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View Full Version : Do editors/publishers have any POV preference for thrillers?


merper
07-19-2006, 08:52 AM
It seems to me that most of the thriller/suspense writers that are published seem to write in the 3rd person POV. Now when there are multiple character arcs, I can understand why this would be the best approach to take. But even in many cases where there's only 1 real story arc - for example, in many Robert Ludlum's books - writers still use the 3rd person.

The only mainstream thriller writer that I've seen using the first person is Barry Eisler in his John Rain assasin series(although he does have a smattering of 3rd person when he steps into secondary characters). Personally, I feel that the first person allows for a lot more character depth when you have only one important character.

Is this just personal preference or is this something that the market(and thus, the publishers/agents) want?

I guess my real question is, does it handicap the writer to use 1st person in a thriller?

Gillhoughly
07-19-2006, 09:15 AM
No.

Just write well.

As Joe Bob Briggs wrote:

"There are no rules about what to write, how to write it, or what will “sell.” Never ask a book publisher what will “sell. They’re the last to know."

I've found that to be true.

maestrowork
07-19-2006, 09:33 AM
3rd person creates more distance between the readers and the characters, which seems to suit "thrillers/suspense" better. Also, with complex thriller plots, most often you need multiple view points. 1st person could be too intimate, and too restricting.

Arden
07-19-2006, 09:39 AM
I don't know about thrillers in general but in terms of crime thrillers some of the best (biggest sellers) in the business write in 1st person with some 3rd:

Jonathon Kellerman (Alex Delaware)
Robert B. Parker (Spenser)
Robert Crais (Elvis Cole)

Two debut crime thriller novelists came out with books in 1st person exclusively.

badducky
07-19-2006, 10:09 AM
I suspect if you wrote one in second person omniscient, you might recieve a very nasty rejection letter.

Other then that?

bsolah
07-19-2006, 11:19 AM
I've also found that thriller (and horror) writers avoid writing in the first person. I agree with Ray when he says that third person allows some distance between the characters and it suits thrillers a lot.

But that said, I think there's some value to writing something like this in First Person. The unreliability and bias of a First Person narrator could add a new and interesting dynamic to the story, and indeed create another kind of suspence.

aruna
07-19-2006, 11:42 AM
I've just finished a thriller/suspense and it's mainly in 1st person. I did this deliberately, because I WANTED to close th e distance between reader and character, to make the reader feel what she feels. ANd this is my very first 1st person novel, so it#s not as if I am particularly attached to this voice; it just felt right. However, these days you are not bound to stay with one narrator throughout the book and occasionally I have slipped into 3rd to follow other characters.

It just feels right, I'll let you know if agents/editors react negatively to the POV, but somehow I don't think they will.

Linda Adams
07-19-2006, 03:58 PM
It depends on the story. Thrillers tend to lean towards very complex storylines, with as many as four multiple threads running through it and merging together at the end. For those, multiple POVs are used to help develop the different threads of the story. But there are a couple of subgenres where first person can work and work very well: Legal and Crime thriller. I believe both John Grisholm and James Patterson have written in first (but Patterson has also written in first and then switched to third in the same book because of the story's requirements).

Jamesaritchie
07-19-2006, 11:45 PM
Is this just personal preference or is this something that the market(and thus, the publishers/agents) want?



Editors and agents want good writing, good story, and good characters. The knock on first person is that most new writers don't handle first person well, and this is generally true.

Evaine
07-20-2006, 12:02 AM
It's a long time since I read them, but I seem to remember Alistair McLean wrote at least some of his thrillers in first person, and he seemed to do quite well.

merper
07-20-2006, 12:54 AM
Hmm, thanks for the responses all. I've been writing in 3rd person until now and it's felt completely artificial. I guess I'll finish the novel with 3rd then consider doing the rewrite in 1st person.

Aruna, I'd really appreciate it if you let me know if the people you submitted to commented on your choice of POV.

James, you say that many writers tend not to do 1st person well. Could you elaborate? I'm not certain I know what you mean.

Jamesaritchie
07-20-2006, 01:38 AM
Hmm, thanks for the responses all. I've been writing in 3rd person until now and it's felt completely artificial. I guess I'll finish the novel with 3rd then consider doing the rewrite in 1st person.

Aruna, I'd really appreciate it if you let me know if the people you submitted to commented on your choice of POV.

James, you say that many writers tend not to do 1st person well. Could you elaborate? I'm not certain I know what you mean.

In a way, it's hard to say more than I already have. First person seems such a natural way to write that many new writers use it. But first person is much more difficult to do well than third person limited.

New writers not onlytend to overuse the word "I," they also tend to filter everything through the POV character. They forget there's a world outside the POV character, and that the story takes place out in that world. There's too much needles introspection, too much navel gazing. New writers seldom understand how to let the reader know about events that happen away from the POV character, or how to get across the thoughts and feelings of other characters.

Part of this is because new writers are pounded by writers saying first person has this limitation or that limitatrion, which usually isn't true.

But editors and agents see so many really bad first person novels from new writers that they've learned to avoid them whenever possible.

Third person limited makes avoiding these pitfalls easier. But I suggest those who want to write in first person not only read as many good first person novels as possible, but also read Ben Bova.

Ben Bova writes in third person limited, but unlike most writers, he doesn't jump from one character to another. He knows how to tell a tale without doing this, and most of his novels start with a given POV character, and stick with that charcter from first page to last. His novels are actually object lessons in how to write good first person.

katiemac
07-20-2006, 02:06 AM
James, I must say, good advice all around today. Thank you.

Do you have a favorite Ben Bova?

aruna
07-20-2006, 09:52 AM
Aruna, I'd really appreciate it if you let me know if the people you submitted to commented on your choice of POV.

.

ALl I can say at this point is that one agent who read the paryial asked for the full; he's a very desirable agent, too. That's the only result I have form my submissions at this point, and he did not comment on my POV choice. Neither did my beta reader, who is an agented but still unpublished thriller writer.

Mark Lazer
07-20-2006, 12:48 PM
I've heard the following, not sure whether it's true, but just mentioning it. It was told with Fantasy in mind, but it might work in all genres.

To get published you should write like the "hot" authors at the moment. When those authors write 3rd person, you most likely have a bigger chance if you do so as well. A recognizable style is favored, because it's easier to market. Readers are slowly getting used to this (3rd person in my example), so they kind of expect 3rd person; when it's 1st person it takes a while to adept. Taking into consideration that people often buy books after reading the first page or so, they need to be hooked as fast as possible. If they first need to get used to a different POV, they might never get into it, and don't buy the book. For a publisher this means they won't want to publish it.

Again, I'm not sure whether this is too valid, just something I heard.

Jamesaritchie
07-20-2006, 01:12 PM
I've heard the following, not sure whether it's true, but just mentioning it. It was told with Fantasy in mind, but it might work in all genres.

To get published you should write like the "hot" authors at the moment. When those authors write 3rd person, you most likely have a bigger chance if you do so as well. A recognizable style is favored, because it's easier to market. Readers are slowly getting used to this (3rd person in my example), so they kind of expect 3rd person; when it's 1st person it takes a while to adept. Taking into consideration that people often buy books after reading the first page or so, they need to be hooked as fast as possible. If they first need to get used to a different POV, they might never get into it, and don't buy the book. For a publisher this means they won't want to publish it.

Again, I'm not sure whether this is too valid, just something I heard.

There's nothing new about first person in most genres. Readers got used to is abut a century and a half ago, and it's still a very common POV, though, admittedly less so in fantasy than most other genres. But there are some pretty darned good first person fantasy novels out there.

Good first person is just as enticing as good third person.

I've heard agents give the advice to wrote like current hot writers, and I think it's a horrible idea. Agents always want more of whatever's hot, and so do publishers, but unless your natural style and preferences already match whatever happens to be hot, odds are you'll just write second rate copies of what's out there, and this does no one any good.

Best, I think, just to tell the best story you can in the best way you can. Those currently hot writers probably did not get hot by copying anything or anyone.

Mark Lazer
07-20-2006, 01:16 PM
I didn't mean there's no other POV; just what's the most common is favored by publishers, what I've heard, at least.

Though, of course, I agree that a good story is a good story, and that's what matters.

James D. Macdonald
07-21-2006, 09:11 AM
We are in the entertainment business.

It is more entertaining to watch someone juggle three balls expertly than juggle five balls ineptly.

Do what you do best.

maestrowork
07-21-2006, 01:06 PM
It is more entertaining to watch someone juggle three balls expertly than juggle five balls ineptly.


Exactly. On top of that, just because it feels "easy" doesn't mean you can do it well. Know your strength, but also your weakness.

icerose
07-21-2006, 08:05 PM
Dorchester has it in their guidelines that they strongly prefer 3rd person POV.