I or She? Who is telling the story?

First or third person? Which is your preference when you’re reading? Historically, I have preferred books written in third person (example: she watched the lapwing take flight). But in my first series, the Illusions series, every book is written in first person (example: I took a deep breath and lifted the pistol). It was a difficult style for me to write, so why did I do that to myself?

I must say here that there are books that are written in first person that I really like. I’ll give some examples, but note that these are not all regency romances. The Hunger Games series is in first person, as is Rebecca by Daphne DuMarier. Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series, beginning with Moon Called (I like the first ten books better than the latest ones) is told in Mercy’s voice. Probably my favorite of Joan Wolf’s regency novels, Fool’s Masquerade, is written in first person. And the very talented Thomas and Sharon Curtis, writing as Laura London, wrote A Heart Too Proud in first person. I really like all of these books. But mostly I read books that are written in third person.

I started The Secrets We Keep, book one of the Illusions series, when the first line, “Let me say in my defense, that I had good reason for every lie I told and every truth I withheld,” came out of nowhere. I just liked it and put it down on paper. I had no clear idea where I was going, but that line just sparked my imagination. What if a girl in Regency England found herself unintentionally, at least at first, caught in a web of deceit? What if in her attempts to find the truth, she worked herself deeper and deeper into those secrets and lies.

And I was off. Liza’s story in The Secrets We Keep changed and developed over time, often surprising me, but it remained in first person. Liza just wanted the reader to see her life through her eyes and hear in her voice.

One of the challenges of writing in first person is that you can only move action along through the viewpoint of the character who is the voice. If you want to show that one of the other characters is angry or hiding something, it has to come through what the main character sees. It took some time for me to get into the habit of seeing only through the eyes of Liza. It was a steep learning curve.

As we were readying Secrets for publication, I read somewhere that a good way to introduce new readers to your work is to write a “book magnet.” A magnet is a shorter work, usually a short story, that you practically give away. I took a little break from Book 2 and started writing a short story, although apparently Maris didn’t want her story to be that short. Smoke and Shadows became a novella. But it felt right to continue in the first person, to be inside Maris’ mind as she and her brother’s best friend try to catch an arsonist, and discover their own fire. Maris has a very different mind and voice than Liza’s, which is also a challenge–to find the individual speech and thought patterns of your character.

I will be putting The Lies We Tell, the second novel in the Illusions series up for pre-order in the next week or two after final editing. Amelia is more conventional than either Liza or Maris. She has always observed the proprieties. But as she tries to shield her father from the consequences of her brother’s depravity, she enters a world of lies and danger and finds herself doing things she never imagined. (FYI: you met her brother in the first novel). Again I wrote in first person, and again with a totally different personality and voice than the two earlier works.

Finally, sometime this fall, I’ll release The Masks We Wear, the third and final novel in the Illusions series. Sidonie not only is different in nature from the other three main characters, she is also French. In first person. I guess I must like a challenge.

The funny thing is, after writing this series in first person, I’m a little nervous to begin the next series that is percolating on the back burners of my mind. I do believe I will be writing them in third person. I think I will face a whole different set of challenges. You would think those decisions are all up to me, that the voice is my choice. After all, I’m creating these characters, right? Surprise. It’s not really me. I find that the character makes her own demands. And the writer must follow.

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