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  1. #1
    Senior Member Gilfindel's Avatar
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    WotWB: 1st or 3rd?

    It's been a bit quiet around here recently, so I guess I'll toss something out for the hounds to chew over.

    I'm about 25 pages into the first draft of Warriors of the White Branch, and I started wondering whether I should do this from a third-person or first-person perspective. The story revolves around 16-year-old Shy O'Connor, who is about to discover that the world is a much stranger (and much more dangerous) place than she ever imagined. I'm more used to a third-person narrative, but first-person may allow me to get a more intimate or visceral view of Shy's world.

    Here's an excerpt from Chapter 2, where Shy meets her great-aunt Muirenn for the first time. This version is in the original third-person perspective. Bear in mind that I'm just rattling through the first draft without being particularly careful about the wording; I'm just trying to get the sequence of events, the characters, and the key plot points in place.




    The woman who sat there was smaller than even Shy, wrapped in a crocheted shawl, Her sharp-nosed face was shriveled like an old apple, but her dark eyes were as sharp and piercing as a raven’s, and her head tilted as she looked at Shy standing awkwardly in front of her, her father’s hands resting comfortingly on her shoulders.

    The woman’s hands rested on a gnarly black cane that looked like it had been randomly picked up during a hike through the woods. Her twisted fingers, deformed from arthritis, could barely grasp the stick, but she tapped it on the wooden floor as if to punctuate her thoughts.

    “This is your daughter, Aidan?” Her voice was the same one Shy heard earlier, thready but clear.

    Tá sí. Shy, this is your great-aunt Muirenn O’Neill, Grandfather Phelan’s sister.”
    Shy dropped an unpracticed curtsey. “Pleased to meet you, Aunt Muirenn.”

    Conas atá tú, páiste?” Shy shook her head doubtfully, and Muirenn scowled at Aidan like a disapproving scarecrow. “Did you not teach her an Gaeilge?”

    “There’s not much call for it in Boston, Aintin. Don’t blame her.”

    “Hmmph.” Muirenn inspected Shy like a bird evaluating its next worm. “Shy? What sort of name is that?” Her father drew a breath to answer, but she held up a claw-like hand, still peering at Shy.

    Shy cleared her throat, all too conscious of the crowd behind her listening. “It’s a nickname, Ain – Aintin,” she said meekly, trying to imitate her father’s pronunciation. “My name is Siobhan. Siobhan Aislinn O’Connor.”

    Muirenn sat back in her chair, her thin lips pursed in disapproval. “Named her after her, did you?” Her father didn’t reply, but his fingers tightened momentarily on Shy’s shoulders. “You have her eyes and hair, that’s sure enough. How old are you, child?”

    “Sixteen, Aintin.”

    “And you go to school?”

    “Yes, ma’am, at St. Mary’s.” Muirenn approved of that, nodding her head thoughtfully.

    “Is this your first visit home?”

    Boston was her home, but Shy knew better than to say that. “Yes, ma’am.”

    “What do you think so far?”

    I’m cold, I’m hungry, and I’m tired, thought Shy, a rare spark of defiance rising at the interrogation. “It’s wet,” she said shortly. Muirenn’s almost invisible eyebrows shot up, and then she smiled, showing, to Shy’s surprise, a complete set of teeth.

    “It is that, child,” she said, and then she sobered. “Ní hé lá na báistí lá na bpáistí,” she said, and then translated before Shy could even wonder what it meant, “A rainy day is no day for children.” It sounded like an old proverb.

    Muirenn looked up at her nephew. “We must speak, Aidan, and plan for what will come. But that can wait until the morrow. Pay your respects to your father, ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.” Muirenn looked at Shy, her expression much more kindly. “And I look forward to getting to know my Yankee niece better,” she said with a weary smile.

    Shy dipped in another curtsey. “Póg mo thóin, Aintin.”

    The deathly silence that greeted that spread out from Shy like ripples from a rock dropped in the middle of a pond. Muirenn’s mouth opened in shock, and her father’s hands snatched from her shoulders like they had been burned. No one spoke, no one stirred, as Muirenn’s face blanched, and then reddened.

    “What did you say?” she hissed.

    “I – I –” Shy looked around desperately, but now no one would meet her eyes, as if they were afraid to be incinerated on the spot along with her. “I was told – I thought it meant ‘thank you’. What did I –?”

    “Who told you that, Shy?” her father whispered urgently in her ear, but Shy couldn’t find her voice. The only other sound was a smothered snort of laughter from the other room. Muirenn’s eyes narrowed, and her gaze pierced in that direction.

    “Timothy Daniel Murphy, is that you I’m hearing?” she snarled. “Get in here, now!” Her cane struck the floor like a judge’s gavel. There was a scuffling sound, as if someone was trying to escape, but heavy footsteps came closer, and Tim appeared at Shy’s side, firmly held in Pat’s grasp. “Did you tell Siobhan to say that to me?”

    “No! No, Mamó!” Sweat beaded on Tim’s brow, and it wasn’t from the feeble heat of the fire. “I – she wanted to know what the band’s name meant. I told her it meant thank you! I swear it on my father’s grave!”

    “Your father was alive and well, not an hour past. You two, stand here, and do not move.” A crooked figure stabbed at the floor beside her chair. “I have some words to say to you.” Muirenn looked at the aghast Shy, and her mouth worked as she tried to decide what to do. Finally, she said, gently, “Go with your father, child. We’ll speak again later.” She glowered up at Tim towering over her, looking like a child sent to stand in the corner.

    Her father pulled her away gently, as the murmurs of the others in the house returned to their previous levels. Shy bobbed another curtsey, mortified beyond all belief.

    “What did I say?” she whispered. Her father rubbed his jaw, and, for a fleeting moment, it looked like he was trying to hide a smile.

    Póg mo thóin is … ah, well, it means ‘kiss my ass’.”

    Shy closed her eyes and wished that the ground would just swallow her up whole. I just told my father’s old aunt to kiss my ass, she wailed silently. I’m going to Hell, like Sister Mary Margaret always said I would. But the ground remained defiantly solid.

    Her father’s hand tugged her shoulder, and she looked up at his face. “Don’t worry about it, Shy,” he said gently, “it’ll be fine. Besides,” he bent down to whisper in her ear, “I’ve always wanted to tell her that myself.” She looked at her father in shock, and he held his hand out for hers. “Come on. Let’s say goodbye to Grandpa Phelan.”
    Last edited by Gilfindel; 04-06-2013 at 08:49 PM.



  2. #2
    Senior Member Gilfindel's Avatar
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    Now here's the same scene, but translated into a 1st-person perspective. Which do you think would be more effective?




    The woman who sat there was even smaller than I was, wrapped in a crocheted shawl, She had a shriveled, sharp-nosed face like an old apple, but she had a raven’s eyes dark and piercing. Her head tilted as she looked at me, and I stood awkwardly in front of her, not sure what to do with me hands. Dad rested his hands on my shoulders, which was reassuring.

    The woman held a gnarly black cane that looked like it had been randomly picked up during a hike through the woods. Her fingers were twisted from arthritis, and she could barely hold on to it, but she tapped it on the wooden floor, punctuating her thoughts.

    “This is your daughter, Aidan?” Her voice was the same one I heard earlier, thready but clear.

    Tá sí. Shy, this is your great-aunt Muirenn O’Neill, Grandfather Phelan’s sister.”

    I tried a curtsey, but I hadn’t practiced one of those in a long time. “Pleased to meet you, Aunt Muirenn.”

    Conas atá tú, páiste?” I had no idea what that meant, and Muirenn scowled at Dad like a disapproving scarecrow. “Did you not teach her an Gaeilge?”

    “There’s not much call for it in Boston, Aintin. Don’t blame her.”

    “Hmmph.” Muirenn inspected me like a bird evaluating its next worm. “Shy? What sort of name is that?” Dad drew a breath to answer, but she held up one of her claw-like hands, still peering at me.

    I cleared my throat, all too aware of the crowd behind me listening in. “It’s a nickname, Ain – Aintin,” I said, trying to imitate Dad’s pronunciation. “My name is Siobhan. Siobhan Aislinn O’Connor.”

    Muirenn sat back in her chair, her thin lips pursed in disapproval. “Named her after her, did you?” Dad didn’t reply, but his fingers tightened painfully on my shoulders for an instant. “You have her eyes and hair, that’s sure enough. How old are you, child?”

    “Sixteen, Aintin.”

    “And you go to school?”

    “Yes, ma’am, at St. Mary’s.” Muirenn approved of that, nodding her head thoughtfully.

    “Is this your first visit home?”

    Boston was my home, but I knew better than to say that. “Yes, ma’am.”

    “What do you think so far?”

    I’m cold, I’m hungry, and I’m tired, I thought, irritated by her questioning, but I tried to think of something to tell her. “It’s wet,” I said finally. Muirenn’s almost invisible eyebrows shot up, and then she smiled, showing, to my surprise, a complete set of teeth.

    “It is that, child,” she said, and then she sobered. “Ní hé lá na báistí lá na bpáistí,” she said, and then translated before I could even wonder what it meant, “A rainy day is no day for children.” It sounded like an old proverb.

    Muirenn looked past me at Dad. “We must speak, Aidan, and plan for what will come. But that can wait until the morrow. Pay your respects to your father, ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.” Muirenn looked back at, her expression much more kindly. “And I look forward to getting to know my Yankee niece better,” she said with a weary smile.

    I tried another curtsey. “Póg mo thóin, Aintin.”

    The deathly silence that greeted that spread out around me like ripples from a rock dropped in the middle of a pond. Muirenn’s mouth opened in shock, and Dad snatched his hands back like I was on fire. No one spoke, no one stirred, as Muirenn’s face blanched, and then reddened.

    What did you say?” she hissed.

    “I – I –” I had no idea what I had done wrong. I looked around desperately, but now no one would meet my eyes, as if they were afraid to be incinerated on the spot along with me. “I was told – I thought it meant ‘thank you’. What did I –?”

    “Who told you that, Shy?” Dad whispered urgently in my ear, but I couldn’t find my voice. The only other sound was a smothered snort of laughter from the other room. Muirenn’s eyes narrowed, and her gaze pierced in that direction.

    “Timothy Daniel Murphy, is that you I’m hearing?” she snarled. “Get in here, now!” Her cane struck the floor like a judge’s gavel. There was a scuffling sound, as if someone was trying to escape, but heavy footsteps came closer, and Tim appeared at Shy’s side, firmly held in Pat’s grasp. “Did you tell Siobhan to say that to me?”

    “No! No, Mamó!” Sweat beaded on Tim’s brow, and it wasn’t from the feeble heat of the fire. “I – she wanted to know what the band’s name meant. I told her it meant thank you! I swear it on my father’s grave!”

    “Your father was alive and well, not an hour past. You two, stand here, and do not move.” A crooked figure stabbed at the floor beside her chair. “I have some words to say to you.” Muirenn looked at me, and her mouth worked as she tried to decide what to do. Finally, she said, gently, “Go with your father, child. We’ll speak again later.” She glowered up at Tim towering over her, looking like a child sent to stand in the corner.

    Dad pulled me away gently, as the murmurs of the others in the house returned to their previous levels. I bobbed another curtsey, mortified beyond all belief.

    “What did I say?” I whispered. Dad rubbed his jaw, and, for a fleeting moment, it looked like he was trying to hide a smile.

    Póg mo thóin is … ah, well, it means ‘kiss my ass’.”

    I closed my eyes and wished that the ground would just swallow me up whole. I just told my father’s old aunt to kiss my ass, I wailed silently. I’m going to Hell, like Sister Mary Margaret always said I would. But the ground remained defiantly solid.

    Dad’s hand tugged my shoulder, and I looked up at his face. “Don’t worry about it, Shy,” he said gently, “it’ll be fine. Besides,” he bent down to whisper in her ear, “I’ve always wanted to tell her that myself.” I looked at him in shock, and he held his hand out for mine. “Come on. Let’s say goodbye to Grandpa Phelan.”

  3. #3
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    I vote for third.

  4. #4
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    I second the motion.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Gilfindel's Avatar
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    And the motion is carried ;-) As I mentioned, I'm more comfortable with the third person perspective, but I like to stretch myself on occasion. I found it interesting how looking at the scene directly through Shy's eyes prompted some relatively significant changes in places, beyond just "she" becoming "I". It turns out there's a subtle difference between Shy's perspective and the narrator's view of Shy's perspective, which I hadn't really considered before.

    All right, back to the draft. 35 pages and counting...

  6. #6
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    Gil. I'm the odd man out.

    I vote for 1st. For me it's more immediate. (My bias is I only write in 1st, so take my comments for what they're worth.)

    Third is easier in some ways. No, that's not a slam against anyone who prefers 3rd.

    First is more constraining in some ways. You gotta stay in the protags head. She can't know anything in a "global" way. That can make it more difficult to convey some things. I prefer it 'cuz I like to be in my protags head. Keeps me grounded, I suppose.

    The good side of third is there are vastly more published novels written in third than in first.

    Anyway, the most important thing you should do is write in the tense that you find most comfortable.

    Cur

  7. #7
    Senior Member Gilfindel's Avatar
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    I've been chugging along on the initial draft of the story, and I've run across a minor hiccup that I could use some ideas on. I'm writing from the third person perspective (sorry, Cur), but the narrative is centered around the main character, Shy; we're basically looking over her shoulder as the action unfolds.

    The problem I've run into is that her father plays a significant role in the story, so I refer to "her father" quite a lot, often several times in a single paragraph. If I were doing this in the first person, I'd just call him "Dad" and be done with it, but it doesn't seem correct to refer to him like that in the third person, but calling him "Aidan" or "Dr. Connor" seems equally unacceptable.

    Any suggestions, or am I just stuck with the repetition, with the occasional "he" to break up the monotony?

  8. #8
    Senior Member Gilfindel's Avatar
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    And while I'm thinking about it, what's the usual word count for a YA novel? I seem to recall it's around 80,000 words max. I wouldn't want to run past the finish line without realizing it...

  9. #9
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Pronouns are your friends in this case. Use he, him, his as much as you can. Readers will not notice pronouns nearly as much as they will notice a lot of "her father" or "Shy's Dad". If it were me, I'd hang a name on him as quick as possible.

    I've always thought 70-90K for YA, but as they say, readers don't mind more of a good story.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Gilfindel's Avatar
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    Thanks, John. The word count seems to be a fairly flexible target, especially with this genre. I'm up to about 45,000 words at the moment, and I didn't want to overshoot the mark by too much before I started the detailed editing. No sense wasting good words ;-)

    Shy's father is named fairly early on, but it just feels odd to use it in the narration, because I'm essentially using her perspective. I won't worry about it too much for this initial draft, but I'll need to find an approach that reads well before I'm done with it.

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