Friday, March 16, 2012

Making Sense of Point of View

Many of my published works of fiction—The Well of Sacrifice and the Haunted series—are written with a first-person narrator. In The Well of Sacrifice a young Mayan girl tells her story as she tries to save her city from a power-hungry high priest. In the Haunted series, 13-year-old Jon narrates his struggles with the pressure of parents, a crush on an older woman, and the outrageous demands of a little sister who is determined to help ghosts. In both cases, the voices just appeared in my head—even though I have little in common with a ninth century Mayan girl or a 13-year-old ghost hunting boy. The mind is a mysterious thing.

I wrote several novels in the third person that didn’t sell. Does that mean I’m better with first-person? Not necessarily, but I think that when I write in the first-person, I know my main character well. I can hear his or her voice, and I know how he or she thinks. I can’t even start until I know the character. 

Third person allows a bit of distance, as if I’m talking about someone rather than being them. This lets me write a book focused on plot, even if I haven’t fully developed the characters. The result can be a well plotted but lifeless book. 

Still, third person isn’t always a mistake, even for me. My middle grade mystery in ancient Egypt, The Eyes of Pharaoh, is in third person. Rattled, my first romantic suspense for adults, is in third person with two viewpoints, although Whispers in the Dark and my-work in-progress are first person. I’ve also used third person with success in the fictionalized biographies Jesse Owens: Young Record Breaker and Milton Hershey: Young Chocolatier (Childhood of Famous Americans series, written as M.M. Eboch).

Sometimes third person is the best choice. Maybe you want that extra distance. Maybe your main character wouldn’t make a great first-person narrator. I have one manuscript about a 12-year-old boy who’s not that talkative, so writing in his voice would make for a very short book. (having multiple viewpoint characters doesn’t matter, though, as you could switch between first-person narrators in different chapters.)

I find point of view choices interesting, but I hate trying to teach point of view. Fortunately, I found a great blog that already has summaries of the basic viewpoints! I’m passing you over to Anna Staniszewski this week. Click out her point of view posts through the links below, or start at her main blog page and either search for "point of view” or browse through her interesting posts. Next week, I’ll go into a little more detail about some of the subtle point of view mistakes I see. 

Anna Staniszewski on POV:

Choosing a Point of View 
Choosing the best POV for your story is an important step, but often people’s definitions of the different POVs vary so it can be tricky to know what you’re choosing and why you’re choosing it. Here’s my attempt at a simple breakdown of the most popular types of POV, with the pros and cons of each.

How POV Affects Character 
Last week I did a breakdown of the most popular types of POV and stressed how important the right POV is to a story. Today, I wanted to elaborate on that a bit more, specifically on how POV affects character.

Examining Omniscient POV 
Last week I looked at how POV affects character, specifically in first person and third person limited narration. Today I wanted to do one last post on point of view, focusing on third person omniscient, specifically involved omniscient POV since detached omniscient is pretty rare these days.

And here's a link to children's book writer Molly Blaisdell's Seize the day blog, with her Reflections: POV First Person, on the advantages and disadvantages of the "first person shooter" viewpoint, Third Person Limited, and omniscient viewpoint.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for linking to my posts! I'm glad I'm not the only one who likes talking about POV. :-)