Friday, January 31, 2020

First Person Versus Distant First Person

I write all my mysteries in first person. Until now. I think. I decided to employ what I've seen referred to as distant first person for the Ancestral Sanctuary Series. What is the difference?

In the first person point of view, you are in the character's head and the character (in my case always the sleuth) refers to him or herself as "I." The reader sees the world only from that individual's perspective. I like it because I believe the mystery is stronger. No one 'tells' the reader anything. That said, most of the books I read (Beaton's Hamish Macbeth, Connelly's Harry Bosch) are in distant first person.

In distant first person, a reader still sees the world from the character's perspective, but the sleuth is referred to in the third person. The best example is my all-time favorite, the Harry Potter series. Once Harry is in a scene the story is told only from his perspective. Other times, a narrator speaks. However, that's relatively rare.
For example, In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (the U.S. title), Chapter One opens into the world of the Dursley family and closes on the street outside with Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall, and Hagrid. We know what these three are doing and some of their feelings, but it's from their actions and words, not their thoughts.

From the second chapter forward, the reader is in Harry's head only. Being in scenes without Harry lets the reader know more about what's going on beyond Hogwarts or the Dursley home. But because we don't know, for example, all that Albus Dumbledore knows, the author doesn't have to reveal everything. Readers get to solve the mysteries with Harry.

This general term for this kind of first-person writing is that we have a character's perspective but there is narrative distance. A great blog post on POV and narrative distance is one by Beth Hill.

It will take me a while to get used to writing in distant first person. In fact, a few days ago I wrote two scenes in first person. I miss it, but a different kind of writing will let me explore characters in new ways.
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