Point of View

As you may know, I’m currently editing the completed first draft of my first novel. And I’m struggling a bit with point of view. As it is, my novel is told from the first person point of view of my main character only. For the most part, I like being inside her head, but at times, I feel the story might be elsewhere. This dilemma has prompted me to do a little more reading on POV.

Handy Little POV Chart

Handy Little POV Chart

I’ve at least ruled out the possibility of switching to God’s eye view, as it wouldn’t suit the tone of my story. It would require distancing of the reader from a very intimate story. Nigel Watts says it best in “Writing a Novel”, when he states “The disadvantage…is significant: the reader, like the narrator, can float above the scene, passing through like a ghost, never really getting involved”.

So the debate is really between first person point of view, (single or multiple), and third person point of view, (single or multiple).

According to James Smith, in “You Can Write a Novel”, Cardinal Rule #23 states the first-time novelist should “Use a third-person, past-tense point of view, and limit the novel’s omniscience to your master characters.” Okay, so according to James, I’ve already failed. “Unless you’re an accomplished writer already, don’t use first-person narration. Maybe in your second or third novel.” Oops.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t explain why first-person narration shouldn’t be used for a newbie like myself. Does it sound amateurish coming from a first-time novelist? Does it simply garnish less respect than the conventional third person POV?

Nigel Watts, on the other-hand, applauds the first person POV, saying that it “…has more intrinsic dramatic focus than the other options….It lends itself well to a very intimate treatment, which is useful if the subject is a personal, internal process”.

Okay, now I feel a little better, because I believe the subject matter, though told within the realm of fantasy, is a very personal story that is largely dependent on the internal processes of my main character. It’s my main character’s self-perception that drives the plot.

Nigel Watts also states, that with first person POV, “…it is easy for the author to spring surprises….Suspense and tension, therefore, often work well with a first person viewpoint.” This is also a good sign, for I’m hoping my story will be intense and suspenseful.

He does warn that, though first person POV is the simplest way to tell a story, it is also the most limiting. Simplest because it limits the number of decisions the author has to make about what to reveal to the reader, and limiting for the obvious reason that you can only tell the story that your main character sees.

And this is exactly where my dilemma stubbornly sits. There’s a point in my story where the main character undergoes significant change, but mostly in seclusion. Would it better serve the story to show the perspective of someone else at this time, moving the plot forward, without the main character, but still revolving around her? Does staying inside of her head at this time alienate the reader? (This question would make more sense if you knew how she had changed exactly, but I’m not feeling too revealy right now, sorry!).

What if the real story at this point lies with some of the other major characters? It would give me a chance to further develop them, reveal more of their respective back-stories.

To quote Nigel Watts again, “If you have a very complicated story, you will have to have a lot of people coming in with messages, or an abundance of phone calls and letters.” This is necessary in order to move the story forward through the first person perspective. The main character needs to find out somehow the events that go on without her presence.

On the other hand, James Smith reminds us that, “…limited omniscience…doesn’t prevent you, the storyteller, from visiting scene locations where none of the master characters are present….You just wouldn’t be eavesdropping on the thoughts of the characters, only relaying their words and chronicling their actions.”

This makes me wonder if I should change it to third person after all. Only it wouldn’t work with first person POV. It might be a nice compromise to my dilemma, to stick with the POV of my main character only, but write in third person so that I could visit scene locations where she is not present. But as he points out, third person is “less intimate, less confessional.”

My story is complicated in the sense that there are quite a few major players, all with their own histories and contributions to the plot. There is also a lot of action and conflict. The stakes are pretty high, and the potential fall-out is not at all limited to my main character.

If nothing else, brushing up on POV has helped to clarify what I want. I’ve realized that I want to explore scenes that do not contain my main character, at least to some extent. So now what I need to decide on, is whether to go with third person POV with a single viewpoint, or first person POV with multiple viewpoints.

Yes, I am thoroughly confused.

What do you think? As a reader, do you prefer first person or third person? What are your thoughts on multiple viewpoints?

 

You can find the rest of my posts on the subject of writing, under the category The Writing Process, found in the right hand column of my blog.

 

*Image found via Google Image search, on this blog, intriguingly called Murder Lab.

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About sharonholly

writer, reader, music-lover, glamorous facilitator of literacy... facebook.com/SharonHolly.Writer twitter.com/SharonH_Writes
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3 Responses to Point of View

  1. Albert Berg says:

    Multiple first person viewpoints is going to be darn near impossible to pull off, especially for a beginner. Third person is the way to go.
    The reason first person narration is a no-go zone for beginners is because of the thing we call “voice.” Voice is basically the way you sound as a writer. If you think of two or three authors you can probably call to mind a specific way their prose sounds that is different from other writers. As a beginning writer your voice is still developing. You’re still learning what works and what doesn’t work for you. The problem with first person narration is that not only do you have to decide how your voice is going to sound, you also have to speak in your character’s voice which may be a lot different from your own. Layering these thing on top of each other can be very tricky for any author.
    Nobody can lay down ironclad “rules of writing”, but my advice would be to stick to third person for now and see where that takes you.

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  2. sharonholly says:

    Thanks Albert, I always appreciate good advice! I’m almost finished doing an edit of my first draft in first person, so I think I will finish that, and then go back and do a draft in third person…which sounds a little overwhelming!

    I think you’re right about not knowing my writer’s voice yet, and I find the idea of first person narration having to have both my own voice and that of the character a little confusing 😦

    I will see where these two paths lead.

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  3. Many readers might find it fascinating to be inside your character’s head as she goes through her transformation. First person is in many ways the most accessible of all viewpoints. Its like one long piece of dialogue, with the character speaking to the reader throughout.

    I think you should follow whatever viewpoint comes out naturally. My first novel was written in first person, the second in third person. In each case, that’s how my character started talking. And, lest we forget, some of the most memorable voices in fiction have been in first person, such as Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. So don’t limit yourself by following rules, just make what you have work.

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