Wednesday, October 28, 2009

First vs. Third Person

Lately, I've had the pleasure of reading some great historical fiction in first person: Michelle Moran's Cleopatra's Daughter, Anita Davison's latest WIP, The Cherry Garden and now, Brandy Purdy's The Boleyn Wife.  With all this reading comes the inevitable question; what's with the great debate about first versus third person narratives?

Some people LOATHE first person, cannot appreciate it and will not touch it with the proverbial ten foot pole. But there are also others who swear it is the only viewpoint they love, especially when the main character is female. Having written in both third and first person, I understand the pros and cons of each, but I still like first person better.

First person can be stilted or awkward, with a tendency to catalogue every action; e.g. I woke up, I bathed, and I ate my cereal. Or, there are somewhat contrived scenes where the main character is always at the right moment and time whenever a major event happens. And, sometimes, the immediacy of the ever-present "I" is repetitive and a bit claustrophobic. Third person isn't without its perils too. It's easy to blur the line between the characters' thoughts and author exposition - I've always found Little Women difficult when Alcott intrudes into her characters' scenes. Third person is detached, requiring less emotional involvement for the reader than first person. Also, when working with multiple POVs in third person, if characters don't have distinct voices or there's no indication the character POV has changed, the reader quickly gets lost. 

Are there certain stories or genres where first person or third person is more appropriate?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The First Paragraph

Agent Nathan Bransford is hosting the Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge on his blog; entries must be received by Thursday, Oct. 15 4pm Pacific.  I entered my first paragraph of Renegade today after reading some of the early entries when the contest launched two days ago and once again, saw proof of why some struggle to snag an agent - too much competition from so many talented writers.

I've been fortunate to read a lot of good writing lately, the sort of work that hooks you and makes you want to race through the story because you can't wait to find out what happens next.  The common thread in each story has been an excellent opening paragraph; something about the scene, setting or characters just gripped me at the start.  Knowing where to begin a manuscript is key to hooking any reader with your first paragraph.  Sometimes it can be a monumental event in the characters' lives or just something out of the ordinary, but it must be important enough for the reader to care what comes next.  Also, the opening paragraph creates an implicit promise with the reader; the momentum with which the story began is how most expect it will end. 

As a writer or reader, what do you look for in a first paragraph?   

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Anti-Hero

The anti-hero has become my favorite principal character in fiction. I love the men who are less than ideal or picture-perfect, so flawed that at the outset they seem beyond all redemption. It's more accurate to say I start out hating them for the miserable bastards they are but by novel's end, the anti-hero and the writer's skill at character portrayal, have won me over.

Murad Reis, the protagonist in my new WIP, Renegade, is a Dutch privateer turned Barbary corsair who fits the anti-hero description perfectly: A central figure in a work that repels us by his or her actions or morality, yet who is not a villain. The Anti-hero accomplishes a useful purpose or even does heroic deeds. I started researching Murad nearly two years ago, in part because I attended a writers' conference session on pirates. While I prefer the medieval period, the age of piracy and the 17th century also interest me. Murad was born Jan Janszoon and took to the seas as a Dutch privateer. Many years later, Barbary pirates captured him and since they always needed skilled seaman, he joined them. In doing so, he abandoned his wife and small children, preyed upon the ships and lands of many European nations and sold their people into slavery, and in general, seems to have been a mercilessly brutal, calculating, cold-hearted sort of man. Yet, he was welcomed with open arms at the end of his life by his youngest daughter whom he'd abandoned. He's an absolutely perfect historical figure to research and write about because he's conflicted and lacks clear motives or morals.

The anti-hero may be the guy that you love to hate but without him, the pages in which he lives would be less memorable. Some of my favorites in literature include Lestat de Lioncourt of the Anne Rice novels and Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. Who's yours?

Time flies when you're having fun, or writing novels.

It's been a tremendous twelve months. A new job and health issues have impacted my writing time, but I'm still at it, trying to wrap...