Third person or first person in #romance…pros and cons

I remember the first book I read that was written in the first person point of view: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. I was nine years old, just starting to read for pleasure. The first person POV made the story seem so real, so personal, that I wasn’t sure the book was fiction!

This is  the benefit of first person: it allows for deep, deep point of view. It eliminates distance between reader and story and between author and story. As an author, you can get so deep into your character’s head that you almost become your character. There is no barrier between you and your creation. “Showing” rather than telling comes much easier in first person than third. For me personally, when I’m in first person POV, I’m not telling a story, it’s flows naturally from my head into my fingertips and onto the computer keyboard.

(In fact, the third person POV often slips into first when thoughts are italicized and written in first person, a common, almost universal technique these days).

The downside to first person is that you can’t get into anyone else’s head. If the POV character doesn’t know it, neither can the reader. Period. The reader can guess, but he can’t be told what anyone else is thinking, what their motivations are, or what they’re doing when they’re not with the POV character. So first person can limit storytelling options. As the author, you know the other characters’ secrets, but you’re not allowed to tell the reader.

Before I started writing erotic romance, I wrote mainstream women’s fiction. The decision to write in first or third person came from the story itself, and how it spoke to me. When I could hear the character’s voice in my head, well, that was a first person story.

But romance is written in third person. It works well because you can present both the heroine and hero’s POV. The reader knows the heroine thinks the hero doesn’t love her, and knows that he really does but thinks he’s not good enough for her.

In the past few years, I’ve started seeing some romances written in first person. And, I’ve also read reviews and blogs where reviewers/readers said they didn’t like it.

I had a story knocking about in my head. I could hear the heroine’s voice. I knew if I wrote it in third person, I would strangle the story and it would take herculean effort to breathe life back into it. So I decided to go out on limb and write the story as I heard it. Alien Mate is written in the first person, but I switch between the hero and heroine, alternating first person POVs. So in Alien Mate you do get both sides of the story!

I present to you, the first chapter of Alien Mate, my next sci-fi romance (release date: April). This is unedited.

Alien Mate

By Cara Bristol

Chapter One


Truth would prevail. It had to. It had to. It had to.

The jurors filed in. I kept my face expressionless as advised by counsel and clenched my hands in my lap. The jurors avoided my eyes as they took their seats, and hope drained out, leaving me sick inside. My attorney, Maridelle, covered my hand and squeezed optimistically.

“Have you reached a verdict?” the judge asked.

“We have, your honor,” the foreman replied.

“What say you?”

“We, the members of the jury, find the defendant, Starr Elizabeth Connor, guilty of second degree murder.”

My heart seized in my chest. I wasn’t aware of leaping to my feet, but Maridelle caught my arm. “I didn’t do it! I’m innocent,” I cried. My gaze shot to the prosecution table where people’s attorney Gil Aaronson, a crony of the Carmichael family—although I couldn’t prove it— stowed his CompuBrief in its case. He didn’t look at me either, but a smug, satisfied smile rested on his face.

Electrocuffs in hand, the bailiff headed toward me.

“We’ll appeal, don’t worry. We’ll get the verdict overturned,” Maridelle whispered in my ear as the bailiff fastened the restraints. She’d believed me; but no one else had—how could that bode well for the future? If she hadn’t been able to convince the jury of my innocence the first time around, what chance would she have on appeal? The Carmichaels controlled too much. They didn’t hold political office themselves. They owned the people who did.

“Sentencing is set for one week.” The judge cracked his gavel, and the bailiff ushered me back to my cell.

* * * *

A statuesque woman plopped down next to me in the lounge. Her skin reminded me of rich, creamy milk chocolate, the kind only the wealthy could afford. Everyone else bought the synth stuff and pretended it was good. “I’m Andrea Simmons,” she said.  “Cyber hacking.” We introduced ourselves on the SS Australia by name and crime.

“Starr Connor.” I hesitated before stating my crime. “Second-degree murder.”  Miradelle had cautioned me not to discuss my case pending the appeal. Big ships have big ears and all that. So, I’d avoided my fellow passengers, keeping to my cabin, venturing to the mess hall or the gym only when I thought they would be deserted. Eventually loneliness—or maybe acceptance—nudged me out of isolation.  My conviction had less chance of reversal than I’d had for acquittal the first time around. My presence on the ship demonstrated how well the trial had gone.

Just in case the appeal was successful, I shifted the conversation back to Andrea. “You were convicted of hacking?”

“Yes. Cyber robbery actually. I was the best in the New Americas!”  Her boast confirmed her guilt. She sighed. “I hear Dakon is quite primitive. No computer technology to speak of.”

“How did you get caught?”

“Greed. I returned to a site I’d previously hacked, and they’d installed a viral tracker. Busted!” Her eyes narrowed. “Who’d you kill?”

“Nobody.  I’m innocent.” I’d continue to state that until the end of my days.

She barked out a husky laugh. “We all are. Haven’t you heard? There are no guilty people on the SS Australia.”

“She killed Jaxon Carmichael.” A brunette with a head of bouncy curls piped up with the identity of the “victim” I’d been convicted of bludgeoning to death.

Andrea whistled and eyed me with new respect. “Honey, you roll with the big boys, don’t you?”

The brunette shook her head. “How could you not recognize her from the pay-for-view gov-vids of her trial on the ‘net? She’s a celebrity.”

“As a general rule, I avoid the government sites,” Andrea said.

“Too risky?” I asked.

“No money there. Terra One World is damn near bankrupt. Why do you think we’re on a ship to Dakon? A. They save money by not having to house us in prison, and B. They make money from the illuvian minerals the Dakonians are paying for us. It’s a double dip.”

“They sold us into slavery,” I said bitterly.  Carmichael “justice” had been swift. While others languished in prison for years awaiting a court date, I’d been tried, convicted and sentenced in a mere two months. Rocket fast—a contrast to the appeals process which would be evolutionary slow. I didn’t want to sit in prison waiting for an uncertain outcome, but was this better?

“More like made us an offer we couldn’t refuse,” Andrea said.

“What do you mean?”

She lifted shoulder. “Well, you know. We could have finished our sentences on Terra. Instead we opted for immediate freedom via a one way shuttle to Dakon.”

“You had a choice?” I glanced between Andrea and the other woman.

They nodded. “The application form spelled it out,” the brunette said. “The selection process was very competitive. Ninety percent of the women who applied didn’t get accepted.”

“Application forms? I didn’t fill out any application forms.”

Andrea’s gaze narrowed. “You didn’t complete a profile? Health history, activity levels, physical description…”

“No.”  I pressed my lips together. Carmichael justice again, which was to say, no justice.  They’d wanted me as far from Terra as they could get me.

“That’s odd,” Andrea said.

Maybe becoming an alien’s mate wasn’t such a terrible fate. Millions of miles between me and the Carmichaels couldn’t hurt, and it beat spending my life in prison. If the Carmichaels could have me wrongfully convicted, they could easily block my appeal.

But how would I keep track of the status? Since Dakon wasn’t connected to the ‘net, how would Miradelle update me?

“Well, we’re all here now. It’s kind of like being a ‘net order bride,” the brunette said cheerfully. “By the way, I’m Tessa Chartreuse. I ran an Asian VIP Service escort agency for an elite clientele.”

“So why are you here? Prostitution isn’t illegal,” I said.

“No, but money laundering is.” She shrugged.

Andrea laughed. “She’s an entrepreneur.”

I took a deep breath. “Any idea what the Dakonians look like?” I’d kept to myself, but I’d heard whispers that our intended “mates” were scaly blue with long tails. Only recently had Terra One World made contact with Dakon. The Dakonians had not permitted any vids. I’d been told the Dakonians “looked like us,” but I had little confidence in my government to tell the truth.

“I was able to do a little ‘net research before they transported me to the shuttle,” Andrea explained. “They’re humanoid, genetically compatible with us, but they’re taller, much more muscular and bigger.” She held her hands about a meter apart.

“Are you talking about their penises or their bodies in general?” Tessa asked.

Shit, I hoped Andrea was talking about their bodies. I eyed the span between her palms.

Andrea rolled her eyes. “Their bodies in general. I did not research their junk.”

“It would be proportionate, though, wouldn’t you think?” Tessa persisted. You could take the girl out of the escort business, but you couldn’t take the escort business out of the girl.

Andrea placed her index fingers to her forehead so they stuck up. “And they have—”

“Antenna?”  My jaw dropped.

“More like horns.”

“That’s worse!”

“Vestigial horns. Mostly hidden by their hair,” she said.

“So we’re the court-ordered brides of horned aliens who may or may not have big dicks,” I said.

“That’s the size of it.” Andrea snickered.

I got up and moved to the observation window. Without the filtering effects of a planetary atmosphere, stars in space didn’t twinkle. They appeared as solid points of light. We’d traveled far enough that none of the constellations looked familiar anymore.

“Dakon must be very far away from Terra.” We’d been on the ship for two months, and had another thirty days left to go.

“It’s hyper speed compared to the three-year round trip the first contact had taken. Thanks to the illuvian ore, we’ll do it in three months,” Andrea said. “The Dakonians have been waiting a long time for their mates. After the returning to earth, it took another year for Terra One World to set up the program and recruit the first group of women.”

Tessa giggled. “They’re going to be really horny by now. In more ways than one.”

“What happens if the Dakonians don’t like the bride they receive?” I looked Andrea. She seemed to be in the know.

“Then we’ll be sent back to Terra to serve out the remainder of our sentence,” she replied. “With credit for time served on Dakon.”

In my case, that still meant life without possibility of parole, not the usual sentence for second-degree murder, but my attacker hadn’t been the usual victim. Fortunately, despite the Carmichael’s influence, they hadn’t been able to charge me with first degree murder because security vids clearly showed Jaxon pulling out a laser pistol. But the jury hadn’t bought Maridelle’s self-defense argument. Excessive force the prosecution had argued and won. I’d expected to spend my life in prison until I’d been shuttled to the SS Australia whereupon a government agent  deactivated the electrocuffs, shoved a duffle of my possessions into my arms, and announced I’d been inducted into the Dakon-Terra Goodwill Exchange pilot program.

Or, as I thought of it, Rocks-for-Brides.

“I don’t see them rejecting any of us,” Andrea said. “Dakon has a critical shortage of women. They’re desperate.”

Tessa nodded. “The shortage was caused by an asteroid.”

“An asteroid?” I moved away from the window. “Like the one that hit Terra and killed off the dinosaurs by causing a massive winter that destroyed their food supply?”

“Just like that. The planet is still suffering the winter it triggered.”

“But how would an asteroid strike kill only females and not males?”

“They think the asteroid carried a virus to which only women were susceptible and it caused a genetic mutation,” Andrea said. “Each subsequent generation has produced fewer and fewer females. The planet is 90 percent men now. No worries, though. Everyone who got the virus died a couple hundred years ago.”

I gawked in awe. “You had time to research all that?”

She shook her head. “It was in the orientation packet.”

I frowned. “Orientation packet?”

“On the little disk,” Tessa supplied. “Everyone got one in their cabins.”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. Vaguely I remembered seeing something like that.  I’d found it when I’d boarded the ship, but tossed it into a drawer, uncaring what it was. A depressive fog had engulfed me since the verdict. What difference did anything make? My future was out of my control.

However, Andrea and Tessa had sparked my curiosity. I would pop that disk into the vid player and watch. What would the men look like? Horned? I still couldn’t get over that. Would the planet resemble Terra? An asteroid-induced winter sounded freezing. It couldn’t be that cold, could it? People lived there. Male people anyway.

Terra had the opposite problem, although not as severe. Women outnumbered men with more than 10 percent more females surviving to adulthood than males. Another reason why female convicts were expendable. “Ninety percent men, huh? That’s a lot of testosterone.”

“I know, right?” Tessa said.

“Assuming they even produce testosterone. They might have alien hormones,” Andrea said. “In fact, that’s pretty much a guarantee seeing how they are aliens.”

“But we’re still genetically compatible?”

“Theoretically, according to preliminary lab tests.  We won’t know for sure until we start producing children.”

Even though I’d been in an I-was-wrongly-convicted funk, I did recall a couple of blood draws. How could my life have come to this? Sent to planet lightyears away to become an alien’s bride. I hugged my midsection. I gave birth to an alien baby. It sounded like a story from one of those cheesy ‘net vid-zines that focused on celebrity gossip—and sensational news items like my trial.

“I can’t believe that the first time we discover intelligent life on another planet, the first thing our government does is trade its female citizens for illuvian ore.”  Space exploration had discovered alien life a couple of centuries ago in the 2400s but it was single celled jelly-like organisms and bacteria. Another planet had had heat-resistant insects, but that was about as advanced as it got.

“Technically, we’re no longer citizens. We lost citizenship rights upon conviction,” Andrea pointed out.  “And actually, Terra One World has been quite civilized compared to what happened the last time earthers wanted a particular metal ore they deemed as valuable.”

Gold. A millennium ago, monarch and church-backed explorers had decimated native populations in a rush to acquire the earth metal. I was aware of our planet’s ignominious history, even though I was nowhere near as knowledgeable as Andrea. The woman knew her business, and I suspected everyone else’s. She was sharp—which probably wouldn’t serve her well on Dakon. I predicted that having no ‘net access would be her biggest adjustment.

“You know so much,” I said. “You never ran across a single still or vid that showed what the Dakonians look like?”

“Not a good one,” she said.

“But there was one?”

“There was a still in the orientation vid.”

“You couldn’t see much because of all the fur,” Tessa piped up.

“Fur? Good mythological gods, they’re furry?” Horns and fur?

Tessa and Andrea laughed. “No, they were wearing fur garments with hoods, so you couldn’t see their faces clearly,” Tessa said. “Just a chin and a nose.”

“How did those look?”

Tessa shrugged. “Like a chin and a nose.”

“Like a Terran chin and nose?”

“Uh huh.”

Be thankful for small favors anyway. If my mate looked too alien, I could always focus on the lower half of his face.

? ? ?

That’s all folks! I’m close to being done on the 60-K first draft of Alien Mate. Any comments or feedback are welcomed. Did the first person work for you?

This entry was posted in Romance writing, Science fiction romance, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Third person or first person in #romance…pros and cons

  1. Meka James says:

    I find I go about the process the same way. When the story pops into my head I write it as I hear it. So far that’s been first person and I do it in dual so you can have both sides of the story. I like the connection of first person although I do want to attempt to write a story in 3rd at some point.

    Enjoyed your excerpt. I’ve not read any sci-fi type romance stories before but your first chapter has me intrigued.

    happy Monday

  2. Great blog. I enjoyed reading your excerpt, too.

    I tend to write how I “hear” the voice, though that’s nearly always a deep third person POV. Farewell Andromeda was an exception where the story manifested itself in a single first person POV. It turned out to be perfect for handling some wicked plot twists, since the reader couldn’t know what the other main character was thinking or doing offstage, and he had a very dire secret.

    As a reader, I’ll read any POV though I’m usually a bit more comfortable with third person.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      That’s a good reason for using first person — to hide what the other character is thinking. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  3. Most first person stories I read are hard to get into for me. Having said that, your excerpt wasn’t difficult. The difference being that most authors who write in first person don’t have a handle on all the other elements involved in telling a good story. Phrasing gets repetitious. They rely on telling rather than showing, which doesn’t give me deeper point of view of the character.

    I tried to write first person recently and found it to be a slog. Several scenes into the story, I revised into third person deep. I’ve done a lot of in person storytelling, so that influences my way of writing a story now. Once upon a time there was…

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