If I write in the "first person", do I condamn myself?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Anarchon, Feb 7, 2008.

  1.  
    Anarchon

    Anarchon Freewheeling writer

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2008
    Messages:
    44
    Diligently browsing around in the Forum, I remember seeing a discussion on this topic somewhere, but I couldn't find it again. Sorry if I rehash other threads.

    A published author (and editor) met at a reading has advised me against sending out a novel written in the first person (150,000 words).
    He kindly accepted to see samples, and he said that the execution is good, and he liked my voice very much; so it isn't a matter of difficulty, says he.

    This professional thinks that novels written in the first person "do not match the current market".


    Problem: I don't wish to change this, unless it's REALLY vital. I'll change anything else but not the POV . No stubborness, here. I just feel in my guts that it's "right" for the story.

    But I'd like to know more about the topic.

    Two questions:

    1) Is it true that the first person is not "fashionable"? Would this diminish my chances of being published?

    2) Who are the authors who have published novels written in the first person in, say, the last five years?

    Thank you in anticipation (I'm very worried).
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2008
  2.  
    JDP

    JDP Never told a lie. Ever.

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2007
    Messages:
    658
    Sorry, Anarchon, I can't speak from a professional point of view, but on a personal level I rarely enjoy reading first-person material. I've read some short stories (most recently by George R R Martin) which are sf and work well in first-person but for me it's usually a turn off. I'd think that if your story is sf, it might be more likely to work than if it's fantasy.

    Of course, that's just a matter of my personal taste, so please take it with a grain of salt!
  3.  
    iansales

    iansales Active Member

    Joined:
    May 8, 2006
    Messages:
    3,442
    Charles Stross, Glasshouse. Written in the first person.
  4.  
    SJAB

    SJAB The storyteller

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2006
    Messages:
    1,262
    Authors: Steph Swainston, Justina Robson and I think Richard Morgan. Those are just off the top of my head.

    Writing in first person doesn't condemn you, its just harder to pull off well. If the story is strong, well told, grabs the reader, and has that special something that makes an agent/publisher think it will sell, then I feel the POV does not matter. Doing the first bit of of the last sentence is the hardest part.

    Also remember an agent's opinion in many ways is subjective. What one rejects another accepts.
  5.  
    The Ace

    The Ace Aye fur Alba

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2006
    Messages:
    4,156
    I have to admit, I like first-person narrative, both reading and writing, because it's so in-your-face. Third gives a more flexible viewpoint and is more forgiving, though. I wonder if your agent will come up with another excuse if you change the POV. He might be hoping you'll go away.
  6.  
    John Jarrold

    John Jarrold New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2006
    Messages:
    1,175
    Again, this simply isn't a hard and fast rule. No way. If you're wrtiing epic fantasy it's hellishly diffcult to pull off - Robin Hobb is the one author who comes to mind - but each book has its own voice, first- or third-person...I don't know any UK agent who would turn something down simply because it is written in the first person.
  7.  
    Anarchon

    Anarchon Freewheeling writer

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2008
    Messages:
    44
    Thank you, JDP, Iansales and SJAB

    I have to fight back!

    Other examples of recent novels written in the first person?


    The Ace: the guy to whom I asked is not my agent. He's an author (a successful one) and also the editor of anthologies.

    John Jarrold: this guy is American. Perhaps that is why he said that the first person doesn't match the current market.

    But, as you say, one person, one opinion.
  8.  
    John Jarrold

    John Jarrold New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2006
    Messages:
    1,175
    Maybe his agent or publisher has said they'd prefer him to write in the third person, and/or that just suits his style. Chacun a son gout...
  9.  
    pyan

    pyan Fortiter et recte! Staff Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2005
    Messages:
    8,206
    Sorry to say it, Anarchon, but if I pick a book up in the bookshop or library, and it's written in the first person, back onto the shelf it goes. I just can't read anything written in this voice.
  10.  
    HoopyFrood

    HoopyFrood Iago with a Blackberry

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2006
    Messages:
    5,080
    Blimey, really, Pyan? You could be missing out on some good books...

    I don't particularly mind about point of view. I used to prefer first person, but now it's probably split equally between first and third. But as long as the book's well written, it doesn't matter to me, and they both have their merits. I definitely prefer writing in first person and I seem to do it automatically really; whenever I start a story, it's almost always in first person unless I consciously decide otherwise.

    And recent books...well, Stephen King's latest book, Duma Key is written in first person. As is Bag of Bones, also by him. Those are just a couple that come instantly to mind, anyway.
  11.  
    pyan

    pyan Fortiter et recte! Staff Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2005
    Messages:
    8,206
    Oh, yes, I know, Hoops, but there's just something about it.
    It's the same with books in the present tense...*shudders*
  12.  
    Ursa major

    Ursa major Bearly Believable Staff Member

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2007
    Messages:
    14,213
    Is it the thought of 120000+ words in the first person, Pyan, or don't you even like the occasional chapter in it?
  13.  
    John Jarrold

    John Jarrold New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2006
    Messages:
    1,175
    Gosh, I'd have missed out on Raymond Chandler, my favourite Roger Zelazny novels and many, many more...
  14.  
    Gary Compton

    Gary Compton King Harvey Basset R.I.P

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2007
    Messages:
    2,203
    As a novice writer I have just recently got my head around POV characters (I think!!! :confused:), could someone explain the difference in writing in that style and in the first person.

    Many thanks
    Gary
  15.  
    Havlen

    Havlen Unregistered User

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2007
    Messages:
    143
    First person = I rode on the train and thought about how to kill my aunt.
    Third person = John rode on the train and thought about how to kill his aunt.
  16.  
    Marky Lazer

    Marky Lazer New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2005
    Messages:
    2,879
    We all knew you were weird, but those two statements make it official!
  17.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2006
    Messages:
    13,624
    Ummm... Pyan....:confused:

    H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard (at least a fairly good portion), A. Merritt, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mary Shelley......
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2008
  18.  
    Gary Compton

    Gary Compton King Harvey Basset R.I.P

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2007
    Messages:
    2,203
    Thanks Havlen, I understand that perfectly, so basically its the character narrating what he is feeling and seeing.

    thanks for your help
  19.  
    Giovanna Clairval

    Giovanna Clairval New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2007
    Messages:
    1,127
    Perhaps the author you talked to was referring to the difficulty of carrying off a plot in the first person--as John said.

    If you use the first person, the narrator can relate only the events she has witnessed, or else what she has heard of.

    This can be limiting.

    But it can be wonderful as well, if the voice is unique.


    A few novels written in the first person (dans le desordre):


    The Lightstone by David Zindell.

    The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

    The Skewed Throne by Joshua Palmatier

    Grendel by John Gardner. A retelling of Beowulf from the dragon's point-of-view.

    Lilith by George MacDonald.

    The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe.

    Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock.

    Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart.

    The Black Company by Glen Cook.

    Song of Kali by Dan Simmons.

    Interworld by Neil Gaiman.

    Nightlife by Rob Thurman

    The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

    In the Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

    The Old Willis Place by Mary Downing Hahn.

    The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.

    Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

    Jhereg by Steven Brust

    Bartimaeus by Jonathan Stroud's (1st and 3rd person).


    In literary fiction, there is Paul Auster as well, and others.
  20.  
    Havlen

    Havlen Unregistered User

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2007
    Messages:
    143
    Yep. In some ways, it is similar to third person limited. In both, you are limited to the PoV character's thoughts and senses. Though in third person limited, it's a bit easier to switch PoV's, whereas having multiple PoV characters in a 1st person novel is a bit more difficult ;)

    Overall, they both have their strong points.

Share This Page