First Person vs. Third Person

Who uses a typewriter?
GIS for “writer” is pretty boring, but that’s hardly a surprise.

Well, first of all, I’ve never liked first person shooters. Bioshock Infinite was a remarkable experience, but more in spite of its mechanics, not because of them. Compare that to Uncharted, which I — oh, that’s not what we’re doing? Well.

The novel I’m working on, The Breakers, is my primary mental focus lately. I have a new opening, which better fits Mira as the lead character, and I’m working my way through what I had written out for the plot and seeing what, if anything, can be transferred over. I don’t want to just take Adam and Mira and swap them, and I don’t want to take a story that was written for Adam and instead have it be for Mira, because both of those are being dishonest to the characters. If I’m going to do this right, and I am, I’m going to start fresh and go scene by scene and figure out how I want to do this.

I’d written down my intended opening line and taken the time to be quite happy with it when I realized how I wrote it. As Adam, the opening line was third-person narrator. As Mira, first-person narrator.

I don’t know why.

I’ve started reading Timothy Zahn’s Quadrail series again. Those are all in first-person, but I only started that yesterday at lunch, and I wrote the initial line for Mira yesterday morning. I’ve been doing the Icewind Dale/Hakuoki LP on Broken Forum, and much of that is in first-person, but I don’t do that to the point where it’s all I write. Also, I am thirty one years old and most certainly a guy, and not seventeen years old and also a girl. So one would think I wouldn’t default to first-person for someone so markedly different from myself.

But I did, and if it happened that easily, then I should let it happen. It’s got its pros and cons, and it’s going to be critical for me to keep them straight.

Pros to First Person Perspective:

  • It lets the writer, and therefore the reader, get more into the mind of the character.
  • It becomes easier to guide the reader’s emotions. You’re not telling the reader that they should feel a certain way, you’re just saying that the protagonist feels a certain way.
  • It lets the writer play with keeping information from the reader that could otherwise be apparent with a third-person omniscient narrator. (Think of Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories, a smart fellow in his own right, but with little chance of keeping up with Holmes himself. A third-person narrator might show more of what Holmes is doing, thus limiting the impact of the reveal at the end.)

Cons to First Person Perspective

  • The writer’s perspective is limited. You can’t show anything that the viewpoint character doesn’t see. That includes the villain scheming in his ivory tower, the window opening silently downstairs, or the bad guy sneaking up behind her in the night.
  • The writer’s method of storytelling is limited. You can’t show anything that the character doesn’t see, but you also can’t tell a story in a way that the character wouldn’t tell it. If your viewpoint character is a simple and straightforward type, you can’t start using flowery language to describe things. If your viewpoint character is a talented musician, you need to take that into account in how he or she views the world around them.
  • The main character needs to be likable. If the reader is going to spend a few hundred pages inside someone’s head, it needs to be someone the reader doesn’t want to strangle by the second chapter.

Mira’s character isn’t one that’s alien to me; she’s resourceful, witty, idealistic, overly optimistic, and very comfortable around people. She’s perfect for a dialogue-heavy story, which tends to be the types of stories I write. But she’s different from my other characters in a few ways; I haven’t written an adept musician before, I haven’t written a young character without some level of baggage in quite some time, and to address the elephant in the room, I haven’t written a female lead before. But I’m looking forward to meeting those challenges, and it looks like I’ll be doing so and getting as far into her head as I can.

So I should probably get back to it and stop writing this blog, then.

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The Hero’s Journey Shouldn’t Discriminate

I like it when I read something that gets me thinking. I like it when I read something that makes me ask questions, even uncomfortable questions.

I like it when I read something that makes me ask uncomfortable questions of myself, even if I wouldn’t qualify that process as enjoyable.

Sady Doyle wrote an article about the JK Rowling series that wasn’t, In Praise Of Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger Series. Miss Doyle spends the article praising Joanne Rowling for not writing under an androgynous-at-best penname, for writing a series starring a female protagonist who uses her intelligence and is rewarded for it, who isn’t the Chosen One and isn’t looked down upon or ignored because of it, for writing well-rounded female characters who all stand out without being stereotypes… and you probably get the point. Her followup, The Further Adventures Of Hermione Granger, gets into her reasons for writing this.

I’m a novelist-in-training, let’s say. Popular Anarchy is a book I wrote, stared at, and ultimately shelved for a rewrite. I’m partway through that rewrite, though I would be lying if I said I was proceeding well on it. I have another book that I’m working on in the conceptual stage, somewhere between world design and outline. It’s called The Breakers, and I’m really excited for it; I’ve got a good set of characters, I think the world is interesting, and I’m pulling from different inspirational sources to make sure I don’t write the same thing again. A little more Romance of the Three Kingdom Hearts, let’s call it, instead of The Occurian Candidate.

The Breakers has taken up a lot of my mental energy. I’ve put about twenty thousand words into my outline, and another ten or so into the world design document. Most of it is stream of consciousness rambling, which is how I outline things, so it’s not like I’ve written a short story about my world so I don’t write an actual novel about it. But there’s a bit in that document where I’m figuring out my protagonist, Adam Harper. I like Adam — I think he’s an excellent main character. He’s got flaws, strengths, an interesting set of friends, two of whom are also important characters in this book, and a family that factors heavily into what’s happening here. I’m proud of the work I did on him.

I never even considered making a woman my main character.

I’m mad at myself. In the midst of all this 1reasonwhy stuff that has me so up in arms, in the midst of me playing games ranging from JRPGs to Japanese visual novels/dating sims, in the midst of me raging at gender inequality and outright misogyny, I’m unconsciously enforcing it in my own work. There’s no excuse for this. I had a female character, Mira Jersic, designed long before Adam, but she was a supporting character in Adam’s story. Putting as much work into her design as I did didn’t make up for the fact that she wasn’t as important as Adam. The background work and extensive questionnaire I completed from her point of view didn’t mean anything if I put a ceiling on her level of import for no reason other than “a guy should be the main character.”

I’d like to say that there wasn’t anything sexist in my thinking on it, but honestly, I don’t know. I just looked at these characters I’d already made — two women, one man — and decided I needed a different main character. The character I made was male. Maybe that’s completely innocent. Maybe I was balancing things out. Maybe I was thinking of a specific story that only a guy could tell. But there’s nothing in my outline about that, and there’s nothing in the story I have outlined that is the kind of thing that can only be experienced/told/for a guy.

So I’m changing it. I don’t care if it takes me more time, I don’t care if I have to scrap stuff, and I don’t care if it’s harder. I’m swapping Mira into the lead role and starting over with The Breakers. I don’t know how different it will end up being, but I’ll gladly find out.