Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pros and Cons of First-Person Point of View by Jodie Renner

Most novels are written in third-person past tense: “He raced through the dark alley, the footsteps getting louder behind him.” First-person is another option: “As I slammed down the phone in disgust, I heard the doorbell ring.”

While first-person viewpoint can be ideal for a short story, writing a novel-length story in first-person is riskier. New fiction writers sometimes opt to write their novel in first-person, as they think this will be easier. But writing a novel effectively and compellingly in first-person is a lot more difficult than it appears, for a number of reasons. As novelist David Morrell points out, “If the first person were as easy as it seems, all stories would be written from that viewpoint.”

Some of the advantages to writing your novel in first-person are:

  1. It mirrors real life – we experience life around us only from our own point of view – we don’t know what other people are thinking.
  2. There’s a direct connection from the narrator to the reader, so this POV can create an immediate sense of intimacy and believability.
  3. The narrator-character’s voice comes through more clearly, as it is expressed directly.
  4. It’s easier to portray the POV character’s personality and world-view, as they’re doing all the talking.

Some of the disadvantages of using first-person point of view and narration are:

  1. It’s difficult to dramatize scenes where the viewpoint character is not present. Your POV character won’t know what’s going on in other locations.
  2. Too many sentences begin with “I” or have “I” in them. Can quickly become repetitious, tedious, and even annoying to the reader.
  3. In the opening, the reader is often left wondering who “I” is. Be sure to mention your first-person narrator’s name in the first paragraph or two, or certainly on the first page. A dialogue with someone else helps the reader figure out who this “I” is.
  4. Working in a physical description of your protagonist can be a bit tricky, when we’re in her point of view, and the looking in the mirror thing has been a bit overdone.
  5. The reader may tire of the same voice and point of view predominating throughout the novel. Not enough variation in style and personality.
  6. We may also get too much of the first-person narrator-character’s opinions on people and events around him, and long for a little variety. How do the other characters see things?
  7. There’s a danger of too much introspection, interior monologue, and explaining things – in other words, “telling.” Be sure to balance this with plenty of action and dialogue –“showing”– which will help the pacing and move the story forward more easily.
  8. The viewpoint character has to be really interesting, with a distinctive, compelling voice, as we’re “in his head” for the whole novel.
  9. With all those “I”s and “me”s, there’s a danger of the writer putting too much of himself into the novel.

First-person narration is ideal for a short story, and can work really well in the hands of a skilled novelist (for example, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James are three notable examples), but is difficult for aspiring authors to pull off successfully, especially for a whole novel. As Morrell points out, “the first person is only as interesting as the character telling the story.”

To work, your narrator-character needs to have a unique voice and personality, with lots of attitude. As James Scott Bell says, “There must be something about the voice of the narrator that makes her worth listening to—a worldview, a slant, something more than just a plain vanilla rendition of the facts.” On the other hand, don’t make your narrator-character too weird, as that could get grating or annoying after a while, too.

Even then, as David Morrell states: At its worst, when using first-person narration or POV, “The sentences can become a litany of I did this and I did that and I did something else, until the reader is overwhelmed with egotism and closes the pages.” So it’s important to vary the sentence structure to avoid a lot of sentences starting with “I”, “the egotistical I-I-I that makes many first-person stories wearying.” (Morrell)

Many successful novelists also feel that first-person narration encourages too much telling and introspection and analysis, rather than showing and action. As Morrell says, “One of the several liabilities of the first person is its tendency to encourage a writer to jabber away….”

In The Successful Novelist, Morrell discusses how he personally found first-person narration very suitable for short stories, “but I tried at least six of my novels in the first person, each time giving up in frustration once I got deeply into the story.” He found it hard to overcome “the obvious liability of the first person, the nagging, narcissistic I-I-I of it.”

Morrell concludes, “Having been through this turmoil, I think I’ll stick to using the first person only in short stories, while reserving the third person for my novels.”

As an alternative to using one first-person narrator for a whole novel, one could choose to use first-person viewpoint for different characters, giving each character their own chapters, told directly by them, from their viewpoint. In this case, it’s important to make sure that each character speaks with a unique, distinctive voice, with plenty of attitude of their own. Or you could even have your protagonist’s viewpoint in the first-person, then portray other characters in the third-person, in their own chapters.

If you’ve written or started a book in first-person, try rewriting a chapter or two in third-person. Leave it for a few days, then reread the third-person attempt and see if you like the added freedom and variety of voice and viewpoint a little better. Or give both versions to a trusted friend or critique group and see which approach they prefer.

Resources: How to Write a Damn Good Thriller, by James N. Frey; The Successful Novelist, by David Morrell; Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell.

Copyright © Jodie Renner, June 2011

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Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction manuscript editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, and mysteries. Her services range from developmental editing to light final copyediting, as well as manuscript critiques. Check out Jodie’s website at and her blog at

Jodie is a member of International Thriller Writers (associate), Sisters in Crime (SinC), Backspace: The Writers Place, The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), and The Editors Association of Canada (EAC).

Jodie has traveled extensively throughout North America, Europe and the Middle East. In fact, Jodie loves traveling so much, she’s thinking of changing her tagline from “Let’s work together to enhance and empower your writing” to “Have laptop, will travel.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Journey of 11 Years Begins With One Day by Jenny Milchman

Hello, The Thrill Begins readers! Thank you for stopping by to read. If you leave a comment, you will be entered to win a copy of my Kindle short story "The Very Old Man", which has
been an Amazon bestseller in mystery anthologies.

Today I wanted to talk to you about my journey to publication—which took one day...and then another eleven years.

If I had known how long it would be, I might have stopped before I even got started. Or maybe I wouldn’t have. After all, I’d wanted to be a writer since before I could write.

Family lore has me dictating bedtime stories as a sleepy two year old to my mother.

At first it didn’t seem like it would take me very long at all. In fact, it even seemed like I might be one of those instant wonders! After all, I received not one but two offers from agents, one at an illustrious NYC agency, the other greener, but hungry and passionate, just months after I began querying.

Now I could sit back and wait for my novel to sell, right?

Questions like that call for only one answer: Wrong.

What I learned was that even the wisest, most experienced, and devoted agent doesn’t sell every project she or he takes on. (What percentage do they sell? I think this is a secret more closely guarded than whether women of a certain age have had work done).

I also learned that my writing—despite having a spark, a certain something, that attracted agents—had a long, long way to go.

It wasn’t just work on craft that enabled me finally to sell, although that must’ve been part of it, for surely I improved over the course of eight (count ’em) novels.

But other things came into play, and I’m listing three tips here, in case one or more is helpful to other emerging writers walking (sometimes plodding) along this road.

1. Pursue what I call para-writing activities. In my case, I began a literary series with events taking place at a local bookstore. I got to know writers, and I got to know booksellers, and many of these people became interested in my journey. It may not have helped me sell any faster, but it sure made the trip less lonely.

2. Join writing organizations that embrace emerging as well as published writers. I write literary suspense, and can recommend three that seemed to work particularly well. One is Mystery Writers of America, another is Backspace, and the third, of course, is International Thriller Writers. While you may have to have a contract or offer in hand to take advantage of some of these groups’ benefits, all offer conferences and events that are open to everyone. Which brings me to—

3. Attend writing conferences. You will learn from the panel discussions. You will commune (and sometimes commiserate) with other writers who are trying to get published. And you will meet authors who can give you faith that a) it will really happen and b) may even be able to help you. Some authors are kind enough to read a few pages of your work, offer his or her agent’s name, or simply tell you how they got their first break.

How did I finally get published? All of the above.

I attended a conference that led me to my third (and ultimately successful) agent. I had grown the writing series enough that I had editors’ names to give my agent. (Sometimes people don’t realize—certainly I didn’t eleven years ago—what a partnership the agent/author relationship is). And finally, I got to know a favorite, much admired author who ultimately agreed to read my unpublished manuscript, and in the end all but put it in her editor’s hands.

It may not be clear, when you’re taking that very first step, how your book—or even which book—will ultimately sell. But I can tell you that if you just keep walking, it will.


Jenny Milchman is a suspense writer from New Jersey. She is the founder of the literary series Writing Matters, which draws authors and publishing professionals from both coasts to standing room only events at a local independent bookstore. In 2010 she created Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, a holiday that went viral across the web, enlisting booksellers in 30 states, two Canadian provinces, and England. Jenny is the author of the short story "The Very Old Man", an Amazon bestseller in mystery anthologies. Another short story will be published in 2012 in a book called Adirondack Mysteries II. Her novel, a literary thriller called COVER OF SNOW, is forthcoming from Ballantine.

My various homes on the web:



Thursday, June 9, 2011


Recently, Twitter and Facebook pal author Joelle Charbonneau asked me to write something for the International Thriller Writers Debut Authors Blog. She wanted to know: What can debut authors do to help booksellers sell their books?

First, write a book the bookseller wants to read. For me, a lot of it hangs on the first page – actually, it hangs on the first line. Victor Gischler’s GUN MONKEYS, a perennial bestseller at The Mystery Bookstore, is still one of my favorite high body count romps: “I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer’s headless body in the trunk, and all the time I’m thinking I should’ve put some plastic down.” The first thing you want to know is where Rollo’s head is, isn’t it? GUN MONKEYS was nominated for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar for Best First Novel. Since then, Gischler has gone on to write numerous popular crime novels, collaborated on comic books and sold to Hollywood the options to at least one of his novels.

Hilary Davidson, in THE DAMAGE DONE, wrote a more serious, even elegant noir debut: “It was the bright yellow tape that finally convinced me my sister was dead.” We’ve all seen enough crime shows to know just what that yellow tape means. In fourteen words, Davidson paints a vivid scene, one we won’t forget. Davidson has had a lot of experience as a published travel writer, but she’ll be the first to tell you it’s a huge leap from non-fiction to crime fiction.

And there’s one of my more challenging favorites, Angela S. Choi’s first novel, HELLO KITTY MUST DIE: “It all began with my missing hymen.” The next couple paragraphs were just as eye-popping as that first line, and the rest of the chapter kept me turning pages. Was she just being sensationalist – or did she have a purpose to her startling opener? Choi did have a purpose, to write a socio-political novel that just happened to involve a serial killer and a lot of comedy, which resulted in a fine debut effort that I hand sold by the dozens while working at The Mystery Bookstore Los Angeles.

Dozens of copies sold may not sound impressive when compared to blockbuster authors like Lee Child, Michael Connelly or Robert Crais – but those guys will tell you themselves, they didn’t start out selling in the thousands or tens of thousands.

And when you write this debut book, make it your own. Don’t try to write like Jeffery Deaver. You can’t. You shouldn’t. And once it’s written, don’t try to market yourself as such. If I want to read Deaver, I’ll read him. I was more than happy to sell his books to eager fans at The Mystery Bookstore. Authors like Child, Connelly, Gayle Lynds, Sue Grafton and all the other stellar mystery and thriller writers are delightful to read, exciting, challenging – and easy to sell. The books often sell themselves. But, when a book like that of Charlie Newton, an ITW debut author who wrote CALUMET CITY (another of my favorite debuts), comes along, I got excited because here was something new, just looking for the right audience. I felt as if I knew something no one else knew, an undiscovered treasure that I got to present to the public!

Second, of course, you have to get that book or ARC into the book seller’s hands. Don’t be bashful about popping around to your local bookstores and introducing yourself. Don’t hesitate to drop off a copy of the book or the ARC. Do be respectful that the book seller may not have time to chat with you at that moment; but be sure to leave your contact information. Because if your book is worth writing and worth reading, then make it as easy as possible for the book seller to order it and start selling it. Do have an answer ready if a book seller asks you “Tell me why I should carry your book.” And make it a succinct answer. Just like that opening line on the first page, grab my attention, and do it fast.

Third, understand that dozens of books are handed, mailed, dropped off for book sellers every week. And every author/publisher/publicist thinks the book they’re delivering is the best seller to come. No book seller has the time to read every ARC, galley or review copy sent to them. Be reasonable, and understand they’ll look at yours; if it really catches their interest, they may sit down and start reading it right then and there. And don’t assume that just because one book seller at a store doesn’t immediately gravitate to your book, another one might not pick it up. That’s what happened with HELLO KITTY MUST DIE – one of our young sales clerks loved it, and said, “Linda, you have to read this!” So your book may find an advocate that you don’t even know about.

Fourth, follow up – but gingerly. You’ve dropped off the ARC and your contact information at your local store; maybe you were able to meet the manager or buyer, maybe not. Give it a couple weeks or three, then give them a call or send in an email – and have a plan. Are you prepared to do an event? If it’s local, you’d better be able to bring in bodies, dead or alive; because as a debut author, you won’t have the built- in audience that Lee Child has. And if the bookstore is going to go to the trouble of putting on an event for you and your debut book, they’re going to want to sell books. It’s up to you to help them with that. By the way, a publicist once asked me if her author could launch his book twice, first at one local store, then a few days later at The Mystery Bookstore. The short answer is NO. The first event is the launch, and is probably the one your parents, siblings, best friends and neighbors will expend the energy to attend and the one where they will buy the book. After that, it’s just a book signing for a new author who has yet to build a following.

Fifth, do your own publicity. It’s rare that a debut author gets the full thrust of their publisher’s publicity force behind them. Be prepared to send out your own ARCs, book your own events, make your own posters, bookmarks and flyers*, contact your local media. The bookstore will do what they can, but again, they have limited resources to devote to a new author – even if they wholeheartedly believe in your book. *Do NOT send hundreds of promo pieces to unsuspecting bookstores; ask if you may leave some or send some, then send them 25-50. If they run out and want more, they’ll let you know! And if you have the resources, hire a pro. Professional publicists are not inexpensive, but they can make all the difference in helping you promote your book. Many of them already have relationships with the book sellers and with the media, and they can get the word out about you and your brilliant debut book more effectively and efficiently than you can.

Sixth, monitor your expectations. The bookseller has ordered your book, it’s in the store, you’ve had your event or not, but copies are out on display. If you do not like the display or where they’ve been placed, tough luck. We once had an author at The Mystery Bookstore move copies of his books in front of another author’s (he was later banned from the store by one of the owners due to his rudeness); and at a conference, I had several authors exclaim somewhat hysterically that they didn’t see their books (they were displayed on the shelves behind our tables in the conference’s book sellers’ room; we had so many books to display, we had to switch them hourly, according to the panels’ schedule). Book sellers know their stores, know their stock, know their customers. It isn’t random placement; there is strategy involved.

Above all, remember: the book seller can be your ally. You don’t need to wheedle or bribe; and you certainly don’t need to bully or beleaguer. If you’ve written a good book, if you’ve presented it reasonably to the book seller, if you’ve done your part of the promotion, you and the book seller will make a great team in selling your book. And you’ll both look forward to the next one!


Linda S. Brown was the Assistant Manager of The Mystery Bookstore Los Angeles for 6 years, where she leveraged her love of crime fiction into a position in which she developed and coordinated author events, acted as liaison with publishers and public relations firms, and coordinated media campaigns. Since the closing of the bookstore earlier this year, Linda has become Book Lover at Large, in search of self and a job; meanwhile, she is reading and reviewing crime and young adult novels, writing articles for various blogs, and in the process of developing her own book-loving blog, CuriosityBuilds.Com, currently under construction.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

So Many Conferences, So Little Time (and money!)

As a debut novelist, one of the things that has helped me has been attending conferences.

I’ve learned so much about craft, the publishing industry, and marketing, but the networking is always amazing. I never leave a conference without a stack of contacts and having made at least a couple new writer friends. Don't limit yourself to just conferences in your genre. You can learn from all of them, and that diversity will inspire innovation.

Last week I attended Book Expo America.

Now, BEA is actually geared to booksellers and librarians. That didn’t stop me though. Publishers, big and small and self-pubs, too, gathered at the Javits Center in New York City for three days of networking, booksignings, and information sharing. I’ve heard that over 25,000 people were in attendance and it felt like more than that. Free books were flying like meteor showers and lines wrapped as far as you could see as people waited for the chance to get a free autographed copy and a few words with their favorite authors.

Never been to the Javits Center? Oh goodness. I now wish I’d thought to bring my pedometer because I know I put some miles on my shoes last week. In fact, it’s probably a pretty good idea at any conference. Which reminds me...always wear comfortable shoes to these events!

To be such a large event, BEA was very well organized. Locals were staffed and armed with “CAN I HELP YOU” signs to get you pointed in the right direction, and even the registration lines moved smoothly.

I made some memories, like getting my picture taken with Florence Henderson (Yes! Mrs. Brady! Who by the way loved the title of my book!! ), autographed ARCs of David Baldacci’s ONE SUMMER and Leanna Renee Hieber who was out of books by the time I got anywhere close to the front of that line. Doug Lyle’s new book had a corner booth. I got HOT LIGHTS-COLD STEEL along with a pretty awesome ink pen that looks like a syringe full of blood that I worried about getting through security with! No worries, though, I made it through just fine.

Harlan Coben was autographing his audio version of his new YA, SHELTER.

On Wednesday afternoon I attended the “Afternoon Tea” which wasn’t exactly much of a tea but even as a tea-lover I could have cared less because ITWs own Karin Slaughter and Brad Meltzer rocked that session.

In case you hadn't already notices, ITW authors were well-represented!

My debut novel, SWEET TEA AND SECRETS, was displayed in the New Title Showcase. The New Title Showcase is one of the few places that the general public can check out without paying admission. It was pretty exciting to see my book face out among the others. Oh yeah, it was on page 80 of the catalog, too.

I met so many wonderful booksellers and librarians. I’d planned ahead and had plenty of bookmarks and business cards in case I had the opportunity to share, and boy did I have the opportunity to share. It was fun to make connections with others who truly love books as much as we do and share in the excitement of “what’s new” and coming soon.

CALL TO ACTION:: Let’s give each other a helping hand and share the news from the conferences we attend. Who knows what will inspire one of us to the next big thing. Just give me a shout and I'd be happy to put you on the calendar to recap your experience.

NEXT BIG THING:: Thrillerfest is just a few short weeks away and I can’t wait to hear all the great news from it right here on The Thrill Begins.

May the networking begin!

Hugs and high 5s~

Nancy Naigle

Nancy writes love stories from the crossroad of small town and suspense. Visit Nancy at on facebook and twitter (@nancynaigle).