17 December, 2011

Finding A Voice

Having dragged myself kicking and screaming from the novel that I started writing in November, to give my mind a break, I am now finding it daunting to go back to it and start over. What if I find I can't do justice to this plot after all? What if the words I produce are nothing but a poor shadow of what's in my head? I suppose there's only one way to find out...

My main sticking point is that I am sure the story is crying out to be written in the first person - it is currently in third-person. However, I started writing some chapters from viewpoints other than that of the main character and that really worked too. So now I have to decide whether to write multiple first-person viewpoints, or to write multiple third-person viewpoints, with just the main character's chapters in the first person. I was swaying towards the latter, but the more I think about each of the other characters, the more I can hear their voices telling their own stories. To add to the difficulty, the whole books revolves round secrets and lies, and therefore the narrators are going to have to be unreliable!

So, this was the point I'd got to in my thinking when I decided to read a book in order to take my mind off my own story. I chose 'My Sister's Keeper' by Jodi Picoult... which turns about to be written in multiple first-person viewpoints! In a way this was perfect timing as it showed me that it can be done, but it has also made me feel quite inadequate for the task ahead.

So what do you like to read? Are your favourite books written in third or first person? Multiple viewpoints, or only one? What do you see as the drawbacks and advantages of each technique? And if anyone can tell me about any first-person books with an unreliable narrator, that would be grand!


  1. Have you read Agatha Christies "murder of roger ackroyd"? Being a christie I can't say much without giving things away, but it has an interesting narrator style. I always enjoy books with multiple view points, so long as all the voices have something interesting to say. I've come across some where only the main character is really exciting and so it can be annoying when the viewpoint changes, though you normally see the point for it as the book continues.

  2. I have read it, yes. It's one of the few of hers where I can remember what happens, which is encouraging for me!

    That's an interesting point. In my head, my books is going to be mainly one character, with intermittent short chapters as insight into the others. But I'll see... Thanks!

  3. My favourite books are written in first and third person. It depends on the book, the writer and the characters.

    Go with your gut feeling...and keep a backup of the third person just in case.

  4. Hi Chloe. Like you I'm still reeling from the 'NaNo' experience. Having said that, I'm so glad I accepted the challenge. Also like you, I retreated into reading. I got a Kindle for my birthday in early November and never read a word of my seven downloaded books until December.
    I read 'Robinson Crusoe' - which I first read over 40 years ago. Next up and recently finished was 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' - never read before.
    I'm a fan of Wilbur Smith, Jeffrey Archer, Lee Child and Chris Ryan. The viewpoint is key to the storytelling no matter who the author is in my opinion.
    A good example of alternating viewpoint done to great effect is 'Only Time Will Tell' by Jeffrey Archer. It's his latest and the first in a serial/saga.
    Five main characters. One integrated plot. Each main character has an opening chapter in first person which is followed by their version of events over the next few chapters. Superb read. Checking this tale out would be educational with regards to your dilemma but you've got the skill my friend ... go on.
    First person; advantage - immediate empathy from readers. Disadvantage - limited view of events.
    Third person; advantage - reader is in suspense because things could 'happen' to character. Disadvantage; reader is detached until absorbed.
    Multiple viewpoint; advantage - changing scenes maintains reader interest. Disadvantage - technically fraught with difficult decisions.
    A well prepared story board would be the key to writing a mixture of viewpoints and I reckon you're up to it my friend. Try a brainstorming session on a sheet of A3 paper.
    I'd go along with Martin's comment too ... try different methods, but keep a back-up.

  5. Thanks Tom! I have been planning to map it all out on huge bits of paper - that's how my children's novel got written in the end. I think I'm going to try writing a short piece from the point of view of each character to see if I can give them an authentic voice and then see how I feel after that.

    Thanks for taking the time, my friend. I can't bring myself to comment on posts with pictures of naked ladies all over them, but I do always read your blog and am keen to know how you're doing! Stay in touch!

  6. I've often heard Zoe Heller's "Notes on a Scandal" held up as a good example of a first-person novel where the narrator is unreliable. I've got it, but I haven't read it yet, so I can't advise on it personally.

    I think generally I prefer third-person narration, but I'm not sure why that is. Maybe it lends itself better to switching from different viewpoints, as that can be tricky unless the writer has been able to develop very distinct 'voices' for their characters. As a writer, that would be what would put me off that particular style - getting the voice right always feels like the hardest part.

    Having said I usually prefer third-person, one of my favourite books, David Mitchell's "Black Swan Green", has a first-person narrator. First-person gives the book a very 'intimate' feel, and it certainly brought the main character to life for me, to the point that when I got to the end, I was genuinely sorry to part company with him.


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  7. I think that essentially just sums up how I feel about first-person narrative - if you get it right, it's brilliant, but it's very hard to get right!

  8. Hi Chloe,

    Engleby by Sebastian Faulks is written in the first person with an unreliable narrator. I have a copy if you'd like to borrow it. It's a really good book (I think, anyway).


  9. Thanks Ros :) Someone else reccommended that very book to me because of this post and so I have now read it. It was perfect - just what I needed! (And I loved it.) Great minds think alike clearly...


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