solely in first person. I’m not sure why this is, maybe because it helps the young reader to identify with the main character, which is crucial to so many young people: identifying with others.
    Great post though. Interesting read. =]

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