However, I have heard several remarks about my choice to use an alternating first person narrative for my story Wither in the Five Enchanted Roses collection. I thought I would spend a few minutes this week expounding on some of the pros and cons of such a narrative selection.
There are several positives to consider. First of all, if you are choosing to write in a first person narrative, you have chosen to do it for a reason. A lot of authors like the first person narrative, which seems to have become more popular in recent years, because it allows the author and the reader to delve more deeply into the main character's thoughts and emotions. Your goal is to focus on one character and expound on him as much as you can. All other characters will, by necessity, take a lesser stage. For a character driven story, this is certainly a positive. So if you are planning to write this type of story, do not shy away from the first person perspective. I chose to use an "alternating" first person perspective because I did not want to be limited to the mind of one character, but I did not want to lose the immediacy and intimacy of the first person narrative. It was difficult, let me tell you. But, there are several tricks you can pick up and a few pitfalls you can avoid if you choose to make a similar journey. Here are a few things I have learned along the way.
THE GOOD STUFF
1. The biggest positive for the Alternating First is that it allows you to get intimate with both of your main characters--your hero and your heroine. In fairy tales, you almost always have both, and often times one or the other of them seems to take the back stage. By using an alternating voice, you get the best of both worlds, the male and female perspective, both sides of the romantic conflict, both sides of the heartache. You are not limited to the emotions of one character. You get to FEEL with them both. I find it makes me more sympathetic to characters that are often easy to misunderstand, such as a certain Beast we all know and love.
2. The Alternating First broadens the stage for you audience similar to an omniscient viewpoint while keeping the intimacy of the first person. Imagine yourself looking at the ocean with blinders on. Sure, the lapping waves in front of you with the little bit of blue sky above is beautiful. You can feel the heart of the sun on your skin, you can smell the salty, fishy smell of the water, you can feel the hot sand beneath your bare feet. But if you take off the blinders and see what is hanging around your peripherals, you see so many things you could not see before, like the little boy to your left squealing in delight as his big sister buries his chubby legs in the warm white sand. Or the surfer to your right rising up over the water just as that perfect wave crests.
PITFALLS TO AVOID
1. As I mentioned earlier, there are also some pitfalls to avoid. There were several things I struggled with in the early drafts of my manuscript. The most challenging was learning to keep my two voices distinct. This is especially hard for authors, because we are only one person. WE only have ONE voice, but characters have many, and we must learn to let them speak. One of the problems I ran into is that I have a quirk with fragments. I love sentence fragments. I think they add great emphasis and punch, especially at the end of chapters when you want to end on a hook. I also think they break up the narrative nicely, especially if you have some lengthier paragraphs and little dialogue and want to break up the flow and make a quick punchy point. However, this is a quirk that belongs to ME not necessarily my characters. In my early drafts, both of my characters used fragments extensively. For one thing, it was poor writing to use them so freely, and secondly, it caused both of my characters to sound alike. At the urging of the Rooglewood editing team, I tried to eliminate the fragments in Bet's narrative and limit them strictly and cautiously to Corwin's. So instead of the fragments being MY quirk, they became CORWIN's. They gave him a stronger voice and helped him become distinct from Lilybet.
2. It's also easy to confuse your readers. This ties into the first comment, but requires a little further note. In a first person perspective, you do not have as many name tags to differentiate between your characters, so you must be careful to clearly state who is speaking and when. Instead of using chapter headings, I chose to clearly state the character's name at the beginning of each chapter. I also tried to fall into a decided pattern of alternating chapters, so that there would be less confusion over who's turn it was to speak. In my early drafts, I needed to change my plot a couple of times in order to accommodate the speaking order, but it made for a stronger, less complicated read when all was said and done.
3. And, yes, this leads into my third problem, which is not favoring one character over the other. Because you have chosen to give both characters a voice, you must deal with them in equal measures of time and love. In my early drafts, Bet had a much larger word count, but I did not connect with her character as easily which resulted in some of her narratives falling flat and not being as endearing or believable. When I spent some more time with each character, fleshing out Corwin's narratives and diving deeper into Lilybet's emotions, the true heart of my story began to emerge. I could not believe how much more I loved the end result. It was the same story, but with a few extra paragraphs, a few more carefully constructed details, the story had come into its own.