Finding Your Voice - Writing in Third Person

June 5, 2013

How many times had I started a novel in first person, only to backtrack and change to third? A few times, but it was a few times too many and it didn't take long to learn my lesson that it was no easy task, changing POV's mid-stream.

 

I just couldn't find my voice. While I appreciate that the reader can closely relate to a character in first-person stories, it only means that I, as the author, have to work harder at accomplishing this same task in third-person narrative.

 

In my novels to date, I have written in third-person limited. That is, narrating from the main character's point of view; never shifting to the thoughts or feelings of another character, unless it is "perceived" by the main character.

 

However, I have read a few novels lately whereby the author's approach to point of view is unique in its switching from character to character. (I do read quite a bit as is a requirement of my profession!) One such novel, Tom Rachman's, The Imperfectionists, is a great example of how switching points of view works. Gillian Flynn's, Gone Girl, is another example of this approach. I have considered this style and will continue to play around with changing things up in my future novels.

 

However, sometimes I believe a narrator speaking to the reader, conveying the vast levels of human emotion in a character, can work just as well in third person limited. I also prefer past-tense narrative, overall. Present tense just doesn't connect as well with me as a reader and I'm not sure I could successfully convey it to my readers, were I to experiment with it. Again, some writers can absolutely make it work, as noted above.

 

One example of how effective third-person, past-tense can be is evidenced here in this quote from Robert Ludlum's The Ambler Warning:

 

"There was a warmth and a humanity to her that he desperately craved right now, the way he craved oxygen."

 

I had to dig for that one, but I think it sums it up. It is exactly the perfect tone for the reader. The narrator makes the reader feel like he/she is that character. I can imagine that the reader takes a deep breath at the mere mention of craving oxygen, as it did when I read it.

 

An author searching for her voice finds that it eventually comes with time and experience. I of course, am only beginning this journey, but I look forward to discovering a variety of ways to give my readers the ability to feel my characters; to live through them as I do.

 

In the end, I believe it is the personal experience of each reader and how they best interpret a story and make it their own. Ultimately, this is what every author wants... each reader to create a world entirely from their own unique perspective.

 

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