Killer Year–The Class of 2007

My obsession: Points of View
May 6, 2007, 4:47 pm
Filed under: Dave White, Killer Year Members

First off, I want to thank Jason for his post on Friday. Really, it blew me away. I think all of Killer Year is full of Grit Boys and Girls.

Okay… here is the rest of my current thoughts. How consistent does a series need to be? In WHEN ONE MAN DIES, most of the book is first person from Jackson Donne’s point of view. About a third of the book comes from Bill Martin’s point of view as well, in third person.

Currently, my second novel is told along a broader scope. It’s still a Jackson Donne novel, but it involves several points of view. The first person Donne sections are now becoming jarring to my current readers and I’m thinking about moving the Donne sections to a close third person.

My question is to you guys as readers. How consistent does a series voice need to be to you? Would it be jarring if the first novel of a series is in first person and the next isn’t?

I can think of a few series that have done this. Including Lee Child, who’s first novel A KILLING FLOOR was in first person and second (and my favorite of the series) DIE TRYING was in third.

We also got to see Elvis Cole from a third person point of view in THE WATCHMAN.

In both cases, I had slightly different reactions. When I started DIE TRYING, I remember being shocked that Child had changed voices, but kept the character the same. It seemed to me that he wasn’t being consistent, but by the end of the first chapter I was hooked and I read the book in two days. The shock faded and the book really worked.

I loved THE WATCHMAN from the beginning and really thought it was cool to see Cole. There was no shock, but interest as Crais tried something new. I thought by this point in the series Crais had earned Cole’s third person point of view.

I can’t explain it, but what do you think? Can I get away with it? Can you think of other examples of switches in points of view like this with the main character? (Pelecanos does it with Stefanos, but it seemed to me Stefanos had been relegated to a minor character after the first three novels.)

5 Comments so far
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I loved, loved, loved THE WATCHMAN. I read it practically in one sitting, on the plane, flying back from Houston.

Keith Ablow, who wrote 6 crime thrillers for St. Martin’s about psychiatrist Frank Clevenger, started in first and shifted to third for his 3rd book (I think, it might have been the second.)

Tess Gerritsen alternates between third and first, with the villain often being in first (though in VANISH she used another protagonist in first very effectively.) I know there’s another series that started in first and then the protagonist went to third in subsequent books, but I can’t remember.

Yes, I think you can get away with it.

Comment by Allison Brennan

Connelly switched from 3rd to first as well, but by that time, Bosch had earned it.

Comment by killeryear

John Lutz did this in his Alo Nudger series quite a bit. And as noted above, Michael Connolly wrote… LOST LIGHT (?) as a first-person novel. I didn’t notice much difference in the voice.

Comment by Graham

My two cents is: don’t worry about consistency. If this book is calling for you to write Dunne in the third person, go with it.

Personally, I think it’s exciting to see a character in the new light that a changed point of view provides. I’ve certainly never abandoned a series because of that issue — and I’d bet few others would, either.

As for whether or not changing things up is the right call, I think that’s mostly a matter of proportion. In the last couple of Elvis Cole novels (The Forgotten Man, The Last Detective, and L.A. Requiem if I’m remembering correctly), Crais started sprinkling in third-person chapters/scenes alongside the first-person narration from Cole. I think the 3rd person scenes work, in part, because they are limited and Cole is still clearly the “center of gravity” of the books. (Cole is a much more peripheral character in The Watchman, and therefore it only made sense to put him in the third person for that novel.)

This might be an obvious point, but if Jackson Donne isn’t the obvious “center of gravity” in your new book — if you’ve got, say, four major characters of more-or-less equal importance — then doing only one of those characters in the first person might be awkward.

Putting Donne in the third person would be a logical move to correct for that. But there’s another way to adjust things (radical suggestion alert): you could put your other p.o.v. characters in the *first* person.

The great Jim Thompson did that a lot, and frankly I love see multiple first person accounts.

Of course, there are a million reasons why that wouldn’t be the way you want to go, but I just thought I’d throw that out there while you’re in the brainstorming process.

Best of luck — I’m sure however you work it out, it’s going to kick ass.

Comment by Novel Gobbler

My sense is that the core community of mystery readers may be more sensitive to changes in POV than more general readers. I’m talking about the folks who join the news lists and post on forums, the ones who feel a certain amount of ownership over the genre — even as readers. If you’re selling tens of thousands of of books, you’re appealing beyond the narrow range of the genre purists, and I think you can get away with more. In fact, I almost think it behooves us to think outside the genre box if we hope to be successful. Relying on the hardcores will barely take care of coffee money, let alone earn us a living.

Take a chance. Push the POV and voice envelope. I think it will win you more readers long term.

Comment by Bill Cameron

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