"First or Third?"
by Iain McLaughlin, author of The Beast of Stalingrad
October 10, 2015
I'm writing this blog wearing my writer head rather than my Editor in Chief head.
A few people have asked why I chose to use the format of multiple first person narrators for the Erimem novella, The Beast of Stalingrad. There were a number of reasons, really.
First, I really wanted the readers to get inside the heads of most of the main characters in Erimem's world. They all went through an appalling ordeal in The Last Pharaoh and what I wanted was each of them to say how they felt in their own words. All of those emotions and thoughts would be far more intense coming directly from the characters than if they were filtered through an all-knowing third person narrator.
It's a style I used in Blood And Hope, a Doctor Who novella I wrote for Telos Publishing back in 2004. It worked very well for Blood And Hope, which featured thr Fifth Doctor, Peri and Erimem, and which picked up for very nice reviews - for which I am enormously grateful. For those who haven't read it (if you haven't, why the hell not? Go on ebay and get a copy right now!) Blood And Hope is set during the America Civil War and deals with how people cope with the horrors of war and in particular how they deal with what they have to do to survive during the war. It also about friends and family and what you do to look after the people you love. How far would you go? And how do you deal with what you do? The Beast of Stalingrad touches on some of the same themes, which made me think that it should also echo Blood And Hope in style.
It should be pointed out that The Beast of Stalingrad is by no means a sequel to Blood And Hope in terms of story but thematically and stylistically it is definitely and deliberately a companion piece for the earlier novella. There is the possibility of a third volume, set outside the Doctor Who universe, which Claire Bartlett and I have been discussing for more than five years, which would round off the trilogy very nicely. We just have to find time to fit in writing it.
The next Erimem book I write will be another novella, Buccaneer, which will be released in Summer 2016. I'm telling you no more about it yet except that it's also written first person. That has raised an interesting question in my head. This year I have written or co-written six novels or novellas and four short stories. Of those, four of the novels and one of the short stories were written in the first person. Do I prefer writing in that intimate first person or as the all-knowing third person narrator? And the answer is... I don't actually know. Blood And Hope and The Beast of Stalingrad required multiple first person narrators and Movie Star, being a noir, also really needed to be first person. I'm just finishing off another noir novel with the working title When We Were the New Boys, which is obviously also first person. The intensity of writing from a single person's POV for a noir and filtering every aspect of the story through them is really potent. Equally, the multiple narrators technique uts us deep inside the heads of a number of characters. However, I find that third person prose is often richer and more descriptive, allowing the story to be broader and move along more easily. Both have their benefits and I honestly don't know which I prefer writing.
If you have any thoughts on the topic, please add them in the comments below. I'd be interested to hear what other people think, whether as writers or readers.