Hi. I'm working on a crime manuscript. I'm on the second draft and have written it in third person so far. However, I've noticed that many crime or thriller novels are written in the first person. I feel that it gives you more control over the writing and as a reader I find it more personeable.
Does anyone have any thoughts or advice on this?
This is a hot topic with lots of opinions, so ultimately, it's up to you. There is no right or wrong answer, but here's my thoughts:
I have written novels in both first and third person. My two currently published novels are in third, the series I have coming out will be in first.
First is harder to write well, and is more often misused by new writers. I think it seems more natural to new writers, imagining themselves in the role of the hero or heroine, and it allows you to break a few rules. The trouble is that until you know those rules, it's hard to break them well.
First person has the following difficulties:
1. Distance in time -- everything in the book is presumed to have happened already, and the narrator knows how it all turned out. This makes it more difficult to write a story in which the mortality of the main character is in question. Of course she lived -- she's writing about it!
2. Establishing name and gender is difficult at the beginning of these books, and it can remain difficult for readers to remember your main character's name as time goes on.
3. You are limited to a single perspective. Alternating first person points of view are awkward at best, and I have never read a book in which I particularly enjoyed it.
First person has the following advantages:
1. Voice and attitude. You can have fun with it. Make your narrator a character! This is, IMO, the greatest benefit to first person writing.
2. More freedom to tell the story in ways that break rules, such as withholding information, info dumps, asides, etc. (Be careful! Those rules exist for a reason!)
Third person has the following advantages:
1. You can tell the story from many alternating points of view.
2. Thanks to the power of third person limited omniscient, you can get as deep inside a character's mind as you want -- as deep as first person -- but without the challenges.
Sorry to be so long-winded, but I wanted to establish all of that before I draw my conclusion, and here it is...I think you should use the first person if, and only if:
1. The story belongs to the narrator, and to no one else.
2. The narrator is a character you are interested in writing, and you take advantage of the freedom you have to write in a unique voice or style.
I can't stand first person stories that could be third person if you changed the "I" to "he." It's a completely different approach to telling a story. I would never make the decision based on genre norms, which are fickle and subject to the same sorts of "in vogue" trends as anything else. Literary trends may last longer than fashion trends, but in a hundred years your story, if it is remembered at all, will be remembered because you made an effective choice, not because you made a fashionable one.
Christine, thank you for the detailed response. I didn't mind it at all :) Based on the replies, I feel that my original thought to go with third person is the right choice. Since this will be part of a series and new characters will be introduced that I want to show the reader.
Sounds like a good choice! I tend to think your first instinct is usually right, anyway. :)
Christine, you provided some great points here! Good information, thanks for sharing:)
I think it depends. Both have their pros and cons. First person, like Philip Marlowe, allows you to show the world from your point of view and in your own words, but you can't know what others are thinking or doing when they're out of your sight. You're "on" throughout the entire narrative. I've used that in three books.
With the third person you have lots of leeway. You can skip around (but carefully so as not to confuse your reader) showing the thoughts and/or activities of different characters about which others are unaware. Or you can stick to one viewpoint, as with first person, but tell it in the third person which allows you greater leeway in use of language and description of others, etc. There's the "god" version. You the writer, can see and know everything everyone is doing, saying and thinking all the time. I like a limited 3rd person. The narrative centers on this person and we only reveal events as this person experiences them. This still gives you leeway for more "literary" writing. When you're Philip Marlowe, you have to stick to plain talk with no fanciful flights of poetic freedom.
In my crime novels in the third person, I stick very close to the first person point of view. But you just have to figure out what works best for you. I don't think there's a single "right" way. In any case, although a writer may never get a word published, he/she is still god as far as the story is concerned, and god can write any damned thing any damned way he/she wants to.
Thanks, C.M. I do like the ability to "skip around" while keeping the story concise.
I would suggest that you have to consider whether you want to play God, as in third-person writing, or to be restricted to what the narrator (ie, the hero) can actually see, hear, or experience. Although there are many great books in your genre written in the first person, my own preference is for third person. I say this because I like the freedom to be able to wander in and out of several character's minds and to play around with possibilities that would not be available to me in the first person.
I suppose it all depends on your preference as to whether you like to be able to manipulate all the characters, or be content with the hero's point of view. Either way is a legitimate method of telling a story. So, examine your heart and let it rip!
Cheers, and good luck.
Check out my blogs and other stuff on my site:
Thanks, Frank. I did check out your blog and you have led quite the life :)
Here is some information for a free upcoming crime-writers' online workshop, you can ask questions in advance; I am sure you will be able to get the answer to your question.
On November 2, 2012, Joe Giacalone and Ms. Ashton will be hosting a FREE crime writers’ online workshop with the best investigators in law enforcement and forensics live on Google+ at 8pm eastern time.
This online workshop is for anyone interested in learning the correct procedures in handling an arrest to processing a crime scene, and anything in between that will help you to understand the way it’s done in reality.
Questions can be asked via twitter, email or Google chat and our panel will be glad to provide an answer for you.
For twitter use the hashtag #crimewriterspanel, email: firstname.lastname@example.org and Google chat can be accessed as long as you have a gmail account.
To see the panel members and their bio, please visit Criminal Lines.
I just ran into an example I thought I might show: From "Murder in Mesopotamia" by Agatha Christie:
As she put the cap on her fountain pen, one of the native boys approached her. (Omniscient viewpoint)
"A gentleman come to see you. Dr. Leidner."
Nurse Leatheran turned. She saw a man of middle height with slightly stooping shoulders, a brtown beard and gentle tired eyes. (Nurse Leatheran's viewpoint)
Dr. Leidner saw a woman of thirty-five of erect, confident bearing . He saw a good-humored face with slightly prominent blue eyes and glossy brown hair. She looked, he thought, shrewd and matter of fact. Nurse Leatheran, he thought, would do. (Dr. Leidner's viewpoint)
So here in three paragraphs you have three different viewpoints. Personally I wouldn't recommend that until you're at the point where they'll pay your for your grocery lists or thank you notes.
Generally, I like first person, because you can let your hair down and just be yourself. That "yourself" of course can be anyone. A man, a child, a woman, a monster, or just a regular joe. You just sit down and tell your story to the person sitting opposite you. Luckily for you, your listener keeps his/her mouth shut and lets you do all the talking. I even had one reviewer mention that reading one of my books, she felt she was just sitting there listening to me tell her what happened.
I said in an earlier reply that talking in the first person narrows what you can tell. You can only tell what you see. But there's a trick there too. In The Little Mornings, the story begins with a young man sitting in a police interrogation room talking to a detective interviewer. Actually in over 80,000 words we never leave that little room save for a couple of trips to the bathroom. But now the young man is telling what, when, and where. I think it went very well. Easy too, since the guy's a loser and not particularly articulate. But that proves you don't have to have a great vocabulary. Look at The Color Purple or Huckleberry Finn. That doesn't mean however, that the author is uneducated, just clever.
Sorry for dragging this out. But if you're fairly new at this, I feel the first person might be easier overall. You can always change it later. In an early novel written in the first person, the editor insisted I change it to third person. Not having any more clout than the guy with the cardboard sign on the corner, I did what she suggested. It came out all right, but I thought the first version was better.