As you remember I’ve acquired a new hobby of researching my most beloved genre in some different aspects or, as I like to call it, a better excuse to read more crime novels.
And you know how badly I love all of them, but as much as I enjoy them, I do struggle when it comes to the stories written in first person perspective. Actually, not only with mystery novels, but all novels at all. The more I read, the more ideas I get about this, really.
I truly believe writing in a first person perspective is a great craft. A difficult one, needless to say. I’ve tried it a numerous times, not always with a great outcome, but definitely required a lot of energy. I thought that it’s just I don’t mind when that’s the way to tell a fluffy, bites of our life stories, in comparison to dark, bloody investigations, but no. Not at all. It’s just, there must be a spectrum on which the narrative is placed, so that’s how I see that:
I think there are two very distinct approaches on two ends of the range: from a very emotionless, passive narration to an overload of thoughts. When it comes to crime novels, it’s cool when you need a very analytical, straight thinking hero, but is it really the best to leave them with zero empathy? Unless that’s what you absolutely need to build a character, but people perceive each other’s reactions all the time, even if they do not actually narrate that in their mind. On the other hand, we are not all modern Sherlocks. It’s natural for me, as a reader, that I would rather follow hero’s stream of thoughts in which he is a bit lost sometimes and overlooks some details to connect the dots at the very core moment.
There is a very thin line between doing first person well and being so cautious that it gets boring.
Let’s not forget that the first person perspective is a tool, and as which it brings a lot of possibilities to explore, e.g. defining the emotions themselves. There is a difference between “I felt flattered my readers got so far into that note” and “I’ve smiled a bit as I’ve imagined my readers getting involved into that note with each and every statement”. I am all about ‘showing, not telling’ idea and I think the first person is a marvelous occasion to use it. If I get into character’s skin I would like to feel each and every shiver it gets, but that needs leaving a space for some creative reading. It’s as easy to achieve as it is to just name the thing as they are, but I believe it’s worth the hassle.
As for example, I remember writing a fan fic in which I wanted to show that the character was in love, but I did not want to tell it till the very end – especially since having a crush is such a weird state of different emotions battling against each other. So, my character was constantly angry, scared, overwhelmed and a bit embarrassed, all at once, but I’ve never made it for him to admit it. I think that’s quite how it looks like in our own heads as well, so maybe it’s good to try and balance the feelings part a bit. (depending on the character’s state of mind and personality, of course)
The best thing is, as I think, even though I was sure I would not be able to enjoy crime novels in first person perspective, it was not that hard to adjust after all. Sure, I prefer the third person perspective, but it’s still good to try something new. Who knows? Maybe there are a few surprises hidden in that approach.