Many of you already know from the sample chapters provided on this site that my novel is told in first person. In fact, other than the prologue, the novel alternates between four points of view: Kylie Baines, Ben Carrick, Colette Baptiste, and Matt Tracy. I chose to tell the story this way because while the characters’ fates are intertwined and rich in history, they all drift in their own particular orbits. I needed four narrators to move the plot along as well. And I hope with this last edit that I’ve sharpened each narrative voice so that it’s entertaining for the reader, not distracting.
They all bring different qualities to the table. Kylie is leading a double life and the story revolves around her family, romantic relationships, etc. It’s completely neccessary that the reader see her perspective. Ben is more lighthearted and tells anecdotes about the friends in high school. Kylie would never tell an anecdote for sheer amusement but Ben seems genuinely interested in getting the group back together (like the good ole days) and therefore he easily dips into an idealized, slightly romanticized past. Colette, as Kylie’s cousin and the daughter of kingpin Denis Baptiste, is essential to the plot. She provides insights into the Baptiste family and fills in some of Kylie’s background (the time after high school but before the start of the novel). But Colette is spoiled rotten so she has none of Kylie’s seriousness.
And then there’s Matt Tracy. He was the last narrator I wrote into the story. I did so at the behest of a writer’s group I attended with C.K. when we lived in Santa Monica. Perhaps because Matt was the last narrative voice to take shape or perhaps because adding him was not my idea, he’s been the most difficult narrator for me. With the other three characters, I hear them in my head easily. Sometimes it takes a few hours to get a dialogue down and then several more to tighten it up but I always know what Kylie’s, Colette’s, and Ben’s take on the situation is going to be. Kylie will feel the gravity of the scene intensely and over-analyze her own part in it. Colette will dismiss anything that would require emotional maturity then feel guilty for doing so, all while cracking jokes about the other characters. Ben will feel the scene more acutely than Colette but he really doesn’t have much at stake. He’s happily engaged and about to start his Masters program. But Matt is a strong, silent type. It’s challenging to give a voice to someone who would prefer not to chime in.
I say all this because three of the full manuscript requests came back as “thanks but no thanks.” Actually, I shouldn’t make it sound so cavalier. The agents took the time to give some great feedback that extended beyond “it just didn’t fire me up to sell it.” One of the main critiques is about the narration. One agent said that towards the end of the book, my narrators seem fashioned from the same cloth. It’s a fair critique and I worked hard these past few weeks to rectify it. I think I owe this agent a thank you. I believe I have a more polished book now. But another agent said that she didn’t like the first person narrators switching all the time. She wanted to invest in one person and hear the whole thing from his/her point of view.
All this got me wondering: should I have written this book in the omniscient third person? Or even limited third person and used Kylie’s POV?
Personally, I like first-person narration. It’s one distinct voice. I don’t have to like the narrator or want to talk to him/her. But I’m more excited to read the book if I do sympathize with the narrator. I also enjoy the changing perspectives. The Help and Gone Girl are good examples. For the former, I loved all three narrators. For the latter, I’m only a few chapters in but I don’t like anyone yet. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like the story so far.
Third person narration is fine but in my reading experience, the author needs to chose one character to focus on. Furthermore, the limited third person often clumsily dips into other character’s minds. Even the goddess of novel writing, Jane Austen, does this. I taught Pride and Prejudice several times at high school level and reread it each time. In the beginning of the novel, when I’m supposed to dislike Darcy along with everyone else in Meryton, I get glimpses of his feelings for Elizabeth and I feel a little cheated of the big reveal.
But I digress. I’m really writing this to find out what other readers think.
Do you like first-person narration or third? And why?