Now, as a fiction editor, I see this one all the time—literally all the time. It’s one of those rules (a cardinal rule, actually) that new writers, for the most part, aren’t even aware of.
And, when I mention it when speaking at writers’ conferences, I get a zillion examples of where it has worked. You can probably list successful instances here as well. We all can.
I’m not saying it never works. Of course, it does. And as my mantra always says:
Rules are Meant to be Broken.
But you danged well better understand the rule, master it, and know what you’re losing by breaking it before you do so.
For this one, we delve back into the purpose of viewpoint in the first place.
Viewpoint is merely the eyes, ears, noses, tactical senses, and emotions of the character narrating the scene, chapter, or entire book.
It’s his perceptions of the world you’ve created. Not yours.
This can be a difficult concept to get your head around.
But viewpoint isn’t you, the author, even if you’re writing in omniscience. Even with omniscience, the characters have to see the world differently from one another, and from you, the author, as well.
Although yes, you’re putting the words in the characters’ heads (although even this is better if they’re thinking them and you’re just chasing along) that internal dialogue can’t sound like you.
If it does, you’re telling a story, rather than creating one.
It takes a fair level of skill to write multiple-viewpoint stories of any ilk. Because even though your writing voice is just that, each viewpoint character has to have his own way of looking at life. His own manner of thinking. His own syntax and emotional reactions and perceptions of the events as they occur.
This proves difficult enough in multiple-third-person-viewpoint books.
It takes the ability to parse out those characters in your head. To have them residing there for the duration.
Each with her own space, in fact, her own very life. Apart from yours.
This gets even more intricate and complicated when you’re writing cross-genre viewpoints, characters from different generations, those with professions you’ve never practiced, etc.
You’ve literally got to be inside their heads, under their skins, with the full knowledge of where they’ve been, and where they’re going.
The next challenge is when the pieces begin to move, in ways you hadn’t expected, and the people change and grow and take a fork in the road you, as the author, never saw coming.
Yep, herding cats. All in your head.
For the writer trying to find her sea legs, managing all of this in first-person is like climbing Mt. Everest.
The gist is that you’re too close to it. Those characters, all living in your head, speaking in first person, well, often the writer himself can’t keep the voices straight.
Which glows like a beacon on the page.
And it’s oh-so easy to fall back into author telling. In fact, that’s one of the biggest issues I see in first-person narrative in general—even with only one narrator. The author just creates a world from his own perspective, rather than his character’s.
Again, I’m not saying, “Don’t try this at home.” Do try it. Do see where it leads. Then, work with your fiction editor to overcome the foibles.
A great exercise I give my writers who truly want to work in first-person, especially when that’s not really working, is to take a chapter and re-write it in third person.
֎ This gives you some distance from it, and helps you to separate out each character in his or her own right.
֎ It helps you to keep all of their nuances straight.
֎ You’ll learn things about them that were obscured before.
֎ And, it gives your characters the freedom to go where they really want to run, without preconceived restrictions from you, the author.
Then, take that exact same chapter, and again rewrite it in first-person.
I promise—at that point you’ll clearly see which viewpoint works best. It may indeed be that first-person brings out the characters and story most effectively, whether single or multiple.
Or, the converse may be true.
Either way, you’ll have mastered new skills, and learned more about your folks.
And isn’t that the purpose of absorbing new skills? To make the book the best it can possibly be?
In addition, of course, to causing you to grow as a writer.
Now, jump in there and see where it takes you!