So you’re writing a story and you know it’s a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, except that … it isn’t. In fact, it’s bad. But the reason it’s bad is NOT that you’re a bad writer. The reason it’s bad is because you’re using a technique that’s not familiar to you. What do you do?
Hamish posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Ben reading your blog for around two years now, it has helped me greatly, thank you!
My question is this: I love first person, I despise third person. I love the knowledge of a single character, knowing them like the back of my hand, creating them however I want. I love being able to make my reader feel! Which, is something I’ve found I can’t do in Third Person.
This, however, is where I run into a problem. The stories I want to write my ‘staggeringly heartbreaking work of genius’ is best written in third person.
The real problem is that, when I write in Third Person I feels if my writing is poor of quality, and I hate it. So, how do I overcome this? When my story i best suited to third person? But, I myself am dismal when writing third person?
Apologies if this is a question asked many times.
Randy sez: Well, now, there’s a dilemma. You’ve got a story that’s screaming to be written in third person, but you are better at first-person than third-person. What do you do?
Tough question, and there’s no easy answer. This is why we call it a dilemma. This is a judgment call, so I’ll give you my judgment, even though I can’t prove it’s correct.
Let’s look at your options.
The Safe Road
You can take the safe road and write it in first person. This is what you’re familiar with. You believe you’ll do your best work in first person. The only problem is that you think the story would work better in third person.
There’s a possibility you might actually be wrong. It might be that this story would work just fine in first person. You could probably find that out by writing a few scenes or chapters and see how it’s working.
But let’s assume that you’re right—that the story would best be told in third person. If you take the “safe road,” what’s going to happen is that you won’t do this story justice because you’re using the wrong tool for the job. And that’s just not acceptable, at least not to me. I don’t want to work on a story unless I can do my best. So this is not the road I’d take.
The Unsafe Road
The unsafe road is to write the story in third person, even though you believe that you can’t do it well.
I suspect that if you give it a chance, you might find that third-person isn’t any harder than first-person. It’s different, but it’s not harder. You can give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience in third-person just as well as you can in first-person.
Writing in third-person is not harder. It’s just less familiar to you, Hamish. Which means that at first, it won’t feel right. But I’d bet that if you try it for a few scenes, you might start getting more comfortable with it.
Third-person lets you do interior monologue and interior emotion just as effectively as you could do them in first-person. (These are two of the five standard techniques novelists use in writing fiction. All five techniques are explained in great detail in my book Writing Fiction for Dummies, so I’m not going to try to repeat all of that here.)
But in third-person, your interior monologue can be indirect—it doesn’t have to be an exact verbatim transcript of the character’s thoughts. Instead, it can be a summary of those thoughts, which is sometimes an advantage.
Third-person also has another slight advantage over first-person. In third person, your narrative voice can be different from the voice of the point-of-view character. This lets you, the author, use your own narrative voice when you need to. You don’t have to. You can write a whole novel in which your narrative voice is always the voice of the point-of-view character. In first-person, you have to do this. But in third-person, if you want to, you can pull back a bit from the point-of-view character and inject your own voice.
Hamish, it’s not my job to tell you what to do. But here’s what I’d do if I were you. I’d try this story in third-person and see if I can grow into feeling comfortable writing that way. Every writer needs all sorts of tools in his toolbox. One of the most useful is the third-person point of view. If you don’t develop this skill, you’ll be limiting yourself. In fact, you’re limiting yourself right now.
Try it. See how well it works. Study the works of other authors to see what tricks they’re using to make it work. Keep trying.
That’s how you learn in this business—by trying things. Whether it works or doesn’t, send me an e-mail in a few months to let me know.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer the ones I can, but no guarantees. There are only so many hours in the day.