Matthew Bryant is secretary of GFW Writers group and also is our in-house professor of the new Grammar Etiquette blog series, posted the second Wednesday of every month. He is an English teacher in Denton, TX. When he isn't teaching he is ghost writing and working on his novel. He says with small children he has learned to write fast.
If you have a question or a comment, please leave it in the comment section at the end of this article.
So you've created a protagonist, an antagonist, a laundry list of conflict and crafted a killer setting. There's still one uber-important feature that you're missing. The HOOK, right? Right?
Well yes, there's that too... but before you can set a hook, you have to assign a narrator. This seems like a simple enough task... but look again.
Before you start hitting up your 60wpms on the word processor of your choice, take a moment to consider the differences and what they might mean to your story and audience.
To help my students remember the differences, always remember, “I come first, you come second, everybody else comes third.”
First Person – I've heard it told that this is the folly of new authors, kind of a comfort and safety net. My take on it is that it is the most restrictive way to tell a story. All thoughts and visuals are limited to the perspective of the protagonist/narrator.
I prefer to look at books written in the first person perspective as a means to heighten the experience. Being a science fiction and horror enthusiast, I want my readers to become immersed in the story to the extent that they can reach out and feel the steady hum of technology or cower under the humid breath of the unknown directly behind them.
These are the deepest experiences because the writer is forced to show a lot more of the inner workings, the personal feelings, thoughts, fears, hopes... everything the main character wishes to hide about him or herself is on display. All faults from in-opportune boners/menstruations to unhealthy feelings of lust, hate, self-depreciation and despair.
Done correctly, first person is the hardest to write because we spend our entire lives hoping nobody sees our faults for fear of rejection, only letting the closest to us get a glimpse.
Second Person – What do you mean nobody writes in second person? Haven't you ever read a Choose Your Own Adventure book?? If you haven't you're missing out. But alas, second person is probably best limited to direct address from a first-person narrator.
On the other hand, this form of writing is a LOT more frequent than you'd think. A vast majority of copywriters use these in advertising. It makes sense if you think about it. If you want to sell something, be it a product or an idea, make it personal. Let the reader believe, consciously or subconsciously, that your writing is speaking directly to them.
Third Person – The all-encompassing sandbox of writing. Ranging from very limited to omniscient and all places in between, third person lets you do what you will with your story.
While this perspective is more geared towards a fly on the wall atmosphere and feel, it gives a much broader view of what's going on. You can still share the views of the characters, and now are free to share on multiples. You can jump perspectives as well, following a number of protagonists instead of just one. With first person, following multiple just comes across as confusing and annoying (I'm looking at you, Myers)
But try not to get too carried away. The more groups you follow, the more likely people will get lost, especially if the characters haven't been properly established, are not memorable, or are flat out annoying. Inkspell comes to mind. As much as I absolutely loved the premise and a majority of the characters, too much time spent with characters that I really just wanted to hurry up and die so I could get back to somebody I cared more about made it almost unreadable and a flash-forward race to parts that actually interested me.
I still haven't cracked open my copy of Inkdeath...
But I digress.
First-Person – Extremely limited, but a more emotional experience
Second-Person – Probably selling you something.
Third Person – I was already playing God to begin with, lets go all out!