Friday, May 20, 2011

Decisions, Decisions!

I'm starting a new novel, and I'm back at the old crossroads.

First or third person?

If first, present or past?

When I started Fingerprints, I actually wrote several pages in third person before it started screaming at me that it wasn't working. Go back to the beginning, change it all to first person ... ah, that's better. It never occurred to me that present tense was an option. It was my first novel—what did I know?—and I'd hardly read any novels written in present tense up to that point.

Three manuscripts later, I began my Recently Finished New Novel. I'd learned a lot in-between, read a ton of current YA work, and felt like I almost had a coherent idea of what I was doing. The RFNN (uh-huh, that's what I'm gonna refer to it as) is in third person. There was never any question about it, partly because I needed my MC to withhold quite a bit of information in the early parts of the story. I knew from first person, it would've been really obnoxious. Also, I briefly considered telling the story from several POVs, but never from my MC's POV. I quickly decided I wasn't that crazy brave, and I think it worked out pretty well. (We'll see.)

Now, I'm about to embark on a Shiny New Novel (SNN ... yeah). For the first time, I went through this active, conscious, stressful thought process. I could see pros and cons for doing it any of the three ways (third person, first past, or first present). For about ten minutes, it felt like choosing what college to go to: This decision will impact the rest of my life!

Well, okay, not quite. Making the "wrong" choice would just mean major rewriting once I decided it was, in fact, wrong. And depending on how long it took for me to make that decision, the rewriting could be a right pain.

Worse things have happened.

In this case, I started thinking about my MC. Her personality, what it would mean to be right up in her head, or have a little distance. Then I thought about the general plot as it's formed so far (in my head)—what things might happen outside my MC's presence, how to deliver those things if I'm in first person, etc. Settled on trying first person, then thought about whether the plot warrants the kind of immediacy I always associate with present tense. In combination with certain personality quirks of the MC, I think present might fit.

So my decision is to get in there and start drafting. If I get a page or a chapter (or five) in and realize it's not flying ... back to the drawing board.

That's how we learn, right?

How do you guys make these types of decisions? How do you know whether the story will be best with one POV character, or two ... or more? I'm still a newbie (in some ways), so I want all the learnin' I can get.


Mindy McGinnis said...

That's a great question. I usually base it on the plot - if there are going to be points where I WANT the audience to not know what's going on (mysterious sections, parts where I don't want to have to do the research to REALLY know the right answer) I'll go 1st POV b/c it's a great way to keep your audience in the dark w/out being annoying. If your MC is confused and it's 1st POV, it's perfectly alright with the audience to be confused too.

Is that confusing?

R.C. Lewis said...

Nope, not confusing ... but then again, I'm the one with the other half of your (our) brain. ;)

I think that's kind of how it organically happened the first two times. In Fingerprints, I wanted my MC (and the reader) to be a little clueless when she was thrown into a crazy new situation. In the RFNN, it was like the opposite. I wanted the reader to be semi-clueless *about* my MC early on, while my MC wasn't too confused by the situation.

The SNN, though ... maybe part of the problem is that the details of the plot are still evolving in my mind.

cherie said...

Hmm, good questions. I'm pretty clueless at first. I'm a pantser so sometimes I have to learn the hard way, i. e. Rewrite later on to change POV when I've gotten a feel for where the ms and characters are going.

There are certain mss where I know right away how to go about it. One example is an MG I was working on. Right off the bay, it was third person past tense. First person would have been dumb.

R.C. Lewis said...

*sigh* Isn't it great when you instinctively know what would and would not be dumb? :)

Richard said...

You're going about it the right way. I go with my gut feeling at first, then see what happens. As the plot develops I can see if I need to change the pov. That usually happens pretty early in the ms. I usually never have to change the pov.

Anonymous said...

I don't think, I just do. I'm the least proactive writer I know in terms of planning. A phrase or two usually gets stuck in my head and I begin to write.

With my YA WIP, I knew I would be breaking some pretty serious narrator rules, one of which had me seriously freaked out. Still does if I bother to think about it. I guess I'll wait for my wonderful crit team to either stamp it with their approval or throw it back at me for a serious rewrite. : )

R.C. Lewis said...

I think that's what threw me, Cat. In the first two mss, I really *didn't* think about it. The opening lines just happened in a particular POV and tense, and I ran with it. Later, I looked back and tried to decide if it was "right," and figured the reasons my subconscious must have known about.

This new one, though, I opened to a blank page, knew what would happen ... but hesitated over using "I" or the character's name. It's especially odd because I'm taking a short story I wrote and expanding it. The short was in third/past, and for the novel, I chose first/present.

Like Richard said, we'll go with the gut feeling and see how it works out. :)