I belong to the Writers’ Water Cooler forum, and over there, a lot of people ask the same question over and over, which goes something like this: “Is it better to write in first or third person?”
The answers are always the same. “What works best for your novel? That’s the one to go with.” “What are you most comfortable with? Go with that.” “You can do one and then change it later if you want.”
Yeah. I’m finding out that last one is trickier than anyone lets on. It must be some sort of Great Writing Secret. They make it sound so easy. Change the pronouns, and voila! Instant change from first to third! Or third to first. Whichever.
The fact, is everything changes when you change from one to the other.
I just wrote a novel in essentially eight weeks. Not quite as good as NanNoWriMo, but darn close if you ask me. Nineteen drafts, 86,000 words. The first seven chapters were lifted from an existing novel (this is the one I split in two), and the rest was almost totally new. And for some reason, although I’d been writing these books in third person for five years, when I sat down to write this new book, it all came out in first instead. And I found out that my MC, Erin, is just as snarky and sarcastic as I am, and just as unwilling to take crap from anyone.
Which meant that, when I sat down to start rewrites on Book 2 this week, it wasn’t just changing pronouns.
Take this paragraph, for example. This is from the old, third person POV:
She stomped that thought immediately and focused on the task at hand — staying out of the way, staying off camera, and getting a paycheck. She sidled by the cameramen and the hostess, keeping to the shadows, and joined Spencer, Maggie, and a couple of other members of Oxford Paranormal. With them was a thirty-ish man with brown hair and warm brown eyes that Spencer introduced as Nick Kensington. His eyes brightened when Spencer introduced them, and she began to understand why everyone in Oxford Paranormal had reacted as they had.
“Ah, so you’re the one who had the experience last time!” he said, grasping her hand in his for a brief moment. “Let’s hope for that sort of activity tonight, shall we?”
When I rewrote it last night, it turned out like this:
I stomped that thought. I had more important things to do here tonight. Meet this Nick Kensington. Hope he could give me some sort of answers about Rebecca and Seth. And more importantly — I sidestepped a couple of crew members, ducking my head as I passed them — staying off the damn cameras. I kept to the shadows and found Spencer near the altar, with Maggie and a couple of other members of Oxford Paranormal. With them was a thirty-ish man with brown hair and warm brown eyes, like toffee. He glanced at me; then his gaze paused, and his face lit up in a smile.
Suddenly, I knew why everyone in Oxford Paranormal had reacted as they had two weeks earlier, when Spencer said this guy was coming. The whispers, the looks, the dreamy smiles.
“Don’t believe we’ve met,” he said, holding out a hand. “Nick Kensington.”
Perfect? No, not yet. 🙂 But the entire voice is different. Had I simply replaced pronouns, we’d have no sense of Erin’s personality, her observations, her interactions. So if you’re thinking about this — it is not an easy process. Not that I don’t encourage you to do it. I’ve always toyed with the idea of turning this series into first-person POV; in fact, when I get stuck, I often journal from a character’s point of view, letting them tell me what happened, how, and why. Then I covert that into third person, and somehow, that’s easier. Those are the best scenes. Those are the ones that have immediacy and punch. So I already knew I could do first person easily. But now I have an entire book to rewrite like this, and it literally is a process: copy a few lines or paragraphs into the new document, then retype them entirely, using those as a guideline, but writing in the new voice and style.
Maybe there are easier ways to do it, and if you think of any, let me know! Because this is pretty much going to be my summer. But given how much better it is in first . . . I’m pretty sure I’m sticking with it.