Saturday, 12 April 2014

On First Person Perspective, In Third.

Warning: Small to moderate amounts of literary pretention to follow.

Tom decided that he had written enough theological posts for the moment, and that it was time for some more about writing.  Specifically, he was going to write about perspectives.

Most of the stuff he had written had been done in the first person (i.e “I walked down the street”), and for reasons unbeknownst to him, this was the perspective he was most comfortable with, and the one that gave him the best fit into his characters’ skins.  The current magnum opus, Three Men on a Pilgrimage, was written in the first person, as were the many very silly parody stories that he wrote back in uni, and many of the marginally less silly short stories he’s written since.  Of the four and half NaNoWriMo’s he had attempted, three were in the first person, and the other one and a half were rubbish.

There were sometimes good reasons for this.  Certainly in the case of Three Men on a Pilgrimage, he was imitating the style of Jerome K Jerome’s ‘Three Men in a Boat’, which is written as an account of a boating holiday by one of the three men in question, and so is naturally written in the first person.  The parodies that Tom had written in university based on the Allan Quatermain novels were in the first person for the same imitative reasons.  The second NaNo novel, about Bow Street Runners in an alternative history London was vaguely based on contemporary novels by Defoe, Smollett and Swift, all of whom tended to write ‘memoir’ type novels written in the first person as account of the main character’s adventures.

In fact, generally Tom’s favoured reading also tended to come in the first person.  As well as older stuff like the aforementioned Swift and Defoe, and Rider Haggard and Jerome, he also favoured the first person when it came to modern works.  The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, The Adventures of Captain Alatriste by Arturo Perez-Reverte and the Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies by Dan Abnett were all written in the first person.  Both when reading and writing, Tom always found it easier to get inside the experiences of a character when he was reading about them from their own perspective, as opposed to that of some invisible and omnipresent Narrator, who was still able to get inside characters’ heads and see what they were thinking or remembering.

This was also an issue when it came to roleplay games.  Some people preferred to say “I attack the orc” when what they really meant was “My character attacks the orc,” while others would say “Conrad the Barbarian attacks the orc”.  Certainly for Tom, it again came down to inhabiting the character, ‘getting into the role’ so to speak, and he thought that that was as important in writing as it was in roleplaying.  The first person perspective gave you a clearer insight into their moods and motivations, and made creating those character significanly easier and more natural sounding.

On the other hand of course, he was aware that a great many of the best and most popular books had been written in the third person, and he had enjoyed these as well, so clearly it was far from clear cut.

Ultimately, it was all just a matter of perspective.

(And let’s not begin to discuss why this post, like most third-person writing, was also written in the past tense!)

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