Posted by: Natalie | March 6, 2010

First or Third??

I’ve spent a lot of this week pondering. I have written about two, all be it quite woolly, chapters of my Civil War book. But I have found my brain bothered. I would write a couple of hundred words then need to walk away from my computer and faff over something while my brain wandered. I couldn’t quite verbalise what the pondering was until yesterday lunchtime.

I have read and researched a lot about how to write a good book, what sells and most importantly, what an agent or publisher is looking for to bypass the ‘slush’ pile. One of the things they mention is that so few of the proposals are in a first person narrative. And it got me thinking, am I capable to producing such a thing? Is that my ‘in’?

I keep reading through the 12 chapters I have written for this book. Admittedly they are very rough and in need of a good overhaul, but it has allowed me to plot out my characters, their rises and falls and their purpose in the story. Bits of it have been infuriating me; the weak spots, the points that readers might deem unnecessary, the timely development of character flaws and traits, but most of all some of the tiresome description. But it’s a shell. I am pretty useless at physically writing things down, I am much happier trying to write my thoughts and ideas into a narrative and almost working backwards. I know this doesn’t seem right and successful, but once I have poured the information out of my head I can rewrite, rework, tweek or abandon entirely depending on what I see as the stronger threads.

But now I have this stumbling block, this distraction in my head. I have two options. I could rework this first book in the traditional third person. There are several story plots and threads and this sometimes can be told easier through a distant voice. But what if I made it first person instead?

I have two lead characters, Alex and Eli. Alex is the main catalyst for the events in the book, which leaves Eli somewhat redundant at present (he is planned to have a bigger involvement in the second book). He has been left a weak shadow simply following the activities of the first boy, without much of a personality driving him. This obviously needs to be worked on regardless, but something in me wants to give him a louder voice. At the same time, the gradual demise of Alex’s attitude into an egotistical, somewhat power hungry, martyr hasn’t been clearly portrayed and again needs reinforcing. What if the chapters switched from one boys angle to the other? What if, here and there I allowed other characters to tell the narrative?

This idea excites me, especially as now I have put my finger on what has been nagging at me all week. I have been hesitant and ‘bitty’ with my writing, knowing there was something fundamentally not right. But its a difficult skill. First person is undoubtedly more difficult than third, otherwise the vast majority of novels would be first person. But when I think of some of the books I really enjoyed, both adult and children’s, they are often in the first.

Jacqueline Wilson does a remarkable job in her books of creating first person characters. If you have not read ‘Double Act’ and require an excellent lesson in first person narrative, read it! She skilfully flicks, sometimes mid sentence, from one twin to the other. But she has a tool, the twins are writing a diary of sorts. Alex and Eli are not writing a diary, and nor do I want them to. It doesn’t fit with their gender and certainly doesn’t fit with the historical context were poor orphan boys such as themselves would be illiterate. Alex’s ‘mother’ had taught him how to read and understand some foreign languages, but this anomaly is explained when the truth of his parentage eventually comes out. I don’t want them to write their story, but I want the voices to come from inside their heads.

I think this option has scope, I think the story has scope, but it is a loooonnnnngggggg time in coming. But through dedication and hard graft, I think the first person will help to solve my frustrations and ultimately, solve some of the weaker aspects of the tale. The characterisation, as I have mentioned before, is of such importance to me, I would be miserable if I could not do Alex and Eli justice. Now the shell is complete, maybe its time to let them rewrite the book and find their own voices.



  1. […] working on. It wasn’t very good. I then debated back and forth the merits of writing in first and third person. I think I have settled on first. It is a much more difficult skill but I believe it will enable me […]

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