To all you laboring on your NaNoWriMo novel: Happy writing! May words pour out of you like water over Niagara Falls! May ideas crop up like dandelions in July! And if you have questions, think of this blog.
This question came into the website in September from Rebekah: I recently reread Writing Magic and the section on POV to see how I could make it work with my own story, but I didn’t find anything.
My story is in 3rd person, but I wanted to try it in 1st person. I really love being in my MC’s head, but it’s also hard because then I can’t let the reader know what some of the other characters are thinking as well, and that makes it really hard on me. Do you have any suggestions for me on a way to compromise?
Athira Abraham responded with this: If your story is fantasy, maybe she has magical powers of reading people’s mind. Or she might have an object that helps her, like Gail’s magic book or spyglass.
And Eliza added:
1. Have more than one protagonist.
2. Don’t let the other characters take over as protagonists, but let them speak for little snippets. I’ve read some books that switch over to other characters at the beginning of chapters, usually in italics.
These are great ideas. I invented the magic book in Ella Enchanted so that Ella, who’s the first-person POV MC, can have an idea of what’s going on with other characters when she isn’t present. She can’t hear thoughts, but she gets a hint of the action. But you could invent a device that can receive thoughts, or you can make your MC telepathic, as Athira Abraham suggests. Or you can alternate among a few first person POV characters, changing perspective from chapter to chapter or between sections within chapters, which should be clearly marked because we want the reader to always know whose head he’s in.
Along the lines of Eliza’s second suggestion, I’ve seen bits (clearly marked) of diabolical narration from the POV of the villain in a Terry Pratchett novel or two, and, in my opinion, whatever Pratchett does is worth imitating.
When we write in first person, we lose direct access to the feelings of other characters, in addition to their thoughts, so whatever we come up with to bridge the gap can include feelings (the racing heart, the churning stomach, the tension headache).
Telepathy, magic spyglasses, and magic books are possibilities. What else is there?
Let’s imagine that Julie, the best friend of our MC Marcy, has been unusually quiet lately, hasn’t wanted to hang out. She’s dropped out of the chorus at school. A planned sleepover happens, but Julie is too uncommunicative for it to be fun. Marcy is worried about her friend and also about their friendship. What can she do?
Of course what she does depends on her personality, but let’s think about what she might do:
• She can ask Julie and may find out what her friend is thinking and feeling through dialogue.
• She can get angry and possibly learn the information through an argument, again dialogue. Or she may not succeed, but she’ll know her friend is mad at her, at least for that moment.
• She can ask other people what’s going on and possibly find out that way.
• She can think about Julie, remember when the strange behavior started, consider everything she knows about her friend, and maybe arrive at the answer.
• She can snoop, read Julie’s journal. If she has real snooping skills, she can bug Julie’s phone and conceal a camera in Julie’s room. Or, if she’s wealthy, she can hire a detective.
• With our authorial power, we can show the reader Julie’s journal so that he knows but Marcy doesn’t.
You may think of other ways. You’ll find a masterful example of one character discovering what’s going on with another in the young adult novel The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg.
We’re all the first-person MC of the story of our lives, and we’re probably not mind-readers, but in order to get along with other people, to have friends, to be decent students and family members – to do many things – we have to make assumptions, and sometimes we know with a high degree of certainty what other people are thinking and feeling. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to make others feel good or to push their buttons not in a good way. We do it by some of the methods I suggested above, by knowing our friends and family over time, by understanding ourselves and figuring that others are at least somewhat like us.
When I wrote the beginning of this post I was on the train on my way to New York City. A man across the aisle behind me talked loudly on his cell phone in a thick voice. I looked back, nosy writer that I am, to get a fix on him, and, instantly, he snapped, “Mind your own business.”
It didn’t take mind reading to know he felt angry. My guess is that this guy is always on the edge of anger and almost anything can push him over. It’s also possible that he felt guilty for being so loud – although that didn’t stop him from taking three more calls and it didn’t make him lower his voice. Guilt can make people angry; you may have noticed this.
As for me, I was a little scared, which he probably knew, because I’d imagine he wanted to intimidate me. Total strangers and we knew each other’s feelings! And only one sentence passed between us. Fortunately, he got off the train soon – which I knew he would, because he announced his stop on the phone.
In the example above, Marcy knows Julie isn’t happy, because people signal their feelings, smile, frown, stamp, cross their arms. The clues are legion. What we lose by writing in first person is the texture of others’ thoughts and feelings, the insider perspective, and I sympathize, because I love that, too. If a first person single POV best suits our story, that’s what we should use, but there’s nothing to stop us from writing a scene in third person in our notes, or from a different first-person POV, also in notes. We’ll have the pleasure of doing it, and we may learn something that we can work into our first-person narrative. Nobody ever called writing efficient!
Here are three prompts:
• From Marcy’s first-person POV, write the story of Marcy and Julie, and have Marcy try a bunch of methods to find out what’s going on with her friend. Surprise the reader with the answer.
• Marcy is the friend everyone goes to when they’re unhappy. She’s keeping more secrets than she has fingers and toes combined. But two secrets don’t add up. Someone is lying. Have Marcy delve into the thought and feeling life of her friends to find out what’s really going on.
• In the myth, “Pygmalion and Galatea,” Pygmalion is a sculptor who falls in love with a statue he creates. The goddess Venus takes pity on him and brings her to life. Write from Galatea’s POV the scene when she wakes up . She used to be marble; she has no past. What does she think and feel? What does she make of Pygmalion? How does she figure out what he’s thinking and feeling when she has no experience to guide her?
Have fun, and save what you write!