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Thread: First person, third person in urban fantasy

  1. #1
    Strange Monster Yāogui's Avatar
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    First person, third person in urban fantasy

    I just received a polite no on a query I sent out a while ago. In the midst of the response, it said, "You may want to consider this story from a third person point of view with all the first person narratives on the market."

    I found this startling. This agent seems to think the market is glutted with first person narratives. But it's only a glut if the demand isn't there.... Is the demand there?

    For me, as an avid UF reader, when I'm browsing the shelves at B&N, it's one of the first things I check. If a book is in the third person, it's going right back on the shelf. I know I'm a demographic of one, but I buy six or seven UF novels a week, and all of them are first person. It just feels more intimate to me, less coy and manipulative, and it opens up the tremendous possibilities of voice. I don't trust a narrator whose name I don't know.

    How about you? Writing and reading urban fantasy, what are your preferences and why? Do you think there are too many first person narratives on the market?

  2. #2
    Mushroom Polenth's Avatar
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    Most urban fantasy does appear to be first person, but there are also third person books. I don't really care as a reader, as long as it works and the story is interesting. People are more likely to put a book back on the shelf because they're sick of vampires (or this month's cool creature), than because of the viewpoint used.
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  3. #3
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    It's just one agent's opinion on the state of the market. UF is pretty crowded right now, and it's possible that this agent is looking for books that have an element that makes them stand out from the pack. Third person in UF is a lot less common than first--although it's much more common in paranormal romance.

    All of the UF novels I've published have been written in first person, because that's what the story demanded. As a reader, I don't really care which POV it's on. The bulk of the UF novels on my shelf are first person narratives, because that's what's being produced. I'd still buy and read them in third if I stumbled across a few.
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  4. #4
    Gametrovert Shadowflame's Avatar
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    There might also be another answer:

    How information is given to the reader.

    I've had to make a decision in my novels to write 1st or 3rd. I seriously considered 1st, however, I realized that I will have to relate some information that the MC just doesn't have in order to make the series work. I can't do that the way I want to with 1st.

    I will be using 3rd limited. The reader will still get the perspective of the MC, some thoughts however, instead of I, it will be She.
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  5. #5
    Boldly going nowhere in particular. Jess Haines's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChaosTitan View Post
    It's just one agent's opinion on the state of the market. UF is pretty crowded right now, and it's possible that this agent is looking for books that have an element that makes them stand out from the pack. Third person in UF is a lot less common than first--although it's much more common in paranormal romance.

    All of the UF novels I've published have been written in first person, because that's what the story demanded. As a reader, I don't really care which POV it's on. The bulk of the UF novels on my shelf are first person narratives, because that's what's being produced. I'd still buy and read them in third if I stumbled across a few.
    This.

    You don't have to change it just because one agent said so.

    Write from whatever viewpoint you feel it is necessary to tell the story. There are ways of improving your writing without going through the hassle of changing the POV.

    Just my 2.
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    My sarcasm got the better of me. Midian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChaosTitan View Post
    The bulk of the UF novels on my shelf are first person narratives, because that's what's being produced.
    This.

    I would disagree that first person feels more intimate but that's really just an opinion no one can argue over.

    I'll read any POV so long as it's good. I'm not a 1st person fan and find that the writer really has to work harder to keep me interested than someone that writes in 3rd. But I won't refuse to read 1st and do find that if the book is written exceptionally, I won't even notice what POV it's in until much later, if at all.

    But I do agree that you don't have to change it if you don't want to.
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  7. #7
    Nothing clever to say... K.B.R.'s Avatar
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    As a reader I don't care as long as the story's good and I like the protagonist(s). As a writer, I opt for 3rd person because--at least for the stories I'm writing--it offers so many more advantages. I can convey characters' thoughts and emotions (through their actions) as well as relate information that main characters don't know.

    Just go with what works best for the story you're trying to tell. And absolutely do not change your story just because one agent said so. Agent or no, it is just one person's opinion. I recently had two agents read my complete ms, and I received two very different opinions of my work.

  8. #8
    Girl Detective AW Moderator Stacia Kane's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yāogui View Post
    I just received a polite no on a query I sent out a while ago. In the midst of the response, it said, "You may want to consider this story from a third person point of view with all the first person narratives on the market."

    I found this startling. This agent seems to think the market is glutted with first person narratives. But it's only a glut if the demand isn't there.... Is the demand there?

    For me, as an avid UF reader, when I'm browsing the shelves at B&N, it's one of the first things I check. If a book is in the third person, it's going right back on the shelf. I know I'm a demographic of one, but I buy six or seven UF novels a week, and all of them are first person. It just feels more intimate to me, less coy and manipulative, and it opens up the tremendous possibilities of voice. I don't trust a narrator whose name I don't know.

    How about you? Writing and reading urban fantasy, what are your preferences and why? Do you think there are too many first person narratives on the market?

    Ha, I'm exactly the opposite. First person feels distancing to me--like I'm being told a story rather than experiencing it with the MC--and at this point I generally put first-person novels right back on the shelf because I'm just so tired of it. (I admit I'm confused about your statement about narrators whose name you don't know; third-person characters are usually named right away, afaik. Mine certainly are, right there in the first sentence or two.)

    As others have said, don't change your story based on one person's opinion. It's just one opinion.
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  9. #9
    Strange Monster Yāogui's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stacia Kane View Post
    I admit I'm confused about your statement about narrators whose name you don't know; third-person characters are usually named right away, afaik. Mine certainly are, right there in the first sentence or two.
    Yes, but the difference is, you're good at it.

    I've picked up a few third-person UF series, and Downside Ghosts is the only one that didn't leave me feeling cheated. In all the others, the third-person narrator told me information that the protagonist wasn't privy to, and, to make it worse, had told me only selectively. So I could see outside the protag's perspective when the author chose, and I was limited to that perspective when the author chose. This is what I meant by "coy and manipulative." It's so obtrusive when it happens, and you're the only one I've read who seems to rise above it.

  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW Silver-Midnight's Avatar
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    From what I seeing, first person is very popular in Urban Fantasy, but I wouldn't exactly say it's over-flooded with it. I would say either a) write in the POV the story calls for or b) write in the POV which you feel comfortable with, which can more or less lead to a.

    Have you tried sending it to someone else?


    Me, personally, I'm trying to write in both. Don't know how successful I'll be at it, but I'll attempt it. However, I'm more used to and, in my opinion, better at third limited than first person. That's just my opinion though. But at same time, I think it would, at least benefit me to some degree to be able to have the option of writing in first or third person. That's the main reason I want to be able to write in both POVs. But that's just me. Personally, first person was harder to write than third person, but again, that could've just been my case.

    As far as reading, I really don't care either way. As long as the story is good and well-written in can be in any POV, third or first. Truthfully, I would like to see more third person UF, but I would rather have a good story than a story written in a certain POV.

  11. #11
    Girl Detective AW Moderator Stacia Kane's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yāogui View Post
    Yes, but the difference is, you're good at it.

    I've picked up a few third-person UF series, and Downside Ghosts is the only one that didn't leave me feeling cheated. In all the others, the third-person narrator told me information that the protagonist wasn't privy to, and, to make it worse, had told me only selectively. So I could see outside the protag's perspective when the author chose, and I was limited to that perspective when the author chose. This is what I meant by "coy and manipulative." It's so obtrusive when it happens, and you're the only one I've read who seems to rise above it.
    Oh, well, :blush:. Thank you! I wasn't expecting that (but then I never am).

    I do absolutely know what you mean about the varying perspective/omniscient-type narration. You're right; that is manipulative, and it is annoying. It's like those horrible "Little did she know..." lines that seemed popular twenty years ago.

    Do you think, though, that you see that more in trad fantasy, rather than UF? That's been my experience, but I admit I haven't read everything.

    Like I said, for me the problem with first just tends to be that it feels like I'm sitting down with someone and they're telling me what happened to them; I don't feel the danger they're in as much because they're telling me about it so obviously they survived. I have read 1st POV books I've enjoyed, but I find that so many of the voices start to run together in my mind as time goes on, and it's much harder for a 1st person narrator to grab me. Which is sad.

    There are good ones out there, of course.
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  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW Silver-Midnight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stacia Kane View Post
    Like I said, for me the problem with first just tends to be that it feels like I'm sitting down with someone and they're telling me what happened to them; I don't feel the danger they're in as much because they're telling me about it so obviously they survived. I have read 1st POV books I've enjoyed, but I find that so many of the voices start to run together in my mind as time goes on, and it's much harder for a 1st person narrator to grab me. Which is sad.
    See, that's one of the reasons I like 3rd POV. Granted, it does have it's problems, for example,pronoun confusion and all of that. However, I feel more like I'm showing rather than telling when I write in 3rd. That's not to diss anyone who writes in first; I've read some great first POV stuff. But for me, I know I am nowhere near close to being to the level needed to pull that off well. Haha.

  13. #13
    Pollyanna, Shedder of Casual Blood 10trackers's Avatar
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    This is an interesting discussion. It's a very personal thing, apparently. To me, 1st person POV often comes across as self-involved and 'look how cool/awesome/badass I am'. That's why I personally steer clear of using it in UF/SF.

    I've read some paranormal romance where the 1st POV switched between MCs. That was... different. Not in a good way. It takes a lot of skill with voice to pull that off. That aside, I don't let 1st or 3rd POV influence my purchase of something. I read a longish sample, and if the voice appeals to me, I buy it. I wouldn't want to be cheated out of a good book by my dislike for a certain POV
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    Urban Fantasy Author brkingsolver's Avatar
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    Interesting discussion. My new novel is in 3rd, and when I'd try to go to my bookshelf to see how other authors handled a certain thing, almost all the UF and a lot of the PNR is in 1st. Anne Bishop, Stacia Kane, a few others write in 3rd.

    On the other hand, I'm planning on a UF mystery that seems as though it would go better in 1st. I don't want the reader to know more than the MC.

  15. #15
    My sarcasm got the better of me. Midian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by brkingsolver View Post
    Interesting discussion. My new novel is in 3rd, and when I'd try to go to my bookshelf to see how other authors handled a certain thing, almost all the UF and a lot of the PNR is in 1st. Anne Bishop, Stacia Kane, a few others write in 3rd.

    On the other hand, I'm planning on a UF mystery that seems as though it would go better in 1st. I don't want the reader to know more than the MC.
    The reader doesn't need to know more than the MC in 3rd. Write in a tight 3rd limited if you'd like.
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  16. #16
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    In my experience, there are a TON of first person narratives in UF, and when it's done well, I love it. But most of the time, I get sick of the narrative voice, and honestly, even if it is done well, if it's a series I'll still be sick of it by the 3rd or 4th book.

    About 90% of the UF novels I've read have been in 1st, so I get REALLY excited when I find one in 3rd. That's just a personal preference, but maybe that excitement is what the agent was trying to find.

    As far as your own work goes, if you think it should be in first, then keep it in first and find another agent. Like you said, it's only a glut if the demand isn't there. Maybe people are similar to me. They won't hate a book just because it's in 1st, but 3rd catches their eye more.

  17. #17
    Lost in the Fog rugcat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 10trackers View Post
    This is an interesting discussion. It's a very personal thing, apparently. To me, 1st person POV often comes across as self-involved and 'look how cool/awesome/badass I am'. That's why I personally steer clear of using it in UF/SF.
    It's a tricky thing to navigate and get the tone right.

    My personal belief is that first person is the easiest and most natural way to write, esp for less experienced writers. Problem is, it's very difficult to write it well -- in other words, it seems easy, but really it's not.

    You might want to consider a very close third person style -- it's a lot like first, sort as if the narrator was sitting on the MC's shoulder. It takes away the snarkiness that can creep into first person. but keeps the intimate feel.

    You do have to watch out for slipping into a more omni voice without realizing it, though. Going out of voice without realizing it can disturb a reader and take them right out of the book.
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    Mysti one of many nicknames TheSilverNightWolf's Avatar
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    Don't listen to what anyone else says in terms of 1st or 3rd on standing in it should be this because I like this better. Now I'm not saying that if they say this book is great but I think it would be better if you took it in a 3rd person point of view in the way it's written, that you shouldn't at least consider it. Everyone has their own opinions for what they prefer. I read everything but i prefer to read and write in first. I like using myself as a sort of guideline for my character and when I try to write in 3rd I always steer back around to 1st. I like being able to know what's going on inside the main characters head versus everyones head, or sitting wondering what they're thinking as to what this person is thinking too. It gives me a headache trying to figure out who's talking is this one the she or is the main character. this is my own opinion of course but I think it's more a matter of what you prefer verse anyone else. Just because one person hates the POV doesn't mean someone else won't.

  19. #19
    figuring it all out GenevieveGoth's Avatar
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    I personally really like first person. I usually feel like I learn more about how the character thinks that way. This is, of course, when its written well. This can be achieved with a tight third, too. I guess that I don't really care about the tense if I am able to learn a lot about the character.

  20. #20
    Sneezy Member mistri's Avatar
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    Write what you prefer.

    My current WIP is in first. I tried doing it in third first, as that's what I usually write in, but somehow it just didn't work for this particular story.

    If you don't enjoy the style you're writing in, chances are you won't enjoy writing generally so much, and that might show through into the rest of your story.

  21. #21
    practical experience, FTW Silver-Midnight's Avatar
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    Does anyone know/think if first person multiple perspective is ever used in Urban Fantasy? I'm just curious.

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    figuring it all out GenevieveGoth's Avatar
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    I don't know if its been done much in UF but I do know its not uncommon. I think that so long as it works for the story and transition is clear, it would work just fine. I plan on having two or three first person PoVs running around in my work.

  23. #23
    practical experience, FTW Silver-Midnight's Avatar
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    Well, so far, I haven't seen it in Urban Fantasy. Granted, I haven't been reading in the genre that long. The most of a POV/perspective shift I've seen has been from first to a brief amount of third then back to first. I know that the first mult. perspective POV is used sometimes, but I was just wondering if it was actually used in Urban Fantasy at all. I personally haven't done it as of yet though.


    Out of more curiosity though, how far in a story do you think it's too late to change perspectives? Like for example, if you do the first three or five chapters from one character's perspective then do a small section from another character's perspective then go back to the first character would that be jumping around too much? I know that if you do more than one perspective it's advised to set up a routine or pattern for perspective changes. But is there a point where it's too late to change a perspective? And is it possible to do small sections of that chapter, not the whole chapter, just a small section of it from another character's perspective, or could that be a problem too?

    The reason why I'm asking all of this is because the idea I plan to work on for my Nano June Camp so far only has one character who's perspective that I need to tell, show, write from, or what have you. However, I normally write from the perspective of two characters. I was thinking of doing a few chapters from the love-interest's perspective but I don't know how well that would work. Any advice?
    Last edited by Silver-Midnight; 05-09-2012 at 10:35 PM.

  24. #24
    Boldly going nowhere in particular. Jess Haines's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
    Does anyone know/think if first person multiple perspective is ever used in Urban Fantasy? I'm just curious.
    I know I've seen it at least twice. One book that comes to mind might actually be more PNR--it was in Mary Janice Davidson's Queen Betsy series. Can't recall which book. 5? 6? The one where she meets the vampire slayers.

    The other I can think of is in the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning. And I wanted to set the book on fire every time she switched to Dani's POV.
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  25. #25
    practical experience, FTW Silver-Midnight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jess Haines View Post
    The other I can think of is in the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning. And I wanted to set the book on fire every time she switched to Dani's POV.
    Guess that answers my question.

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