Posted by: oneyearbook | March 17, 2009

Tuesday progress report

I hit word count for today by 11 a.m., which is the good news, but the bad news is that sometime in those first couple hours I hit a POV stumbling block that I’m not quite sure how to get up from.

So many questions

So many questions

Firstly, a little background: the original short story was written in first person, most probably because I was 17 and first person seemed easier. It’s been my intention since I worked through the outline for the novel to have about half of it – the part that takes place in 1985 (the novel’s ‘present day’ timeline) – in the first person, and the rest of it in the third person. I had a solid reason for this decision: the flashback scenes, which are going to be in third person, are the first-person narrator’s re-creation of her own memories; she is looking at them through the prism of the past, and, feeling a little detached from them, she narrates them as if they were happening to someone else. She wants to be able to examine them, not necessarily feel immersed in them personally. There are also some scenes in the past that are not from her POV that need to be in third person. In the present, however, I wanted the narration to have a sort of immediacy, as if she was telling her current day story, not as if it was being narrated by an outside force.

But then partway through a 1985 scene I got all huffy and said “I really hate this first-person voice” and switched the whole scene over to third. This was good, I liked this, much better, I’d switch the other scenes I’ve already done in first at some later date and continue like this, and bosh on the fact that having the whole thing in third person doesn’t work very well with the structure/narrative sense that I’ve set up.

The thing is, I generally tend toward liking the style of novels that are written in third-person better than those in first. The narrative voice has the ability to take over, especially in descriptive or introspective scenes, and present things in a more poetic or soul-searching way than a regular old first-person narrator can get away with. (Humbert Humbert gets away with it in Lolita because, as he says, “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.”) For some reason, I associate the first-person voice with books that are a touch more commercial (not that this is necessarily a bad thing) or more humorous (again, not necessarily a bad thing). The best example I can think of is Wonder Boys, which uses the first-person to great and rollicking effect, but can have fancier prose style because the narrator himself is the author of literary fiction. That book is made by the first-person, but Cloudstreet, say, and Little, Big, require the third for their particularly lovely style and voice.

So, as I said, I switched a scene over and figured I’d go on entirely in the third. Then I let myself go into one of the scenes I’d already done in the first, to attempt to switch it over to the third, and halfway through thought, “Okay, this isn’t going to work,” – the sense of immediacy, the closeness to the character, just wasn’t coming through, not to mention it was hard to distinguish the third-person 1985 voice from the third-person 1932 voice. So I switched everything back to first-person again. For now that’s what I’m going to stick with, although I can’t promise this won’t cause some sort of existential crisis three months from now.

Total word count thus far: 6,306



  1. you know i like first person so i am happy!

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