Monday, April 20, 2009

Who Tells Your Story?

Okay, so this past week I had the chance to go to a bookstore. This shouldn't be, like, a planned outing, but in our household it totally is. See, my hubby and I are both teachers and we both adore books. And we're poor--mostly because of spending too much money on books. So a trip to an actual bookstore is a rare activity just on principle alone.

I always carry a notebook with me, and this day at the bookstore was no different. I usually jot down titles I want so I can research them more or put them on hold at the library or whatever.

This particular trip, however, something struck me. Who's telling the story? Who tells the story has always interested me, so much that I've read over my notes from writing conferences on this very subject.

I'm very comfortable writing in first person (three novels done in first person), and I absolutely adore present tense (one in third person, present tense). But I'm trying to stretch myself both as a reader and a writer. Well, maybe not too much stretchage. I still pretty much only read (and write) YA paranormal / fantasty / science fiction.

So here are the novels I was considering and I jotted down who's telling the story. I'm calling this market research instead of Elana-is-the-biggest-geek-on-the-planet. So stick with that, okay?

1. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan: First person / present

2. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare: Third person / past (multiple narrators)

3. The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King: Third person / past

4. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson: First person / present

5. I.Q. by Roland Smith: First person / past

6. SilverFin by Charlie Higson: Third person / past

7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: First person / present

8. Need by Carrie Jones: First person / present

9. The Last Days by Scott Westerfeld: First person / present

10. Feed by M.T. Anderson: First person / past and present (Can I just say that I l-o-v-e this approach? I can, cuz it's my blog. And this is what I do in Control Issues. Looove it. ETA: And you can see what I mean by this by clicking here. Not a link clicker? Well, that's the announcement saying I won a runner-up prize in MSFV's secret agent contest! Then you can click on mine and read the first 250 words that [literary agent] Ms. Kate Schafer Testerman liked enough to request to see the first five chapters! It's now a Squeeeee! day!)

Market Research Findings:
  • Out of these ten YA novels, which I know is an extremely small sample size, 7 of them are written in first person, 3 in third person. That's a wow-moment right there.

  • 5 (and part of a sixth) of them are written in present tense. this a new trend? I can think of a few other books that are present tense (A Great and Terrible Beauty, for one) or first person (The Hollow).

  • I have actually only read 1 1/2 of these books, I merely flipped them open and read the first page or so to see who was telling the story. My husband sets a time limit when we go to the bookstore. No, really. He does.

So, since my "market research" I'm seriously considering who's going to tell my next story. I'm leaning toward a first person / present tense story, but that won't work with the sequel to Control Issues. So I may be going all chick lit on you, which sort of seems to lend itself to first person / present tense. Who knows?

But here is a question you should know the answer to: Who tells your story? How do they do it? Why did you choose them?


Windsong said...

My stories generally start out in first person, but then I have to change it to omniscient third. With multiple POVs. Kind of like the 13th Reality series. Because my characters are the ones telling the story, and I can't get some of them to shut--er, quiet down. I did manage to write one novel entirely in first person, but there was a structural reason for this that worked out very well.

Sherry Ficklin said...

My MC tells my story. 1st person present. It's easy to write, because I can step into her skin and walk around in it. I want my readers to be able to do that too!

WindyA said...

My stories are all 1st person. Mostly I've written in past tense, but have found a new love for writing in present tense. My current WiP is 1st person/present. I have to agree with Sherry's comment above, the ability to "step into" the character's skin is much more helpful.
As for reading, I read what I write, branching out mostly based on personal recommendations. So my preferred readings have mostly been YA contemporary fiction/fantasy/paranormal/sci-fi. In that order. And I prefer 1st person pov even in my readings.

BTW - I have to say, I love the research you do. I do stuff like that all the time too and everyone I know thinks I'm a dork. All I have to say is great minds think alike - and ask similar questions!

Janyece said...

My stories are generally written in third person omniscient. I tend to have a lot of characters and I fall in love with all of them. I want everyone else to fall in love with all of them too. Plus, I love going back and forth as opposed to following a straight line. It's my version of controlled chaos. I think it adds an element of excitement to the story.

I love your bookstore research! That sounds like a great Friday date night to me. My husband loves to read as well.

M. Dunham said...

I write in either third or first person. What makes the decision is the characters. Either it starts out with names or I's.

In my book, I did actually consider writing in 1st, but I've got a few chapters I want to write from one other character's POV, and I hate first persons that head hop. They're confusing and annoying.

If you write well, third person should put you in a character's head as intimately as first person.

M. Dunham said...

P.S. Congrats on getting runner-up in Authoress's contest!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I am the same way when in Barnes in Noble - or any bookstore really, I need a time limit or else I will just stay there until closing time.

Right now I am writing first person/present tense. I didn't realize it was getting so popular. Sometimes I pop into past tense if my character is relating something that happened earlier, and then I get really confused, and my tenses are all over the place.

Kat Harris said...

I originally wrote my first story in third person, and then went back and rewrote it in first/past tense.

I couldn't believe how much it magnified the emotion in not only reading, but also writing.

Congrats on Control Issues on MSFV!


Ali Cross said...

Congrats Queenie! I need to follow you around on the web because I am so not in the know with where the cool kids are.

As for me and my stories? I go where the story takes me. So far, that's been third person with multiple pov's, first person past, tight third person single pov and general third person.

It seriously depends on the story that needs telling.

But like we were talking about at crit group the other day--first person is the name of the game in YA right now and I think it's because of what Sherry said. Much easier for the reader to hear your mc's voice, and to get inside her/his head.

Cool market reasearch there girl ;)

Lady Glamis said...

Congrats on the request! THAT's AWESOME!

I'm not a fan of first person, nor do I write it. But I'm willing to try sometime. You're slowly convincing me. :D

Angela said...

I was really suprised by how many were present tense on that list (and that I've read at some point or another!) It only goes to show that when PT is done right, you hardly notice. Too, it allows an even closer relationship to the POV character ad the action, I think.

Mim said...

I just saw that you won something on Miss Snark's First Victim! Congrats!

beth said...

IMO, present tense is the way of the future!

Huh. That sounds a bit weird...

Anonymous said...

Nice post Elana. I also write first person POV...but I want to play around with 3rd person...Hmm...we'll see!!!

disorderly said...

Congrats on the partial request, Elana! That's awesome. :-)

I usually write in tight third-person-past with two or three POVs, because I like to tangle characters and readers in conflicting interpretations of events. I'm writing one story in a mixture of first-person-past and third-person-past, though, and it seems to be working.

Except in short stories (like, flash short), first-person-present annoys me. I'm not sure why that is, but I can't seem to force myself to read or write in that mode.

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