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In the Eyes of the Beholder

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Our writers' group discussion this week was about 1st person vs 3rd person. It was deftly run by Joe Humphreys and went very well. I was particularly struck by the adamant views that people had about loving or hating one or the other. It's true that each of these points of view has "advantages" and "disadvantages" but, as Joe said, they're not exactly that. In my book, point of view is, like most things, a tool that you can use to tell the story you're trying to tell.

For instance, if to tell the story, you must be able to talk about the main character (MC), then you can't go with the 1st person. If to tell the story you must show the reader scenes in which the MC isn't present, you can't go with 1st person.

On the other hand, if to tell the story, you must be inside the MC's head, you have no other choice but the 1st person. Unreliable narration (where the MC's perception of reality is distorted, or they are lying or obfuscating for some reason) is also much easier in the 1st person. You could conceivably have an unreliable narrator in the 3rd person, as in many detective books, but modern readers tend to be annoyed if all of a sudden the detective has some information we didn't hear about before.

When we discussed point of view in my editing course, the instructor, Sue Healy, said to go over our bookshelf, find our three favourite books, and check what point of view they are written in. She said, chances are this will be the point of view that would be easier for you to write in. This was a fascinating exercise, because up until then I only wrote in the 3rd person, and when I went over my bookshelf I realised my absolute favourites are written in the 1st person: Room by Emma Donoghue, These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner, and We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver).

As I mentioned before, I've decided to rewrite my first novel from 3rd person to 1st person. I'm doing this for several reasons. The main reason is that it is, ultimately, a story about coping with postpartum depression and the transition to being a mother. That would be best done if the reader is inside the MC's head and can follow her spiralling. Moreover, I think that my MC can be a little bit of an unreliable narrator as she sees everything through the veil of her mental state. There will be no shocking twist, but to tell this story, I need the reader to see the difference between her interpretations of reality and reality itself, a little bit like Emma Donoghue has done in Room.

The problem with this is that this requires the writer to be really good. Like, phenomenally good. And I don't know whether I'm there yet. If I think about it rationally, I'm probably closer than I feel I am, but I'm still not that good. I did read the first scene of the rewritten novel to my writing group this week, and it seems that what I've done there has worked, in the sense that people understood what I was trying to do. So, hopefully, I can make the rest of the book follow along.


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