Monday, March 16, 2015

Whose Story Is It?

A friend of mine recently decided to redo an entire manuscript and change it from first person to third person. I normally prefer reading third person and always write in third person. One of the advantages of third person is being able to tell the story from the viewpoint of various characters within the novel, including the antagonists. That can make for really interesting reading.

Sometimes third person novels are still written only from one person's point of view. Many YA novels take this approach. The POV character is usually the 'main' character in the novel. They are the one doing something or having something happen to them. And usually, we think of them as the 'good guy.'

But if you're just plotting out your novel and perhaps filling in that character profile sheet, maybe you're unsure of who your main character or characters are. How do you decide? You might not know until you've plotted out some of your novel. But here's a short test.

Who is suffering the most? Which character is in the most pain? That suffering will draw the reader's sympathy and interest as they hope for and watch this character take action. A character in pain wants to enact change. This character also needs to be in a position to act and have the power to do so. They have the freedom to try and change their situation. Don't make the mistake of making your main character too powerful.

Even in medieval fantasy, unless it's a very small kingdom or the castle is under siege, the king won't be actually be wielding a sword. The captain of a large space ship with hundreds of people serving under him, will not go down to explore a mystery on a strange planet as Captain Kirk did so often. The chief of police in a big city isn't going out on routine calls.

Do you have other ideas of how to decide which character in your story should be the 'main' character? Have you ever changed your mind after which character will play the lead? Do you agree that the main character should be the one suffering the most?
(I might be late responding to comments as I'm spending most of the day driving home from Boston)

Susan Gourley writes epic fantasy and is multi-published in science fiction romance writing as Susan Kelley. Find her at Susan Says.

16 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Who suffers the most is a good way to gauge it. Or which character changes the most.
I always write in third person. My upcoming book is the first time I've don't that from just one viewpoint though, and it was unique.

Jemi Fraser said...

I prefer 3rd to 1st as well, and I love alternating the view point between my 2 main characters. :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'm the same as Jemi. I always imagine the characters first, so it's easy knowing whose POV I'll use.

Christine Rains said...

I like 3rd person over first too. I never have a problem deciding who should be the protagonist, but sometimes secondary characters are so interesting that they want sequels! :)

Pat Hatt said...

I tend to put one character through the ringer, so they tend to be the main character. But some of my side ones have become mains along the way. I usually write in third, trying a different approach at the moment though.

Patricia Lynne said...

I've swapped from 3rd to 1st before. It changed the story for the better. I have yet to swap to a new MC though. Maybe I'm really lucky and figuring out who the MC is when I sit down to write.

Nadine_Feldman said...

I thought about changing my current WIP to 1st. My main character is pretty dominant in this one. After a lot of consideration, though, I rejected the idea. I switched from past tense to present tense instead, and that seems to be working well.

Anne R. Allen said...

Susan--Great advice. I've changed the voice from 1st person to 3rd in one novel and vice versa in another with great results. (Chick lit works best in first, mysteries seem to work better in third.) I also had a stalled book that got a total makeover when an editor suggested writing from a different character's POV for a "frame" around the story. It really worked.

northofandover said...

I think a better way would be, "The main character should be the one who has a great need for things to change, plus the ability to act." Sometimes the character suffering the most cannot do anything about it, and someone close to them is the one who has to act instead.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I like that too though in my fantasy novels I sometimes use as many as five viewpoints.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

One of my A to Z posts is about those interesting secondary characters.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I bet it's not luck that your figure it out, Patricia.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

That sounds like an entire interesting post about how you did that.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I love the story about Fitzgerald when he wrote The Great Gatsby and realized Nick had to be the narrator. I'm visited by my protagonist several times before I even begin the first chapter. It's their persistence that makes me stop and finally listen long enough to write their story. That's happened 6 times so far.

Michelle Wallace said...

Third person is my preferred voice.
At present, I'm unsure who my main is. There are 3 characters all vying for the main slot. I think I need to really turn up the heat with one of them...

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Susan,

Very interesting changing from first to third.It's usually the other way around. I used to write only in third, but for my y/a First works so much better. You can really get inside the head of your MC and see it all through his eyes.

My first novel was m/g fantasy and there I used third. It worked very well because of the large cast of characters....