My romance writer self, Janis Susan May, just released a new book, a traditional Gothic romance entitled FAMILY OF STRANGERS. While I was doing the publicity for it, a fellow writer – who had bought the book and gushed over how good it was – then asked me a serious question. Since the book was written in first person (which is pretty standard for traditional Gothic romances) did I think there was a return to first person as an acceptable narration? She was hoping there was, as were a number of her friends. According to the universal ‘they’ who know everything, first person narration has been ‘out’ for a number of years. News to me.
Disclaimer : I personally love the first person narrator and find it the easiest to write, so perhaps I might be just a little bit prejudiced.
There’s a couple of sure ways to start a good round of verbal fisticuffs among writers, and one of them is the question of first/third narration. Proponents of first will wax lyrical about how it brings the reader closer to the protagonist and makes the reader a part of the story, that it gives a feeling of intimacy and immediacy to the story. Proponents of third say third gives a well-rounded picture of the story and the varying points of view allow the reader to see all sides while first is stultifyingly narrow.
And they’re both right.
Without meaning to wiffle-waffle, I say that the story itself should dictate the choice of first or third, or in these modern times, sometimes a combination of both. Some stories just cry out to be written in first, others in third and the choice isn’t always the writer’s. My own historical mystery THE HOLLOW HOUSE was never even thought of as being in anything but first person, but my contemporary cozy BEADED TO DEATH was from the beginning written in third. As to how I knew this when starting out, I can’t tell you – I just know that when I sat to write, that’s how it was and I couldn’t change it.
I don’t know if other writers experience this ‘semi-automatic’ declaration of first or third, but then all writers are different. Certainly every writer – if they can legitimately call themselves a writer – should be equally as facile with either point of narration. Having a favorite is one thing; having an inability is another!
I’d be curious to know how other writers settle the first/third question. Do they choose it, or does it choose them?
But – as long as it’s done well – does it really matter?