For me, first person is a very natural point of view. I love getting inside a single character’s head; I love the idea that every word on the page is that character’s; I love the immediacy; and I especially love that it’s a POV for which—by and large—the audience does not have vastly more information than the protagonist does. A reader may develop insights that the main character does not have (think Katniss, in Hunger Games, where this is just masterfully done!), but those insights are built on the same information available to the character, which is something I find particularly appealing if there is some kind of mystery element to the plot.
Having said that, the answer to your question is YES. My upcoming assassin book, NOBODY, is written in third person. I’ve talked before about writing “love books,” books I write for the sheer unbridled joy of writing, with no idea of whether I will actually publish them or not. (RAISED BY WOLVES and THE SQUAD were both love books, for instance). NOBODY, on the other hand, was what I’d call a “challenge book,” meaning that it was a book that was VERY HARD to write and that I wrote for the purpose of stretching myself as a writer and challenging myself to step outside of my comfort zone in many ways.
The point of view structure was part of that challenge. I find third person infinitely harder to write than first person, even when—as is the case in NOBODY—I’m writing a very close third person. NOBODY also differs from my other books in that it has two protagonists who are given equal screen time: a girl named Claire, who has a tendency to fade into the background (but has no idea why) and a boy named Nix, who has been raised knowing he’s supernaturally unnoticeable and trained to use that to his advantage as an assassin. Their stories come together when he’s sent to kill her—and romance and conspiracy theories ensue.
All of which goes to say that it was a challenging book to write in many ways. I’d never done third person. I’d never written a book with two protagonists. I’d never had a male protagonist. And (as those of you who read my books will know), I’d never actually written a romance (as opposed to books with a romantic subplot or books with, you know, very little romance at all).
But I think that as a writer, it’s very important to write books that challenge you—not only to keep things fresh for readers, but because the experience of writing each book should add new skills to your wheelhouse.
The third RAISED BY WOLVES book comes out 5 weeks from today, so to begin the countdown, I give you the opening paragraph:
I ran as though my life depended on it. Branches tore at my ankles and legs. My bare feet—caked with blood and mud and who knew what else—slammed into the forest floor, again and again and again. It hurt. Everything hurt.
It didn’t hurt enough.
I’ve heard it said (though I could not tell you where) that there are four major aspects of a book that you can use to hook a reader: language, character, plot, and world. Some people read books and love lingering over the actual words on the page, the perfect turn of phrase. Others are really drawn in by compelling worlds (think of all the bewitching details of Hogwarts!), while other readers may be more tempted by character or plot.
So when I revise, these are the four areas that I think about a lot.
THE WORLD: Where does the story take place? Is there a sense of setting? How much world-building have I done? If it’s paranormal, are the rules that govern the paranormal elements clear? Is the world-building integrated into the text, rather than info-dumped?
LANGUAGE: If I read the book out loud, how does it sound? Is the character’s voice consistent throughout the book? Are there awkward phrases? Are there unnecessary dialogue tags? Do I over-use any particular phrases? Are visuals from my brain really appearing in the imagery on the page? Can you tell by reading the dialogue which character is speaking, even if you don’t look at the tags? Are there any parts of the book where the protagonist sounds too much like one of the characters from my *other* books?
CHARACTERS Does the main character change over the course of the book? What is her emotional journey? Is she being ACTIVE over the course of the book? Are her relationships with the other characters in the book dynamic and changing? Are the heroine’s actions organic to the story, or are they just convenient for the plot? What about the side characters? Can I imagine writing stories about each of them? If they’re not interesting enough to capture my attention, they won’t be interesting enough to capture anyone else’s either. Do the supporting characters have their own emotional journeys? Are they changing and growing, too? How did they become the people they are, and is it worth hinting at their pasts on the page?
PLOT: How is the pacing? Does every single scene in the book move the story along? Am I balancing emotion and action well? Is the plot coherent? Does it make sense on the page, or just in my head? Is the ending too fast? Is the beginning too slow? Is the story too predictable? Or does the ending come out of nowhere? What do I need to texture into the book to make it make sense? What’s there that DOESN’T need to be there? Is there enough conflict in the book? Are the stakes high enough? Are the stakes PERSONAL? Have I left any of the subplots dangling? Does the book have a beginning, a middle, and an end? Even if it’s a series, is the plot of the book self-contained enough to be satisfying? Have I taken enough risks? What are the major game changers?
And finally, the last question I ask myself is: DOES EVERY SCENE DO MORE THAN ONE THING? Preferably, does it do ALL FOUR?
There was a stretch of time (between seventh grade and tenth grade) when I was on crutches at least once a year. In seventh grade, I fractured my pelvis cheerleading. Twice. In eight grade, I came out of a toe touch wrong and broke my ankle. After I quit cheering, I started playing volleyball, which led to a variety of ankle sprains and also tendonitis. Freshman year in high school, I attempted to play basketball (I tried! Really hard! But was ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE at it!) and ended up with a cracked rib for my efforts.
Suffice it to say, I was a tiny bit of a walking disaster. To the point where I got to know my sports doctor well enough that I started babysitting for his kids. But I have now been injury free for A DECADE.
*waits for calamity to descend*
Little pieces of my life work their way into most of my books. Sometimes I am conscious of them. Other times I am not. For example, my cheerleading secret agent book THE SQUAD was inspired in large part by my time as a Bring It On style competitive cheerleader.
In book one, when Toby is trying to perfect her “cheer voice” (to unlock something using voice recognition software, naturally), she tells one of her cheer-mates that trying to sound so peppy makes her feel stupid. And that cheer-mate replies, “If you don’t feel stupid, you’re not doing it right.” Thirteen-year-old me had that EXACT SAME CONVERSATION with my cheerleading coach about trying to perfect *my* cheer-voice.
In the second Squad book, Tara tells Toby that cheerleading is one of the most dangerous sports in the United States (true, that), which is convenient for the girls on the squad, because they can pass off a lot of their spy injuries as cheer injuries. Tara specifically mentions having fractured her pelvis doing a certain type of cheer jump…which just happens to be the SAME kind of jump I was doing when *I* fractured my pelvis cheerleading! (Twice).
There are other examples, too: in RAISED BY WOLVES, Bryn is smaller, weaker, and slower than the werewolves she grew up around, and I grew up on a block surrounded by older boys, where I was much, much smaller and younger and physically weaker than everyone else and my only chance of keeping up was sheer force of will.
In EVERY OTHER DAY, Kali makes friends with a girl who claims to be “a little bit psychic.” My good friend Ally Carter makes the claim of being “a little bit psychic” at least once a week.
And in NOBODY, the YA assassin romance I’m revising right now, the female protagonist, Claire, plays a game she calls “Situations,” which basically involves making up situations, inserting herself into them, and letting them play out as daydreams—and that’s something I did all the time as a kid (and I referred to it as “playing Situations,” too).
And, of course, sometimes the parallels with my own life are less obvious. For example, Bryn’s experience growing up as a human in a werewolf pack was inspired by my experiences spending summers as one of the only humans on an island full of monkeys (who also live in large social groups with defined hierarchies).