Switching up perspective through first-person present

I’m pleased enough with a new bit of writing that I had to share the why and wherefore on the blog. And as you gathered from the headline, it’s about taking a different tack in the narrative.

I’m working on a new project unrelated to my completed book, one that I’ve taken to calling “Project S” on Twitter. Now, don’t get me wrong: Spacebuckler is totally my literary baby, and the sequel is well fleshed-out. But until such time as it’s acquired, well….I gotta do something, right? Hence, Project S, which has nothing to do with space and the Napoleonic Era whatsoever.

Lately, though, I’ve found it hard to dive back into Project S after a day-job-related hiatus. (I write for a living. There’s only so much time in front of the keyboard anybody can stand!) Despite being well into Project S, I needed to reboot it in my head, find a way to delve back into the character and setting without bringing in the baggage ofSpacebuckleror any other writing I’ve been involved in.

I picked up an interesting scene in my head, one completely out of sequence, and just started writing. And then I tweaked it. And tweaked it again. Here’s how it progressed.

“He was lost, cold and riding a horse that was charging into the night like a thing possessed. He couldn’t tell whether he or the horse was the one driving them forward into the night.”

Not bad, but let’s see here….

“I was lost, cold and my horse was charging forward into the night like a thing possessed. I couldn’t even tell if I was the one driving us forward or not.”

Better. But what about….

“I’m lost, it’s cold and my horse is charging forward into the night like a thing possessed, and I can’t tell if I’m the one driving us forward or not.”

That was the spark I was missing. The immediacy of that last sentence, to me, is just bracing. I read that, and I’m on the horse, in the dark, freezing and scared, hurtling toward something unknown. From there, I can explore the main character more, because obviously he’s the one on the horse, and I get to challenge his POV and reactions with each word.

I don’t think first-person present is for every story. A huge cast and multiple POVs, like the writing in Spacebuckler, would negate this tactic pretty quickly. But hey, it works in The Hunger Games, which has a very central main character and a ton of action and immediacy.

Certainly, your narrator would have to be very central to the story, if not the primary protagonist. If the narrator IS your protagonist, then that character really needs to be pretty special. The character has to be strong enough, complex enough and nuanced enough to bring the reader along for a very personal, very immedate ride.

Alternatively, you could have a first-person present narrator who’s more of an observer or bit player, but could bring a unique perspective to the events played out before him or her. There’s potential for this, certainly — imagine the Star Wars saga being told from R2-D2’s perspective, or The Lord of the Rings told from Sam’s immediate point of view. There could be good stuff mined from the perspective.

I know this isn’t a news flash to a lot of writers, but I thought I’d throw it out there. Switching up POV, perspective and narrative style could light a fire under your writing. I think it’s done that with mine. Give it a shot!

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