A month or so ago, I received an e-mail that said:
I am about a third of though the way through your novel, I Hunt Killers, and am hooked – real page turner. I just wondered why you chose to write in third person? The title is in first person, so I suppose I went in with different expectations. But as a reader, the distance created by the third person narrator is frustrating at times. So can you help me resolve my feelings? Just curious, not criticism, again I am very much hooked. Thank you!
It’s an old e-mail and I’ve been really busy, so only now am I getting around to answering it. Mea culpa. And I thought that there might be more than one person interested in the answer, so I’m answering here on the BLog rather than via e-mail.
First things first: With regard to the title being in first person, but the book being in third… Well, you gotta finish the book. Then it makes sense. 🙂
OK, now on to the general question of POV. I have written about this before. I started off that piece with this:
Point of view (POV) might just be the most important mechanical aspect of a story. It’s certainly one of the most important early decisions you make in your project. POV is how your story is seen. It is through whose eyes the reader encounters every single aspect of your story.
I still absolutely believe that is true. At the time, I also pointed out:
You’ll find that certain types of stories lend themselves to certain POVs. Most thrillers, for example, are in third-person limited, and typically the multiple variant. Why? Well, it’s easier to build tension if you can cut away to the bad guys, for example. It’s easier to do plot twists when you can “hover” above the action a little bit.
And, truly, that’s why I made the decision to write I Hunt Killers in third person. It’s a thriller. It’s a character-driven thriller, sure, but it’s still a thriller. At the end of the day, we need that tiny, tiny bit of flexibility so that you can get the overall picture…and worry more! We need to be able to jump into the Impressionist’s POV for just a few pages every now and then in order to ramp up the tension.
Now, could I have used a mixed POV and accomplished the same thing? Written most of the book from Jazz’s first-person POV and then used either first person or third person for the Impressionist’s chapters? Well, I guess so. But, honestly, I knew something you didn’t know. Namely, that the second book in the series would have multiple plot threads, requiring POV chapters from Connie, Howie, another killer, and even Billy! It seemed that the best way to go, then, was with third person all around, to keep things consistent across the series.
Now, there’s an interesting bit in the question: “the distance created by the third person narrator is frustrating at times.” Why is that so, I wonder? If I rewrote I Hunt Killers in Jazz’s first person perspective, the book would change very, very little. The distance created by third person is, in my opinion, negligible. If something is written in third person omniscient, then, sure, you have trouble identifying with the characters. The whole point of an omniscient POV is to distance you enough that you get a holistic understanding of the story, not an intimate one.
But I Hunt Killers is written in third person close. I don’t stop the story hovering just outside of Jazz’s head. Oh, no — I put you right in there. You get to witness his dreams and nightmares and fears and hopes with him, not at a distance.
I wonder if it’s at all possible that the distance you sense is in any way self-imposed? If you’re used to reading first person and you associate first person with “close,” then you might sort of convince yourself that something written in third person has to be “distant.” I say this because you end your e-mail with “I am very much hooked.” Which, to me, sounds like you’re pretty close to Jazz! How much more hooked would you/could you be if the book was in first person?
In the end, there may not be an answer. Some people just prefer one POV or another. (I went through a period when I was a kid where if I picked up a book and saw “I” on the first page, I’d put it down.) I’m sorry if the title of the book threw you off, but I’m glad you’re enjoying it anyway!