Points of View

Sacha Ferrier's Transcience exhibition
‘I know you’ve worked really hard on this,’ Tom begins cautiously, ‘but I prefer the first version…’. Tom’s always the first person to read my work, usually when it’s finished, so it’s rare to run anything past him at this early stage. The thing is, having finished my first chapter of the new novel, I keep having a mental ‘tickle’ that has to be scratched; what if I write this in the first person? 

We’re inclined to trust first person narratives and are often seduced by their immediacy, that sense of having direct access to a character’s thoughts, but I also liked the idea that first-person narrators are unreliable; memories change every time we retrieve them, or we may gloss over events and deceive ourselves about what really happened.

The re-write proves to be an interesting experiment; I learn a great deal more about my protagonist, but I can’t quite tell why the story isn’t quite working until Tom gives me his reasons for preferring my initial draft, saying that the second makes him feel boxed-in and he misses seeing the broader picture. I’ve mentioned before that my stories, long or short, always begin with something like a ‘still’ from a film, then, very slowly, the frame unfreezes. As it starts to roll I learn who the characters are and what problems they’re trying to solve, consequently there’s a strong visual element to the way I work. As for viewpoint, I like to use ‘deep’ third, trying to accomplish what first-person narration does with ‘I’ using ‘he’ or ‘she’. I write each scene from one character’s point of view, showing it through his or her eyes and filtering it through his or her emotions. (Note: one scene, one character, and despite one claim to the contrary – grrr! - no ‘head-hopping’ ever!). So it’s back to what I think I do best and even though a small part of me mourns for the chapter I’m now discarding, I’m back on secure foundations and will hopefully build from here.

It’s been a busy time here with lots of visitors, so we decide a change of scene is in order with restorative trip to Aberystwyth. After lunch at the Arts Centre we wander round an exhibition there, a fascinating, beautiful and profoundly moving series of photographs by Sacha Ferrier, then round the day off for quick look at a different beach and more lovely views…

Looking down across Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Looking towards the Creative Studios with their distinctive 'puffer' jackets!

At the beach.


Clare Chase said…
I’ve had that niggling feeling about 1st versus 3rd person too. I normally write in 1st, but for the book I’ve just submitted I’ve alternated between 1st and 3rd (and am now wondering if I did the right thing)! Fantastic photos!
Chris Stovell said…
I blame you, Clare! It was reading 'You Think You Know Me' that got me thinking!
Jane Lovering said…
I'm a devotee of first person, I always feel that anything else is cheating, somehow! Although I really don't mind when I'm reading, what POV the book is in, when I'm writing I find First person gives more scope for lying, self-delusion and other 'unreliable narrator' devices. Although I suppose you can still have those in third person...Hmmm... (goes off to think).
Chris Stovell said…
Well, again, Jane - as above! I read Clare's book and your lovely 'How I Wonder What You Are' and make me think about other ways of telling the story.
Kathryn Freeman said…
Third or first - if it's well written (and yours always are) it does't matter to me as a reader but I have to say as a writer I find 3rd much easier. When I write in first, I find I end up writing as me instead of the character (and I'm not sure how well heroines who look and sound like me would sell!!)
Chris Stovell said…
Thank you, Kate - yours too, my fellow Mrs Co-July! It's fascinating to see how other writers feel about the way they decide to tell a story. PS I think you should write that book ;)
Not being a writer but a reader, I enjoy reading in both third person and first person. The majority of the books I read are written in third person though. I'm not sure if that's on purpose or a coincidence.

Perhaps you can save that first chapter and share it on the blog tour once your book is finished as an extra.

Chris Stovell said…
Ooh, good thinking, Chanpreet! Thank you!
Frances said…
As a reader, Chris, I am always aware...even if sometimes very quietly so, whether the author has chosen first or third person, or some sort of alternating combination of both.

Sometimes when beginning a book that seems to be written in third person, I am suddenly aware that The First Person who might appear in an occasional chapter, is the person writing about those third persons.

I have no idea if such a combination is more or less difficult to write, but know that it does get the attention of this reader, and makes me realize that ...at least in that novel, the third person narrator might not be entirely trustworthy.

Now on blizzard vigil. That, I assure you, is a completely trustworthy weather report.

Chris Stovell said…
It's been great to receive everyone's impressions of how view points affect both writing and reading a story, Frances, thank you. I'm relieved to see the weather reports weren't entirely accurate and that the worst of the weather passed you by. Stay safe, Cx
Pondside said…
Interesting, Chris. I tend to 'trust' third person for some reason. Perhaps because it implies a detached point of view?
I'm proud to say that I can actually pronounce Aberystwyth - with coaching from Jane, of course!
Flowerpot said…
It's a difficult one isn't it Chris? I prefer first person to write in but you writing works very well as third person - so I guess that's what suits you best x

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