Why I Love My Online Writing Community

Social media can be a pitfall for writers. For the busy writer juggling home and work commitments with only a few precious moments to fit in writing time, social media is a black hole of distraction. By the time you’ve liked all the photos of your interstate cousin’s newborn baby portraits and watched that heartwarming video of the guy resuscitating a prairie dog, there’s ten valuable minutes you haven’t spent writing.

However, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms are also full of published and unpublished writers. As a writer using social media to connect with other writers, agents, editors and publishers, being part of an online writing community is a great motivator. Especially as writing can otherwise be quite a solitary pursuit.

When I first decided to write my novel, I signed up to do Year of the Novel Online with the Australian Writer’s Marketplace. I realised there were many other writers wanting to commit to the task of writing a novel and lots of them had great ideas for stories. I then discovered the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, which has a huge following of writers and a Facebook group where writers can ask questions and share ideas. The Australian Writers’ Centre runs a course called Build Your Author Platform, which provides advice on how to use social media to promote yourself as a writer and to build a network with other writers and those in the writing and publishing industry.

I was soon following lots of other writers on social media – and some of them were following me back! Now when I open one of my social media accounts, my news feeds consist mainly of pictures of other writers’ laptops besides lovely tea cups, the latest book recommendations, writing questions and writing-related blog posts.

Even though I haven’t met most of these other writers, I know if I have a question someone will answer it. And although I haven’t asked anyone to beta read my work yet, I know someone would volunteer to do that if I did ask. And I would gladly do the same (and have done) for them. There is a strong feeling of support and encouragement from other writers and it’s so reassuring when you’re facing a roadblock or a rejection to find out that others have felt exactly the same way. We are also there to congratulate each other on our successes, and when one of us gets a book published, are the first on the pre-order list.

Several published authors are also active on social media and communicate with fans. A simple acknowledgement with a ‘like’ from an author when I’ve tweeted about enjoying their book makes my day. I will never forget when J.K. Rowling liked my tweet about her Robert Galbraith novel, Career of Evil. Sometimes it can be disappointing sharing your review of a book on social media only to find the author hasn’t acknowledged your review, especially if it was a positive review. But there are many authors, such as Natasha Lester, Louise Allan, Sarah Bailey and Lia Weston, who are lovely people to follow on social media because they support other writers, are grateful for the support they receive, and have lots of great advice to give.

Thank you to everyone in my online writing community for being wonderful and supportive. I wish you all the very best with your writing goals, whatever they may be, and I look forward to seeing you achieve them.

Mystery of the Month – The Other Wife

Clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin is back in The Other Wife – the ninth and possibly final instalment of award-winning author Michael Robotham’s series of crime fiction novels set in London.

Joe’s father, distinguished surgeon William O’Loughlin, is in a medically induced coma after being brutally beaten. Joe arrives at the hospital, expecting to see his mother, Mary, and William’s wife of 60 years. However, he finds a strange woman by his father’s beside, claiming to be William’s other wife. Joe thinks the woman, Olivia Blackmore, is lying, but soon learns she’s been living with his father in London for 19 years. Even more shocking is that Mary and several of William’s friends knew about Olivia.

When Joe discovers mysterious bruises on his father’s body, he realises someone deliberately tried to hurt him. He embarks on an investigation with the help of retired detective and good friend (and big fan of boiled sweets), Vincent Ruiz – everyone’s favourite character, who gets all the good lines.

There’s a solid cast of questionable suspects- Olivia’s troubled son Ewan, drug addict Micah Beauchamp and former soldier Ray D’Marco, who has a reason for wanting William both alive and dead. And can Joe really believe Olivia? She has a complicated history – a tennis star married to her much older coach who was suspiciously killed in a car accident. Could she be a black widow? And what’s the link with William’s best friend, retired solicitor Kenneth Passage, his wife Rosie, and their son, David?

Meanwhile, Joe has a lot going on his personal life. He’s been battling Parkinson’s Disease for thirteen years, his 12-year old daughter, Emma is still dealing with her grief following the death of her mother (Joe’s wife, Julianne), and his relationship with DS Kate Hawthorn might be more than professional.

While the mystery is top notch, it’s the characters who really make the story. Joe had a complicated relationship with his father – remembering a distant and disinterested man whom he always tried to impress, and he struggles to reconcile that image with this man who is a bigamist, and who may have been involved in fraud and medical malpractice. A scene in a graveyard between Joe and Emma is also beautifully written and memorable. Robotham has an in-depth understanding of his characters and their motivations, drawing on his own personal experiences.

There’s plenty of action – poor old Joe gets beaten about a fair bit, both physically and emotionally, his daughters get held at knifepoint, and more than one person gets killed. The mystery is cleverly plotted, with lots of twist and turns, making it a fun challenge for even the sharpest crime fiction fan to guess what’s really going on.

Whether you’ve followed Joe’s journey from the first novel (2004’s The Suspect), or if you’ve just picked up The Other Wife, it doesn’t really matter – Robotham is an absolute professional at crime fiction writing and this is a highly intelligent and entertaining novel. And if this does happen to be the last story for Joe, I hope you will enjoy the ending as much as I did. (It made me smile.)

The Other Wife is published by Hachette Australia.

Standout Simile: –

It’s a reasonable request, yet I feel like a kid whose party balloon has blown out of my hand and is drifting over the rooftops, never to be seen again.

Is Your Writing Meaningful Enough?

You know those books that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them? Years later, you still remember how they made you feel because they affected you on a deeper emotional level?

I recently read the tweets of all the “Yes” votes for the Bath Novel Award 2018 (#BNA2018 on Twitter) and phrases such as “topical without being obvious or preachy” and “insightful, original and compelling with great emotional depth” had me panicking and questioning myself – what would they say if it was my novel? My novel isn’t particularly topical and it’s emotional depth is more fish tank than Pacific Ocean … so, is my novel shallow and meaningless?

I’m writing a cozy mystery, which, by definition, is a genre not typically known for being deep and meaningful. Cozy mysteries are light, fun and entertaining murder mysteries that leave you feeling satisfied, but usually don’t linger in your deeper subconscious or cause you to question the human condition.

In a recent podcast with Booktopia, writer Michael Robotham stated that the main objective for the author is to make the reader care. If the reader cares about your character, they will establish a connection with your character and will continue reading to find out what happens to them. This is particularly important advice if you are writing a series of books with the same main character (cozy mysteries are usually series with the same amateur sleuth).

But if my novel doesn’t explore any deeper themes, why would the reader care about my main character? What can I do to make sure the reader connects with the characters and doesn’t give up partway through the story?

I tried to think of books that really stayed with me after I read them, and why. The first one that came to mind is The Third Day, The Frost, by John Marsden, the third book in the Tomorrow, When the War Began series. As a teenager, this book had me in tears when (spoiler) Robyn saved the main character, Ellie, and their friends from a death sentence by activating a hand grenade to take out the villain, Major Harvey – but also ending her own life in the process. By this point, I really cared about Robyn as a character. Over three books, I’d gotten to know her and was rooting for her to survive. Instead, she sacrificed herself to save others – a truly heroic act. Of course, this is a YA novel, not a cozy mystery.

When I think of cozy mysteries I’ve read, I remember enjoying them but I don’t remember any stand out moments that hit a nerve or made me particularly emotional. They were entertaining, and it was fun to guess whodunit, but then I forgot about them.

Perhaps my real problem is that my desire to write a traditional cozy mystery is in conflict with my desire to write a story that stays with people.

But who says I can’t write a cozy mystery with characters that resonate with the reader?

Why can’t I, as the writer, put these characters through trials and tribulations that have the reader reaching for the tissues, the way I did when Robyn made the ultimate sacrifice? Or pausing to reflect for a moment after reading the final words, rather than casting the book aside to go put on a load of laundry, completely forgetting they’d even read the book by the time the washing machine is on spin cycle?

A recent article in The Huffington Post by Kristen Houghton says:

Today, authors no longer have to follow ‘rules’ and now set their own formula for success with their sleuthing women and men, including professional detectives and private investigators. Today’s cozy mysteries are popular because readers feel connected to the characters who seem like someone they would want to have as their friend. 

Perfect! I think my main character, Sylvie, is someone the reader would like to have as their friend, so perhaps all is not lost.

I also need to spend more time thinking about the themes in my novel.  An article on Novel Writing Help states that “all good novels, whatever the genre, should have a theme. This is what the novel is ‘about’.” My themes are becoming more apparent now I’ve almost finished the first full rewrite.

And themes don’t necessarily need to be topical or political to strike a chord with readers. Struggling to fit in and family relationships are themes used widely in novels because they are everyday issues readers can relate to.

Of course, meaning can’t be forced. It takes time, effort, consideration and many, many rewrites to make sure themes and subtext occur naturally within a story.

So my reader can still be entertained by the whodunit puzzle at the surface of my cozy mystery but underneath the surface, draw conclusions about aspects of their own life, or life in general. My novel may not win any literary competitions, but hopefully someone will care about Sylvie and be invested in her journey, the way I was with poor Robyn. (But I promise not to kill Sylvie off with a violent explosion).

Is your story imbued with a deep layer of meaning running beneath the surface? Is it full of subtext? If it is or isn’t, how much of that is due to the genre you are writing in? Or are you like me – worrying no one will remember your story if it doesn’t say something poignant about the human condition?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Mystery of the Month – Into the Night

A man is murdered on a movie set in Sarah Bailey’s latest novel, Into the Night; a story so rich in setting and character that while reading it, it’s easy to imagine it playing out on screen as an epic Australian film or mini-series.

Set two and a half years after the events of Bailey’s first novel, The Dark Lake, main character Detective Gemma Woodstock has left hometown Smithson and is establishing herself as a detective in Melbourne. She’s keen to make a good impression, particularly on Chief Inspector Toby Isaacs. While investigating the homicide of a homeless man, Gemma is assigned to her most high profile case yet – the murder of actor Sterling Wade, Australia’s golden boy, who has been stabbed through the heart on the set of his latest movie, a zombie flick. Isaacs pairs her with Detective Sergeant Nick Fleet, a cavalier and bearish partner with whom she develops an uneasy relationship.

The reader is transported into Gemma’s Melbourne from the opening description of the tunnel where the first murder victim is discovered and Gemma’s reflection on how crimes in Melbourne seem much more sinister than they did in Smithson.  Sarah Bailey dedicates Into the Night to the Victorian capital and it’s clear she knows the city well, imbuing it with so much personality that it becomes a character in the book. She also knows Gemma inside and out – she’s a main character who feels authentic and real as she narrates the story in first person. Still troubled following the events of The Dark Lake and the horrors she’s witnessed in her career, Gemma seeks refuge from memories of violence by engaging in a series of meaningless one night stands.  She desperately misses her son, Ben, who lives in Smithson with her ex-partner, Scott, but at the same time she appears grateful to have freedom, despite being unsure what to do with it. On the outside, Gemma seems to have an impenetrable shell but her softness is evident in her empathy towards others, particularly the victims of the crimes she investigates; she considers their families and imagines what their lives were like, seeing them as much more than dead bodies that need to be solved.

Sarah Bailey is a natural writer and storyteller, cleverly weaving together three murder mysteries, each with satisfying conclusions and with a suitably dramatic confrontation for the main murder of Sterling Wade. All of the possible suspects have traditional Christie-esque motives – amongst them a grieving fiancée, a secret boyfriend, a violent film director, a beautiful and tormented starlet, and a jealous brother. I always pride myself on being able to guess the killer and I did, but there were two other separate twists that surprised me.

The Dark Lake was one of my favourite novels of 2017 and it’s hard not to compare it with Into the Night, especially considering how much Gemma has grown as a character since the first book. It was a smart decision to put Gemma into an unfamiliar setting, forcing her out of her comfort zone to see if, and how, she rises to the challenges before her.

Sarah Bailey has a firm grasp of the crime fiction genre, and Into the Night is a strong police procedural that’s slick, solid and sophisticated; but the heart of the story is Gemma Woodstock, who proves to be an excellent detective as much as Bailey is an excellent author. With any luck, both are names we will continue to hear long into the future.

Into the Night by Sarah Bailey is published by Allen & Unwin.

Standout Simile

I smile back at him, pushing the ice in my glass with my finger so that it keeps bobbing back up. It’s like a tiny swimmer choking for air and I force it under again, holding it down for longer. 

 

 

 

 

What’s Blocking Your Writing Mojo?

Every writer inevitably finds themselves stuck in a writing rut. Sometimes the writing rut is particularly painful and prolonged and your journey to a finished work in progress resembles a family of raccoons excavating your backyard, digging their way to the inner core of the Earth.

What causes these ‘rutty’ moments? Here are a few examples that may sound familiar to you; those times when it all seems too hard and the lure of the couch and the latest Netflix fad seems much more appealing than replacing the thousands of usages of “was” in your manuscript, thinking of new ways to describe a beating heart, and re-re-reworking your chapter breakdown.

You Feel Like Crap

For more than the first three months of my pregnancy, I had no motivation or energy to do anything at all, whatsoever. Socialising? Forget it. Exercise? Don’t make me laugh. Working full time was a struggle. I was going to bed at 8.00pm every night, exhausted. My writing time normally starts at 8.00pm. But mentally, creatively and physically, I had nothing to give. Those three months were a write-off (not a write-on) where I achieved nothing. Thankfully, from Week 16 of my pregnancy I started to get some energy back.

Aside from the symptoms of pregnancy (which is a happy reason to feel sick and tired) writers (like anyone else) may be suffering from any number of conditions that cause them pain or to feel ill. From the common cold to much more serious illnesses such as chronic and/or mental illness, writers may struggle to function in their day-to-day lives let alone keep up a writing habit.

Health and wellbeing is important. We need to listen to our bodies. If our body is telling us to rest, we should listen and if necessary, seek professional medical assistance. Pushing yourself beyond what is reasonable will only result in further damage to your health and wellbeing. Sometimes, your writing does need to wait until you feel better.

You’re Too Busy

You work 40 hours a week, you have to take your daughter to taekwondo and pick up your son from a friend’s house, you promised to fix the broken tap at your grandfather’s house, you have to organise Bonnie’s baby shower, you have to go grocery shopping/vacuum/paint the skirting boards/walk the dog, you have to watch the Royal Wedding – whatever it may be – 24 hours a day just isn’t enough time to do everything you need to do. And by the time you have done everything you need to do, you’re too exhausted to consider doing anything for yourself. The plot hole that needs patching in Chapter 19 will have to wait another day.

But then you realise you’ve left it so long that you can’t remember the details of what happens in Chapters 1–18 so there’s no way you can devise any kind of solution to fix that plot hole, which has now become a plot sinkhole that threatens to devour your entire manuscript.

You’re busy. We get it. That’s why there is a lot of information available about time management and courses on making time to write, including this one from the Australian Writers’ Centre. It’s a lot to do with making sacrifices (usually other hobbies, socialising and your favourite TV shows), disconnecting the Internet, schedules, writing in short bursts (even 10 minutes) and asking someone to babysit for a few hours.

This is undoubtedly something I’m going to need to learn more about once the baby is born and my concept of “busy” takes on an entirely new meaning. See you in a few years, guys. (Kidding, hopefully).

You’re Full of Self-Doubt

I’ve entered several writing competitions with little to no success. The other day, I was wallowing in such a pit of self-doubt that I genuinely considered the possibility that my shortlisting for the Flash 500 Novel Opening & Synopsis Competition in 2016 was an admin error their part. After all, I haven’t had any success with my manuscript since. Perhaps there was another entry called The Princess Murders and they got them mixed up? They really meant to shortlist the other one?

“But what’s the point when everything I write is total crap?” I hear you moan. “Am I wasting hours, days, weeks, months, years, DECADES of my life on my writing pursuits? Will anyone ever care, other than me, whether or not my main character has a fulfilling character arc?”

It’s a self-indulgent whinge and we’re all entitled to a few of those every now and then. But then we need to snap out of it and get over it. You either want to be a writer or you don’t, yeah? Are you going to give up because your story wasn’t selected out of hundreds or thousands of other stories in some competition? No, you’re not. You’re going to keep going until you’ve made your story the best it can be. So get over yourself and go make that happen.

You know, once you’ve had a few Nurofen to manage that blistering back pain, caught up on Picnic at Hanging Rock and reorganised your underwear drawer. Then you’ll sort out Chapter 19 for good. Get to it!

What sucks your writing mojo? Let me know in the comments below.

Every writer inevitably finds themselves stuck in a writing rut. Sometimes the writing rut is particularly painful and prolonged and your journey to a finished work in progress resembles a family of raccoons excavating your backyard, digging their way to the inner core of the Earth.

What causes these ‘rutty’ moments? Here are a few examples that may sound familiar to you; those times when it all seems too hard and the lure of the couch and the latest Netflix fad seems much more appealing than replacing the thousands of usages of “was” in your manuscript, thinking of new ways to describe a beating heart, and re-re-reworking your chapter breakdown.

You Feel Like Crap

For more than the first three months of my pregnancy, I had no motivation or energy to do anything at all, whatsoever. Socialising? Forget it. Exercise? Don’t make me laugh. Working full time was a struggle. I was going to bed at 8.00pm every night, exhausted. My writing time normally starts at 8.00pm. But mentally, creatively and physically, I had nothing to give. Those three months were a write-off (not a write-on) where I achieved nothing. Thankfully, from Week 16 of my pregnancy I started to get some energy back.

Aside from the symptoms of pregnancy (which is a happy reason to feel sick and tired) writers (like anyone else) may be suffering from any number of conditions that cause them pain or to feel ill. From the common cold to much more serious illnesses such as chronic and/or mental illness, writers may struggle to function in their day-to-day lives let alone keep up a writing habit.

Health and wellbeing is important. We need to listen to our bodies. If our body is telling us to rest, we should listen and if necessary, seek professional medical assistance. Pushing yourself beyond what is reasonable will only result in further damage to your health and wellbeing. Sometimes, your writing does need to wait until you feel better.

You’re Too Busy

You work 40 hours a week, you have to take your daughter to taekwondo and pick up your son from a friend’s house, you promised to fix the broken tap at your grandfather’s house, Bonnie is relying on you to organise her baby shower, you have to go grocery shopping/vacuum/paint the skirting boards/walk the dog, the Royal Wedding is on – whatever it may be – 24 hours a day just isn’t enough time to do everything you need to do. And by the time you have done everything you need to do, you’re too exhausted to consider doing anything for yourself. The plot hole that needs patching in Chapter 19 will have to wait another day.

But then you realise you’ve left it so long that you can’t remember the details of what happens in Chapters 1–18 so there’s no way you can devise any kind of solution to fix that plot hole, which has now become a plot sinkhole that threatens to devour your entire manuscript.

You’re busy. We get it. That’s why there’s lots of information available about time management and courses on making time to write, including this one from the Australian Writers’ Centre. It’s a lot to do with making sacrifices (usually other hobbies, socialising and your favourite TV shows), disconnecting the Internet, scheduling, writing in short bursts (even 10 minutes) and asking someone to babysit for a few hours.

This is undoubtedly something I’m going to need to learn more about once the baby is born and my concept of “busy” takes on an entirely new meaning.

You’re Full of Self-Doubt

I’ve entered several writing competitions with little to no success. The other day, I was wallowing in such a pit of self-doubt that I genuinely considered the possibility that my shortlisting for the Flash 500 Novel Opening & Synopsis Competition in 2016 was an admin error on their part. After all, I haven’t had any success with my manuscript since. Perhaps there was another entry called The Princess Murders and they got them mixed up? They really meant to shortlist the other one?

“But what’s the point when everything I write is total crap?” I hear you moan. “Am I wasting hours, days, weeks, months, years, DECADES of my life on my writing pursuits? Will anyone ever care, other than me, whether or not my main character has a fulfilling character arc?”

It’s a self-indulgent whinge and we’re all entitled to a few of those every now and then. But then we need to snap out of it and get over it. You either want to be a writer or you don’t, yeah? Are you going to give up because your story wasn’t selected out of hundreds or thousands of other stories in some competition? No, you’re not. You’re going to keep going until you’ve made your story the best it can be. So get over yourself and go make that happen.

You know, once you’ve had a few Nurofen to manage that blistering back pain, caught up on Picnic at Hanging Rock and reorganised your underwear drawer. Then you’ll sort out Chapter 19 for good. Get to it!

What drains you of your motivation to write? Let me know in the comments below. 

Mystery of the Month – I, Witness

New fiction featuring a female private investigator? And the author’s surname is Mackay? What a fantastic surname for an author. I, Witness is the debut novel from English writer and journalist Niki Mackay, who skilfully weaves four point of view narratives into a compelling modern mystery of sordid family secrets and familial abuse.

Six years ago, beautiful and wealthy teenager Naomi Andrews was stabbed to death during a house party in Kingston-upon-Thames. Her best friend, Kate Reynolds was charged with voluntary manslaughter. At the time, Kate confessed. But upon her release from prison she visits Madison Attalee – the detective who was first on the scene the night of Naomi’s murder. Chain-smoking, recovering alcoholic Madison is no longer in the force; she’s now a private investigator. Kate, driven by a desire to truly be free, tells Madison she’s innocent and wants her to prove she didn’t kill Naomi.

The novel opens with a gruesome scene from the past – the apparent suicide of a woman, who tells us she is a terrible mother. We soon learn the woman is Ruth Reynolds, Kate’s mother. I, Witness is grounded in the exploration of the mother/daughter relationships of its four main characters; Madison’s alcoholic mother and her own daughter who she only gets to see for two hours each fortnight, Kate who wonders if her mother ever actually loved her, Claudia Reynolds, who would do anything to protect her 3-year old daughter, and Naomi’s mother, Anthea Andrews, who has been changed irrevocably, unable to cope with the loss of her beloved daughter.

The story alternates between these four women, told in first person point of view. At first I was concerned that with so many points of view, one or more of the characters would be less engaging that the main characters, Madison and Kate. Not the case. Niki Mackay has written all four women with distinct goals and meaningful story arcs, and as a reader, I was rooting for each of them. Claudia appears to be the perfect housewife, but is actually the victim of domestic violence. She develops a friendship with Kate which gives her the strength to do what she needs to. Anthea is furious that Kate has returned to town and is hell bent on getting revenge for Naomi’s death; stalking Kate and breaking into her house, and it’s this unpredictability that makes her very interesting.

Perhaps secondary to the stories of each of these women is the mystery of who really killed Naomi. There’s a good list of potential suspects – several of them members of the dysfunctional Reynolds family, none of whom ever visited Kate in prison. Her father, James, is suspiciously absent, and all of the children have been deeply affected by the loss of their mother – older brother Marcus is a violent and unfaithful husband, and sister, Martha has been confined by her family to a psychiatric ward dressed as a spa. Niki Mackay deftly crafts the story in a way that each and every character has a role to play in the events leading to Naomi’s murder and in the subsequent happenings resulting in Kate’s arrest and imprisonment. The confrontation scene where the identity of the murder is finally revealed is suitably disturbing and dramatic.

I, Witness is the first in a series of novels featuring protagonist Madison Attalee and I was pleased to see a few characters from this story will continue into the next instalment, including her reliable and trusty assistant, Emma and a surprise addition to the team.

I, Witness by Niki Mackay is published by Hachette in Australia.

Standout Simile

I feel a familiar stab, the pain that I can’t indulge or it takes over. I think of climbing my dad like a frame, of hugging him and thinking he must be a giant. I think of his face at the police station while they questioned me. How wretched he looked in court, pale and baffled. The last time I saw him.

What’s Your Point of View?

While I’ve been rewriting my novel, a mystery set in a rural Qld town, I’ve been pondering ways I can make the story better, and more interesting. Thoughts such as: “Wouldn’t it be cool if I changed the setting to the 80s?” and “Should someone get blown up?” have taken a back seat to a more pressing question – is my story written from the right point of view?

I recently read an article at the Professional Writing Academy, by Caroline Ambrose, the founder and organiser of The Bath Novel Award. One of her hot tips for getting your manuscript on the shortlist was using first person viewpoint. Apparently, twice as many first person as third person narratives have been shortlisted for the Award, suggesting that first person narratives have more success connecting the reader with the protagonist.

My novel, The Princess Murders, is currently written in third person narrative from the point of view of the main character, amateur private investigator Sylvie Gordon. Crap. Would it have been better if I’d written the story in first person narrative?

I thought about a few of my favourite novels I’ve read recently, and their choice of point of view narratives:

  • She Be Damned by M.J. Tjia – predominantly written in first person POV of the main character, Heloise Chancey, alternating with chapters written in first POV of Li Leen
  • The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey – predominantly written in first person POV of the main character, Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock, alternating with third person POV chapters from minor characters
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – alternates between the first person narratives of Rachel, Megan and Anna
  • An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire – alternatives between the first person POV of the main character, barmaid Chris Rogers and the third person POV of a reporter, May Norman

From this sample, it appears that in my chosen genre of mystery/crime fiction, first person narrative is the preferred choice.

Last year, I accessed a mentorship through the Queensland Writers Centre and received feedback on my manuscript from writer Emily Maguire. At the time, I asked her the same question about point of view narratives. She said that changing the point of view from third person to first person would substantially change the voice of the book and require some deep thinking about Sylvie’s level of knowingness about herself, and about anything going on around her. Emily suggested I have a go changing the first scene into first person narrative to see how it feels. Here’s a sample of the first 200 words.

Third Person Narrative (current format)

Sylvie had seen the girl go into the house.

It was hours later and her eyes were still fixed on the weatherboard cottage. The sun glinted off the corrugated iron roof and a lazy breeze whispered through the long stems of wheat grass pervading the front yard. She dabbed at the sweat on her forehead with a napkin and discarded it amongst the empty plastic bottles and chip packets at her feet.

William Leeder emerged from the front door. The school teacher struggled with a large bundle wrapped in a garbage bag and his shirt was stained with something wet and dark. Sylvie’s shoulder blades prickled. Was it blood?

Leeder dropped the bundle off the raised veranda and jogged down the steps. He picked up one end of the bag and dragged it through the dirt towards the side of the house.

Feeling conspicuous in her bright red Hyundai, Sylvie wriggled down into the passenger seat. She’d parked haphazardly on the nature strip, far away enough to go unnoticed as long as she stayed in the cover of the Queensland blue gums guarding the front of the property. She fumbled for the zoom button on her outmoded camcorder, but Leeder disappeared behind a large shrub bearing clusters of bright yellow funnel-shaped flowers. She was too late.

First Person Narrative

I’d seen the girl go into the house.

It was hours later and I was still here, staring at the weatherboard cottage. The sun glinted off the corrugated iron roof and a lazy breeze whispered through the long stems of wheat grass pervading the front yard. I dabbed at the sweat on my forehead with a napkin and discarded it amongst the empty plastic bottles and chip packets at my feet.

William Leeder emerged from the front door. The school teacher struggled with a large bundle wrapped in a garbage bag and his shirt was stained with something wet and dark. My shoulder blades prickled. Was it blood?

Leeder dropped the bundle off the raised veranda and jogged down the steps. He picked up one end of the bag and dragged it through the dirt towards the side of the house.

I wriggled down into the passenger seat, feeling conspicuous in my bright red Hyundai. I’d parked haphazardly on the nature strip, far away enough to go unnoticed as long as I stayed in the cover of the Queensland blue gums guarding the front of the property. I fumbled for the zoom button on my camcorder, but Leeder disappeared behind a large shrub bearing clusters of bright yellow funnel-shaped flowers. Damn. I was too late.

Interestingly, rewriting the scene in first person narrative has highlighted some issues in the third person narrative I need to fix. Other than that, I’m still undecided about which point of view is best for the story. What do you think?

It will be a lot of work to edit my (currently) 100,000-word third person narrative into a first person narrative. I think that the benefits of rewriting the story as first person include the fact that the story is told entirely from Sylvie’s point of view anyway, so I won’t lose anything from the point of view of other characters. However, I’m worried her voice might not be interesting enough, or that being inside her head for a whole novel might make her annoying to readers. I also think that a first person narrative in the style I’m writing will appear more chick-lit/cosy mystery whereas a third person narrative is more classic cosy mystery.

Writer’s Digest has a list of questions to help determine which point of view is best for a short story (which can also be applied to longer stories), including first person, close third person and distant third person.

What do you think? First person narrative or third person narrative? What type of point of view narratives do you prefer to read, and what point of view is your story written? Please let me know in the comments below.