All photographs of faces are from Pinterest collections.
When I kept collecting rejections for my novel, I decided to enlist a developmental editor to determine why the guards at the Portals of Publication kept crossing their spears when my work ambled up to them. At that point, I’d subjected the unfortunate beast to six revisions, with my writing critique group’s aid, and I was stumped. The editor furnished me with loads of helpful recommendations and a concept I’d never encountered before: “deep point-of-view.”
“Deep” is an adjective I’ve heard and read a lot recently: deep history, deep science, and now deep point-of-view. The editor explained that this approach to the narrating voice draws the reader into intimate contact with the protagonist, producing that coveted experience of being in somebody else’s head. You perceive surroundings and experience events while stuck like a burr in the main character’s brain.
So I rewrote my scenes using the vocabulary, the skill set and knowledge base, and the quirks and limitations belonging to each viewpoint character (I had several). This change brought new life to the novel, but then one final, radical step completed the transformation.
I identified the most important point-of-view character out of four speakers and gave her the chance to speak for herself, not as “she” but as “I.”
At first, I felt apprehensive. Not since I was a child had I written in first person in fiction. My journal and essays are full of “I”s; my fiction, safely distant third person. So I felt distinctly unsafe when I took this step, but at least in writing, risk can equal opportunity rather than a broken leg, a broken heart, or a broken life.
Wow! What a change! Just altering the pronouns deepened that point-of-view to a degree I hadn’t believed possible. As soon as “she” became “I,” that protagonist’s word choices, past history, unique perspective, fears and hopes, everything came into focus and flowed naturally. Speaking in the first person, this character revealed herself to me as she’d never done before. The word “deep” applies well: the whole story developed a more profound dimension once she stepped forward to speak for herself.
And the things she said! When I publish the book, I’ll give you before-and-after examples side by side to illustrate what I mean. For now, suffice it to say, until I gave this character her say, I hadn’t realized that “promises can give you frostbite.”
If you’d like to experiment with first-person narrative but you’d prefer ultimately to keep your story in third person, don’t worry, the treatment is reversible. Writers have good reasons for creating third-person narratives. They allow for a broader perspective, one that’s less “locked in” to the narrator’s experiences and attitudes. Why not try switching the pronouns when a point-of-view character first appears and watch what they start to say and do? You can always change back, leaving the new, more vivid voice intact even as you take a step back into the wider view of third person.
Sometimes we need to approach a problem from a fresh perspective, seeing with new eyes–or a new I.