Monday, July 28, 2014

Because It Just Feels Right

Listen, there are no solid rules when it comes to perspective, not for me at least. Normally I write third person, limited omniscience. Translated into English, I write from the perspective of one character at a time, but I write the story from outside of that person's personal narrative.

If the chapter centers around Andover Lashk, then the sensations and experiences are reflected through the lens of his eyes. If the next scene is told from Merros Dulver's point of view, then the same rules apply.

I tend to throw that rule straight out the window for short stories. Sometimes they demand a certain level of intimacy that I think you can only really get from the first person perspective. It's more comfortable, really, and it allows a certain level of empathy that third person makes more challenging.

Why the difference? Because writing an entire novel in first person can be a bear and because it's harder not to cheat.

Let me explain that with an example. THE HELP by Katherine Stockett is a perfect example. The entire book is told from different first person perspectives, three of them if I recall correctly, and it's a damned solid novel. I enjoyed it immensely.

Okay. What? I should only read genre? Don't judge me and don't limit yourself. Read EVERYTHING! There is so very much out there to savor in the wonderful world of books. I do not limit myself.

Ahem. Now, back to my point. There's ONE chapter in the book where Stockett could not manage to tell the story without cheating. In this case she shifted to a different character's perspective AND shifted to third person, because the rest of the novel is told in the form of the letters that the Help and their advocate are writing. The story is brilliant and so I forgave Ms. Stockett her sin. Same as, I'm sure, her editor did. It had to be done to make the story work, but she BROKE THE RULES.

Know what? You can always break the rules if there's a good reason.

I did one novel completely in first person. Drove me crazy and it's my shortest novel to date. But it was a fun challenge, I did NOT cheat and DEEPER continues to sell rather well.

In my novel SMILE NO MORE I broke the rules a dozen ways to Sunday. Let's see.  Each chapter is told on multiple scenes and broken into the far past (50 years ago), the near past (last few months) and the present. However, as I wanted to reflect the mindset of the main character (I can't in good conscience call him the hero as he is a homicidal dead clown) I wrote both the far past and the near past in the first person, past tense and then the rest of the story, the now, in third person, limited omniscience, past tense.

There was a method to my madness. I needed the readers to be very familiar and comfortable with Rufo the Clown before he did horrible, horrible things to many, many people. Some readers really loved the end result and a few have said it was my best work. Others, people who've long been fans, did not agree. It's always risky bending the rules and it's riskier by far to actually break them and then stomp on the shards.

In the long run I feel the best way to handle the perspective is exactly what I sad as my topic this week: Do it because it feels right. Worst case scenario, you go back and do it again.


  1. Rules are meant to be broken...right?

  2. Absolutely, dear lady. First learn the rules. Then break the hell out of them. :)