Thursday 29 December 2011


I read a lot of MG and YA fiction. I research what agents and editors say about the submissions they receive and the ones they are looking for.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about the merits, and the difficulties of writing in 1st person.

When it comes to 1st person narratives, all advice says there needs to be a strong voice.

A great voice needs to be:

·         unique to the character
·         unique in the genre
·         distinct in a way it compliments the story.

During the last couple of days, when I wasn’t supposed to be writing, I have discovered things I have been aware of but never really understood:

That the immediacy of a scene and the intensity of the protagonist's situation is much more intense in 1st person.

That writing 1st person is a great way to catch the readers attention and to retain it.

In preparation for starting my writing course, and because I should be writing my current wip;) I decided to experiment with the affects of writing in 1st person.

My MG novel, STAYING LOST, was originally written in 3rd person with alternating limited perspectives. 

I decided, at that time, that this was necessary because of the demands of the story. Lots of action took place when Jon wasn’t present so I didn’t want to be limited to a single person’s awareness. 

Even the title was seen from Jon's bodyguard, Nerysa's POV.

Then it occurred to me that, from Jon’s perspective, the fact that he doesn’t know what is going on is a major theme in the story.

Everything that happens beyond Jon’s life is either backstory – which only I need to know – or else it is incidental and it detracts from the way Jon experiences his new life.

What I have learned from this experiment is that everyone has to select the point of view that evokes the greatest range of emotional response and the greatest degree of engagement from the reader.

Even when you think you have finished with a project it might be worth experimenting with a section in more than one POV. I was surprised by the results.


It was the final rugby match of the season and the crowd was doing a great job of putting me off my game. First they’d been shouting and dancing. Then, when I’d got used to that, they began chanting my name: Ashton, Ashton. 
It wouldn’t be the end of my life if I missed my shot. I glanced across at the crowd. Suddenly, I less sure of my survival. They were doing something like a zombie shuffle, clawing at their scarves and creeping up to the edge of the line: Ashton! Ashton!
My name sounded more like a threat than encouragement. No problem. Four hundred to one, and I’d only had to kick to convert the try.
            “Jon? What’s up?”
            I looked back to Toby. 
            In his red and black and muddy kit, he looked unreasonably happy. He imitated me, running on the spot he pretended to take the kick, “We don’t have all day.”
“Right, I’ll get a jog on and just knock it over?”
“You take your time,” Toby said. He grinned. “Get it right. It’s on your head; it's not like anyone is going to be blaming us, if you miss.”
I hoped I wasn't about to lose my head but the touchline was packed with Tudors. That only happens at Tudor School, these days. Dressed in doublets and capes, it looked like every Tudorian for the last four hundred years had made it to the game. Everyone who mattered was there, except my Dad.

For comparison, this is the original opening of the MG novel. 

Jon ran as if his life depended on it, but his feet slid dangerously in the mud. He tightened his fingers, gripped harder. Squinting into the sun, sweat dripped into his eyes, but he did not dare rub it away. There were muffled sounds he strained to understand, but the roaring, on every side, made that impossible. He kept his eyes open, and ran straight and fast. There was no one who could help him now.
A nail, and then a finger, scraped and slid across his arm.
No! He wouldn’t let it happen. He raised his knees higher, and slammed his feet down hard. Jon grunted, in his head it was a laugh. Nothing would stop him, this time. He ground his teeth together, sucking air through gaps like straws.  He swerved right, then dipped and side-stepped left. He grinned, when he heard a curse as a body hit the floor behind him. He measured the distance between him and the white posts, and his legs didn’t feel so heavy any more. Relief and lack of oxygen made his head spin. Altering his approach, Jon passed directly under the post. When he wanted to throw himself into the mud, he settled for placing the ball and spinning. He faced the players who were stampeding towards the line, only those wearing red were grinning.
Celebrations could come later. The score was tied. Only minutes remained. They needed the points from the conversion kick. Jon focussed on the centre of the pitch, and the kick. He didn’t look at the crowd, still jumping around on the sidelines. Either his Dad was there, or he wasn’t. Jon hoped, but he didn’t look across to check. Disappointment would really ruin his aim. The real sadness bubbled, until he squashed it back. It was his mother who couldn’t be there on the touch line.
The crowds who gathered see Tudor triumph over their greatest rivals, Stanmore College, and win the Schools’ Rugby League, froze. Moments before, they had been shouting and dancing. Now, like zombies, they shuffled forward drawn towards the spot where Jon stood. Hands clawed at the scarves whipping around their faces.

The feedback I got from the original opening was that they felt cheated: it was deceitful to suggest Jon's life was endangered and to not have him in real and immediate danger. I thought the phrase "as if his life depended on it" had that covered. However... 

There is no mistaking what is happening in the 1st person opening. I think there's still too much back story.

Does 1st person draw the reader into the story more quickly?

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't sure from what perspective to write my new WIP but after experimenting it was obvious what worked best.