First versus Third

Here’s the thing about genre writing: you have to stick with certain tropes. Sure, you can spin them, twist them, smash them and then glue them back together, but at the end of the day, that trope is still there.

With the romance genre (and its myriad sub-genres) it’s the HEA: the happily ever after. I’ve made my peace with the HEA and I’ve even fallen victim to writing some pretty damn sappy ones (my current ending for Best Served Cold is incredibly sappy. I think I may need to change it. Just a bit.)

What I’ve been wondering about lately, and struggling with, is first versus third. As in, do I tell this in first person, or third person?

Most urban fantasy that I’ve read is in first person. Most romance I’ve read is in third person. So…what happens if I want to write a romance in first person? Can I do that?

I think the better question to ask myself is, can I write a romance in first person and get it published?

Writing in first person, in a lot of ways, is easier for me. Less head-hopping to worry about. So Not About Love is in first person. Best Served Cold is in first person. I have several other projects that fall into the romance category (no paranormal elements involved) that are sketched out in first person. I like first person, and first person likes me. We get along fabulously.

Me and third person? Meh. We can work together, but we have…issues.

I can write in it, if I have to. And some things necessarily need to be in third person. I’d originally started Iron Jewel out in first person, until I realized that Bodhi (my male lead) needed his voice heard, and I didn’t want to give myself the headache of jumping back and forth between two different first person perspectives. It can be done, and I’ve even seen it done well, but it’s not something I’ll be attempting any time soon.

I mentioned some time ago that Not About Love was written specifically with Entangled Publishing in mind, and I’d submitted it to their category imprint, Indulgence, despite my not-so-sneaking suspicions it wouldn’t fit. I was right, it doesn’t, the least of which it’s written in first, rather than third.

I love Not About Love. I love the story, I love the sass and bite of my main character, Lisle. It’s her story, about dealing with her demons and finding that love hurts, but it’s supposed to. That’s just how it rolls. And if someone came up to me and told me the only way I’d be able to sell it was to change it to third person, well, I’m not going to out-right say I won’t. I will say I’ll be hard pressed to want to take that advice.

A brief Google search doesn’t turn up anything on first versus third person in romance novels. And since I tend to read the same three romance authors over and over again (Nora Roberts, Rachel Gibson, and Jennifer Cruisie), I’m not exactly in the best position to be able to say, no, absolutely I cannot write a romance novel in first person and expect someone to want to publish it.

Usually the tone of the story determines whether I write in third versus first person. And having done a full revision of both Iron Jewel and A Lesson in Vanishing, I can honestly say that neither story would work if they were written in first person. The voices in my head tell me what to say, and I do it, because frankly, they’re usually right. Those same voices told me Lisle’s story needed to be in first person, as did Rhia’s story, and (when I get around to writing them) Rebekah’s, Julianne’s, and Tracy’s.

So am I screwing the pooch by writing multiple romance novels in first person? I feel like if there were first person novels available in the genre, I would have read them. That I haven’t makes me a bit nervous. When you’re as much of a noob as I am, you want others to pioneer. Taking a chance on an unknown author doing something someone’s never done before only pays off when you’re writing literary fiction, and that’s just because it’s expected. Genre writing is the comfort food of the book world. I’m not trying to rock the boat! I swear!

Or maybe I am. Maybe it’s time to shake things up a bit.

4 thoughts on “First versus Third

  1. Hey there, I like first person Romances personally. You can have first person told by different characters, so one chapter it is the woman’s first person POV and the next it’s the man’s POV, etc. That allows the reader to get in to their head and feel their feelings moreso than just 3rd person. Not to beat a dead horse, but Twilight was 1st person…and when Meyer got to Breaking Dawn, she threw in Jacob’s first person POV in addition to Bella’s which I really loved. It’s hard seeing a story only through one person’s eyes.

    1. Ooh, I’ll have to check that one out!

      I know Twilight was written in first person, but can you think of any adult romances that were? I can’t.

      1. Sadly my Romance “Read” section is pretty slim. I know Rebecca was written in first person, and I know A Discovery of Witches was written in first person but I wouldn’t ever recommend that book for anything other than a coaster. Back in the day I read Rosemary Rogers like it was going out of style but I can’t recall if it was 1st or 3rd. I do know that VC Andrews was usually written in 1st…not romance but pretty fricken steamy 🙂

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