Monday, March 28, 2011

I Can't Die, I'm the Hero of This Story!

There was a scene in a sitcom where a man at a cocktail party entertained a man (and the man's bubble-headed date) with tales of his adventures in Africa. He was describing a time when his gun jammed and the lion, sensing the adventurer was helpless, began creeping slowly toward him, its eyes locked with his eyes, its teeth glimmering in the sunlight.

He pauses for dramatic effect.

Bubble-head pipes up and says, "Did it eat you?" . . .

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The writing advice I've received says "anyone who writes in a genre where survival of the protagonist is in question cannot write in first-person point of view."

Makes sense to me. Obviously, if "I" lived to tell me this story, then "I" didn't die. Right? No more than the African adventurer could have been eaten by the lion.

So, logically, most horror and other thriller/adventure type stories have to be written in third person.

You can, of course, find ways around this. One post-apocalyptic zombie story I read ended with a zombie picking up a notebook and staring at in confusion. The notebook had been carried around by the protagonist, and he used it to record his thoughts and feelings so he wouldn't go insane from being alone. Obviously, the protagonist would have only abandoned the notebook upon his death.

That's one way of handling first-person point of view and still raising the question of whether the protagonist will survive. There are others. Generally, we're discouraged from doing these kinds of endings because they come across as contrived. And, they break the "Point-of-view Laws." After all, if we've lost the point-of-view character, then there's no point-of-view and we can't "see" what's going on. No point-of-view, no story.

Or maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe readers view the story as unfolding in real time, so the "I" isn't a hindrance. In other words, the "I" isn't telling you the story; you are watching it unfold in real time right beside the protagonist. You are there! Maybe you aren't going to survive, either!

What brought me to pondering this topic was I've come across a lot of posts and interviews lately where writers say they usually write in first-person, and a lot of these people write stories where the question of the protagonist's survival is the main plot.

In the interest of scientific research (lol), I popped over to my bookshelf and checked out the POVs. All of the novels are in 3rd person (from King to Koontz to Matheson et al.). About 10% of the short stories are in first-person.

So, as a reader, how do you feel? Do you like/dislike/don't mind the "and then they found his notebook" endings? When you pick up a book and it's in first-person point of view, can you get past the point of view and still worry about the protagonist's survival (do you feel you are there with the protagonist)?

~ ~ ~

In other business, I'm rolling out a new blog schedule. I'm still trying to find that perfect balance of being able to blog AND still get other writing done, especially since this novel revision is taking 400% longer than I planned.

So the new schedule will be three days per week instead of five:

Monday: Still the same "From the Desk of" posts, with updates on projects I'm working on and observations on the writing life. But I'll be adding links for writers, which used to be a separate Friday post.
Wednesday: "Comic Relief." Again, the same Wednesday postings: weird news peppered with my snarky comments and humorous links. Just a new and improved name.

Friday: "Spec-Fic Friday." News and information from the worlds of horror, fantasy, and sci-fi. This post used to be the Tuesday "Your Frightly News" post.

So the only thing that's getting abandoned is the Thursday "Things that go bump in the night" post. The rest of the postings are the same, just in a more condensed format for a three-days-per-week posting schedule.


  1. LOL..did it eat you? I prefer to read in third person rather than in first. third is so much more informative but sometiems first person works well. I like the Sookie Stackhouse novels but still prefer third person since I want to know what the vamps think.

  2. I have the Sookie novels on my "to read" list, but I haven't gotten to them yet. Definitely looking forward to it!

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting! :)


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