Welcome to another Sunday blog post. (I know - I’m early, but if you read my last blog post you’ll know we are having just a tad lack of power at the moment in Cyprus!) I have to grab the moment when it’s available.
This week saw the publication of my short story collection. Entitled, Echoes of Life and Love. I have written five short stories concerning these two topics and they are liberally sprinkled throughout with themes of ghosts, real life situations, romance and suspense. The five stories are:
The Bamboo Mirror, set in a 1960's Singapore boarding school, new girl Diana Rivers has an encounter with two mysterious children - Who are they?
The Cast Party - The lovely Linda, aspiring actress, has a plan. Will she be able to carry it out?
Making A Right - Sometimes two wrongs can make one!
Rebecca With Two C's - A poignant love story. What is real?
Summer Visitors - Has Alex made the right decision? Is real life like this?
This volume of stories has just over 17,500 words and is between a novella and a novelette. Already the book seems to have caught the attention of quite a good crowd of people as it’s already ranking #58 for short stories and about the same for ghosts and romance.
When writing these stories I found myself in a bit of a quandary. Which person was I going to write them in?
Do I choose first or third person?
This is a decision you’ll find when it comes to starting your own masterpiece! I’ve always written in the third person up until now, but with my short story collection I’ve had some fun recently playing around with different ‘persons’ and tenses, as you’ll see if you own a copy of Echoes of Life and Love. So which should you choose to write that novel? Of course only you can answer that as it is a personal choice – and not always an easy one. Nevertheless, I have some thoughts that you might like when you're making this decision and then putting it into practice. Let’s take first person first.
The most important thing to keep in mind with a first person narrative is that everything that happens has to be filtered through your narrator's perspective; the reader therefore sees everything infused with the narrator's personality and pathos. Things happen through the narrator's perspective.
The best first person narrators are the ones where a unique character gives you their view on something that is happening, and yet it's clear to the reader that this is not the whole story. You get a biased look at the world, which is really the centre of appeal of the first person narrative. So for example you can take reality which is slightly hidden, and get the narrator’s own thoughts and take on the scenario.
Thus, great tension in a first person narrative is between the narrator’s story, and what the reader senses is really happening beyond the narrator's perspective. Or in other words it means we’re seeing the world only through one unique character's eyes. An example is a situation where someone is not being truthful, but the reader can sense that this is not true and there is more to the story.
The other main element of a first person narrative is that the narrator has to be compelling, redeemable and probably likeable. Nobody likes an annoying narrator, and this would kill a story immediately. I don’t mean the narrator has to be a good person. But the narrator has to pass the "stuck in a lift" test. Could you survive being stuck in a room with this person for hours? Could you listen to this person for hours? If the answer is no, then you might want to think again.
A third-person narrative can be crafted in many ways. Perhaps the hardest part is deciding how far you want to get inside your characters' heads. Do you want to show the reader every single thought? Or do you want to keep some thoughts hidden?
I believe that the most interesting third person narratives jump into character's heads showing their thought processes, but also leaving some distance between what is happening on the outside and what the characters are thinking. This way taking the example where someone is being untruthful, rather than knowing exactly what the character is thinking, the reader does the work to try and empathise with what the character is feeling at that moment and is based upon a character's actions.
Or thinking about it another way, we have reality with what the reader sees, and what the characters are thinking, which are also slightly hidden.
The tension is still between what's really happening and what the reader sees, but in this case we're using our reading ability and natural empathy to deduce the character's motivations and feelings based on the narration of what's really happening in the world of the book. In other words, we see the outside world, but the inside is slightly hidden.
One of the most common mistakes writers make in third person narration is doing too much work for the reader – in other words telling the reader what the characters are thinking and how they're reacting, rather than trusting the reader to do that job. We’re all (or have been) guilty of telling when we should be showing. This is the cardinal rule of third person - show the characters acting upon their emotions rather than telling us how they feel. This creates a really fascinating barrier between what we're reading and what we sense is happening behind the scene.
So, in conclusion:
The tension in first person is between a character's unique perspective and what is actually happening in the outside world, while the tension in third person is between what the reader sees in the outside world and what is actually happening from the characters' perspectives.
There are however many more distinctions between first and third person. What do you think? Please add your own two cents in the comments section. How should we further distinguish between first and third person? Do you have any of your own tips for both?
Once again I have to thank all you lovely people who have bought one of my four books - Thank you! I can't do it without you and your friends. Also if you promised me a review and have forgotten I'd love to hear from you - we authors need feedback.
Have a great weekend and week ahead,