Michael Smart, author of the Bequia Mysteries, is a new efriend of mine. We ran into each other (virtually) through his wonderful series and found we shared a love of writing. Specifically, the mechanics of writing: How do authors build a fictional world that is so real, readers want to stay? Want to become friends with the characters and live life through their eyes?
There are many reasons, but the one Michael and I spent several fascinating hours discussing was POV. Point of view is who tells the story and how. I’ll summarize by saying: It can be first, second (albeit rare), or third person. Further, it can be objective, omniscient, or limited omniscient. And you can mix all those options within a novel.
That’s a lot of topics. Michael and I stuck to six questions:
- POV is important in writing, and you [Michael] used a unique approach for the main characters in your series. I’m curious, do you struggle with which POV to use, or is it obvious as you develop the story?
Michael: I write in both first person and third person. I have no preference one over the other. It depends on the story, which angle I want to tell the story from, and whether as I’m writing, it feels natural to tell the story that way. Outlining Dead Reckoning, I envisioned a hard-boiled first person style reminiscent of authors who’d inspired my desire to write.
Jacqui: I also plan the POV to fit the story, but all three of my books and my current draft are in third person, so I think it’s become my default. I’m planning to rewrite my historic fiction (Lucy, Daughter of Man) in first person before publishing, see if it enhances the authenticity of her amazing biography. Maybe I’ll ask my blog community to choose.
2. You ]Michael] used first person powerfully in your series. Explain the storytelling mojo you found writing in first person, as opposed to third.
Michael: One of the things I enjoy about writing in first person is being inside the narrator’s head, experiencing everything from that perspective, the scenes, action, other characters, their inner conflicts and motivations, their most intimate thoughts.
Jacqui: I have always considered 1st person more intimate than 3rd. My workshop with Richard Bausch disabused me of that notion (theoretically, if not in practice). He constantly challenged we attendees to rephrase scenes in 3rd person to bring the reader closer.
Michael: I agree with Mr. Bausch. But I think it’s subjective for the reader. As a reader I prefer the first person kind of intimacy.
3. You [Michael] have a unique approach to the main characters in your series. Each of your three main characters headlines one novel, in the first person. What was the inspiration for that distinctive approach?
Michael: I had no deliberate plan leading me to use that approach. I developed the Gage character even before I had a story to tell about him. While scribbling notes on the character, Dead Reckoning took form.
While writing Dead Reckoning, I decided I really enjoyed my three main characters and wanted to write more stories about them. The Bequia Mysteries series was born. That decision spawned another, to write the first three novels in the series as a trilogy, providing a plot arc across the three novels in which to introduce and focus on each of the three main characters. At the time I had no clue how to execute this idea, or if it was even feasible.
When I began writing Deadeye, I discovered after the first chapter I’d been slanting the narrative through Jolene’s eyes. That was a scary discovery initially, but as I read the chapter I was struck by two revelations, the approach worked, in terms of structuring the trilogy and the series, and I liked it. I eventually threw out the first draft of chapter one, but I stuck with the Jolene first person POV, and continued the technique with Mike Daniels’ character in Deadlight.
Jacqui: The three-part prequel does a good job of introducing the three main characters. I’m eager to see what happens when you move beyond the introduction. My two-book series is the traditional approach—3rd person, with an emphasis on varied main characters.
4. As a reader, what was your (Jacqui} reaction when you started reading a second Bequia Mystery, and discovered a different first person narrator?
Jacqui: I will confess, I was disappointed at first. I respected Gage, enjoyed his storyline, and wanted to stay with him. I wasn’t nearly as drawn to Jolene, who I’d only seen through Gage’s eyes. That all changed as I got to know her from her 1st person story. I was hooked.
Michael: That was a big fear I had using this technique, but I stuck with it because I wanted readers to get to know each character in that way, and give each novel a distinct, individual voice and style. It also allowed me, and the reader, to view these main characters through the eyes of those closest to them. To get to know them from a different perspective. Writing them this way was enormous fun.
Jacqui: Separate from POV, you used another technique that is controversial among the ‘experts’—you wrote Jolene’s dialogue in the Caribbean patois. That reminds me of Patrick O’Brian’s amazing Aubrey-Maturin series about life aboard a British man-of-war during the Napoleonic wars. The dialogue is chock full of the language of the 1700’s Navy. Once the reader gets used to it, there’s no better way to wrap them in the story.
Michael: It’s a tricky thing to do properly. You have to strike the proper balance, and it’s one of the features I love about the Aubrey-Maturin series, and O’Brian’s writing. I’m not sure he could’ve transported us to the eighteenth century in the manner he does without it.
5. Back to Jolene, one last thing I’m curious about. As a man, discuss the difficulty writing as a female in first person. Did you get help with that?
Michael: I really enjoy writing female characters, and I’m so in love with Jolene. Except for anatomy, and viewing the world from a female perspective, my female and male characters are on equal footing. That female worldview I get from research, meaning I ask a gazillion questions to my sister, daughter, and all my female friends. They allow me inside their heads, and that helps me write female characters in the first person.
Jacqui: You’re braver than I, Michael. Lots of authors write across genders, but most stay in 3rd person. My upcoming novel, To Hunt a Sub, stars Zeke Rowe and Kali Delamagente, both in what for me is the less-intimate 3rd person (apologies to Richard Bausch for my lack of skill in seeing 3rd person as more intimate than 1st—maybe I need a refresher on my workshop!). Like you, I did extensive research to make sure my presentation was as authentic as possible.
Michael: Love those names, Jacqui!
Michael Smart is….
A native New Yorker, Michael W. Smart spent eight years sailing around the Eastern Caribbean. Dead Reckoning is his debut novel, the first in a series of Bequia Mysteries, which draws on his intimate knowledge of the islands, its people, and his sailing adventures in the Caribbean. Following diverse careers as a charter and delivery captain, yacht broker, pilot, air traffic controller and marina manager, he now writes full time.
Jacqui Murray is…
Author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.