Tuesday, April 17, 2012

THE CHALLENGES OF WRITING IN THE FIRST-PERSON POV








The biggest challenge for me when I wrote my two books in the first person POV, OPERATION FAMILIA, and the Devine Destinies book that's coming out in April, SONYA'S MIDLIFE CRISIS, was 1) not flooding the book with too many reflective chapters and 2) writing believable action scenes. In other words, the pacing and balanced spacing of action and reflective scenes.

There's a very real temptation to overdo the inner monologues/reflective passages in the 1st person POV. Pacing those rather static scenes or passages is necessary in maintaining a story that is balanced. Too many static scenes make a story dull. Too many high-action scenes leave a reader breathless, sometimes bewildered and sometimes deeply dissatisfied. Even in my romantic thrillers, I try to insert the reflective passages shortly after an action scene. It enables the protagonist to take a breath, take stock of his/her situation, and plot his/her next moves. In A BODYGUARD OF LIES, my FBI agent-hero, Jake Bernstein, stops and regroups after a couple of Irish neo Nazis try to kill him. As his romantic interest, the granddaughter of the elderly woman he suspects was a notorious Nazi spy, tends to his bullet wound, he calms down and reflects on the reasons why the Celtic Wolves attacked him. The reasons become clear to him when Meg, the granddaughter, reports on the white-supremacist brochure she has just found among her grandmother’s things. The pieces of the puzzle he’s been sorting through start to come together. That scene was a necessary break from the action and also served to forward the plot.

Also, to enhance the verisimilitude of the first-person POV, I had to actually go through the motions of those action scenes in order to effectively record/describe my sensual experiences as well as my emotions (those of my character).  You have to act out scenes as if you were in a movie or on stage. I find this aspect of the craft both fun and challenging. As a result, both protagonists in both of those books reflected to a large extent...ME.  

Even Jake, a young man who mirrors a lot of my own values and those of my son, is a highly admirable and likeable character. A man you’d want your daughter to marry, he’s still flawed and is still evolving as a man of character and courage. As a federal law enforcement officer, he feels strongly about justice. In the beginning of A BODYGUARD OF LIES, he knows that justice has a long memory and is black or white. There are no grays where murder is involved, just as there are crimes that can never be forgiven or overlooked. As a result, he investigates the elderly Mary McCoy Snider with a cold, objective eye. By the end of the story, he realizes that justice consists of many gray areas. That time and circumstance often dictate how justice can be carried out and that sometimes life itself, or destiny, carries out its own justice. Mary Snider has lived a life of lies, which in effect has taken a toll, both physically and mentally, on the old woman.  That she leaves a tainted legacy to the people she has loved the most is the kind of punishment she never foresaw. A wiser Jake can understand that.

First-person POV challenges a writer to get into the skin and see the world through the eyes of another person. If nothing else, that experience teaches you empathy and compassion. After all, we’re all passengers on the same ship. Though our routes may be different, our destinations are all the same.

I've told my son and daughter that if they really want to know me--their mother--as a person, read all of my books, but especially those two books where I speak in the first-person POV. I'm there on almost every page. For better or worse.






Donna Del Oro
Award winning author
member, Internat'l Thriller Writers
MusaPublishing/Smart Romantic Thrillers
(A BODYGUARD OF LIES-now available;
THE DELPHI BLOODLINE-May 25)
Kindle/Nook/Apple
Go to: http://www.donnadeloro.com/

8 comments:

Adam said...

Donna -- Great post. I agree with everything you've written. However, of the six novels I've penned, every one of them has been in first person POV. I guess I would have a really hard time writing in other POV. My very last novel, Lost in the Bayou, was written in first person PRESENT TENSE! I can tell you that was a challenge but it really made it more realistic, at least I thought it did.

Good luck on all your work and I hope your children read your books to get to know you a little better.

Derek said...

I started writing something semi-autobiographical in first person and then rewrote it in third. That widened the scope, but also lost the character viewpoint intimacy. So after a deep breath, I rewrote it again as a first person novel. You're limited by the protagonist's view unless you add a breakout chapter or two (Harlan Coben does that well), but the reader is also right up against the glass!

Nancy DiMauro said...

Great post. Writing in first person POV is harder than most people expect for the very reasons you talk about.

JT Lewis said...

I too find 1st person very revealing about myself, and I liked your thought about your kids getting to really know you by reading your novel.

Hmmm.....

Sharon Ledwith said...

I'm a third person writer myself. I think it would be quite a challenge to write in first person, so kudos to you! BTW - are you sure you want your kids to get to know you better - they may end up being shocked! Cheers!

Sloane Taylor said...

I admire you, Donna. I tried first person. After a few chapters, I didn't know if I should laugh or cry. Throwing it in the recycle bin won out.:)

Grace Wen said...

"First-person POV challenges a writer to get into the skin and see the world through the eyes of another person. If nothing else, that experience teaches you empathy and compassion."

This is SO true! I write a lot in 1st person POV about characters who are nothing like me. Empathizing with them is always so challenging, especially if they're unsympathetic, but the experience is always so worth it. It's helped me become more compassionate in my non-writing life as well.

Rhea Rhodan said...

Interesting points, and perhaps why I don't often enjoy reading books in first-person POV. For one thing, I'm very partial to romances and having an entire POV missing is hard to make up for (though it's possible). I enjoyed Bodyguard of Lies and thought you did a great job with each of the character's points of view.