It’s All About Perspective … Or Is It?

29 Jan

Announcement one: I did an interview with The Modest Verge. Not only was it exciting, it was also fun and informative. You can find out if I kill bugs or set them free, what I would be if I weren’t human, and – of course – I’ve dropped yet another hint about what Seconds Before Sunrise (book 2 of The Timely Death Trilogy) will entail. So check it out here, and follow them on Twitter @themodestverge.

Second: if you follow My Facebook Author Page (I’m only 6 away from 2,000 – please “like” me without judging me on how desperate that just sounded. haha) then you’ve already seen this article by the fantastic Nathan Bransford: Wait. A first person narrative isn’t serious???

That’s what I want to elaborate on today.

I recommend you read what he had to say first (as well as the commentary) but I’ll pretend the link doesn’t work by quoting the line that summed up his rant, “Apparently there are literary agents and professors and all kinds of ostensibly rational people out there who think first person narratives are somehow unserious.” After that, he shares a list of fantastic novels – some of which are on my top 10 favorites list (like The Stranger and Never Let Me Go.) – proving how first-person narrative can, in fact, be serious writing. (On a side note, I don’t like the term “serious writing,” which you can read about here.) But I think that was also Nathan Bransford’s point. Who gets to judge what constitutes serious writing? Isn’t that up to the reader? But I wanted to talk about a few things you should consider when choosing a perspective:

I thought this was a good picture for “perspective.” Bogart likes art as much as me, but his kitty perspective is probably different than mine.

I thought this was a good picture for “perspective.” Bogart likes art as much as me, but his kitty perspective is probably different than mine.

1. Your Story – of course.

This is obvious, right? But I still want talk to about it. Depending on how you write a novel, you might know exactly what will happen in your plot the moment you sit down or you might not. This actually might be a problem to consider. If you don’t know where it is going, your perspective can be harder to choose. Analyze your plot and your characters – figure out who would best tell it, and remember: it might not be so obvious. (Think of The Book Thief’s narrator.)

2. Your audience

Although I try to avoid the stereotypical writing tips as the “right way to write” I think considering your audience is always important when starting a new piece. Doing basic research on what they are more likely to accept might help your novel and you out, but I am by no means encouraging you to change your novel based on what others say is “right.” If your research says you MUST do third-person, but you still feel like you should do first-person, I would say go with first-person. I’m a huge believer on following your gut and challenging the norm, but taking the time to consider your research seriously is always helpful and shouldn’t be completely disregarded. For instance, if you choose first in the situation above, be ready to explain to a publisher why your first-person perspective is worth it, special, and why readers will like it.

3. Your voice vs. your characters

For me, one of the hardest decisions I had to make was in a recent novel I wrote. The character demanded to tell the story in first-person, not to mention that she was the only one who wanted to tell the story. (Most of my stories are told in dual first-person perspectives, so it was unusual for my male protagonist to stay quiet.) Plus, there were events that happened when she wasn’t around, so I would lose them in the narrative (and I was really excited about writing them!) So I tried begging the male protagonist to also talk, but he refused. Then, I tried third-person, and she basically rolled her eyes at me and asked me why I was making her talk so funny. Ultimately, I knew I had to listen to her, and it worked out! So perspective can be chosen by someone other than you, too.

All in all, your perspective isn’t all up to you. (You are a huge part, of course) But your story, characters, and readers – in my opinion – can affect what the ultimate decision will be. Consider your perspective carefully, and if youre not sure, I would suggest writing the first three chapters in first and then doing the same in third. Ask yourself which one felt more comfortable, which one seemed right for the story, and hopefully the answers won’t contradict one another. If they do, try again by writing a few scenes in the middle of story. 

In the end, I don’t think your perspective is going to make or break your novel. Instead, I would concentrate on your writing – that will make or break it (hopefully, make it – because we’re positive over here.) As long as your writing to the best of your abilities, willing to grow, and moving forward, a perspective shouldn’t define you, and it shouldn’t stop you. It should guide you.

But that’s just my perspective on things.

~SAT

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14 Responses to “It’s All About Perspective … Or Is It?”

  1. dianaroggenbuckebrown January 29, 2014 at 12:12 am #

    I agree a perspective shouldn’t define you. It depends on the novel and the characters.

  2. PLT January 29, 2014 at 2:37 am #

    Reblogged this on phúc lộc thọ việt nam.

  3. raymondvogel January 29, 2014 at 5:32 am #

    Love the Bogart pic!

    Personally, I’m a fan of whatever works. Writing in first person, for me, is WAY more engaging. It allows me to sink more fully into my character’s perspective, which makes my writing (in my opinion) better in that way. First person can be tricky, though, so writers just have to be careful not to wander into 1st person omniscient.

    Great post. Thanks, Shannon.

    • Shannon A Thompson January 31, 2014 at 8:50 am #

      Bogart is pretty photogenic.

      I think first person is a lot more engaging, too! – one of the main reasons I love reading it. I like feeling like I am in the adventure as the protagonist. I also like how you added the difficulties of first person (how someone might wander into omniscient land.) There is a skill to all perspectives.

      ~SAT

  4. Charles Yallowitz January 29, 2014 at 6:52 am #

    I fully agree. Though, I’m confused on what people mean by ‘serious’ writing. Does it mean a story is juvenile or the author is immature? If an author puts all of the energy and focus into a book then I would think it’s serious no matter what anyone says. Maybe I’m just nitpicking here.

    By the way, I thought that picture was of a panther in an art museum. Serves me right for not getting enough sleep.

    • Shannon A Thompson January 31, 2014 at 8:54 am #

      I find the term “serious writing” irritating for all those reasons. I actually wrote about it last November: http://shannonathompson.com/2013/11/02/serious-writing/.
      ~SAT

      • Charles Yallowitz January 31, 2014 at 9:24 am #

        I’m sorry I missed that post. I fully agree with foreshadowing, which is a favorite tool of mine. It does get me into trouble since you get some readers that miss it or decipher it differently than I intended. Part of the job path, I guess.

      • Shannon A Thompson January 31, 2014 at 9:26 am #

        No worries! I try to link to past entries when I bring them up in current blog posts since I post so much. I know a lot of posts go unnoticed. But I thought you would like that one. I’m glad you took the time to read it. :D Definitely part of the gig.
        ~SAT

  5. Paul Handover January 29, 2014 at 8:04 am #

    All very useful to this tyro. Great advice.

  6. bizarrejc January 30, 2014 at 8:32 am #

    I’ve written a few things in first person. It felt strange to me the first time. I’m used to writing in third, however the story wasn’t being told right in third. I agree the characters will and does control the way we write. They can be so bossy.

    • Shannon A Thompson January 31, 2014 at 8:55 am #

      Thank you for sharing your personal experience with writing in third and first! I like hearing about other writers, and I think it helps other readers on here to see they aren’t alone.
      ~SAT

  7. mickiwrites January 30, 2014 at 9:35 am #

    Excellent advice.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Website Wonders | Shannon A Thompson - April 1, 2014

    […] serious???: By Nathan Bransford, I actually wrote a response to this article on my blog called It’s All About Perspective…Or Is It?. I loved what Bransford had to say about this narrative style because he proves how serious it can […]

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