14 September 2006

The POV Is Always Greener In Other Novels

I was having a discussion with another writer about POV. I started a new novel in first person, played with the characters a while to get a feel for them, outlined, then rewrote the trial chapters in limited third person. That is the POV I decided to use. After explaining my thought process to my friend, he landed on me with both feet. Something along the lines of "if that was the way the muse first brought it to you, than that is the way it is meant to be." He must have a tidier muse than me. Mine likes to dump half formed ideas in my lap then disappear for a while, leaving me to wrestle with plot hydras.

I admit the lure of first person POV was seductive. I just wasn't sure I could tell the story I wanted to tell stuck in one person's body. That's not the way I like to write. I like having a few main viewpoint characters, and then the antagonist's perspective. I like being able to have the antagonist plotting, and the protagonist bopping along, unsuspecting. As a reader, it is what attracts me, so naturally I'd like to write that way. The reader knows something is coming, but the protagonist doesn't. Cheap way of ratcheting up the tension? Maybe, but that's what writing is all about, isn't it? Guiding the reader along the path you choose, showing them what you want them to see? Writers are an evil bunch, why would my friend think I'd want to be 50% less evil than everyone else?

I don’t like reading first person POV stories. There have been a few that grabbed me, but it is something I will have to study in depth before I attempt to write anything substantial that way. When I think of fantasy, I think of big, sprawling epics. (Not quite George R.R. Martin sprawling though, I do have my limits.) First person POV seems too narrow for what I want to write. I noticed a majority of my poems are in first person, even though they aren't necessarily about me. In poetry I call it first person universal. I'm speaking on behalf of everyone that has been in the situation I'm describing. Big of me, yes, I know.

On the other hand, a historical fiction short I am writing is done in first person. It works much better from a limited scope. I want the reader to only have access to what the protagonist sees and feels. Maybe this is my version of training wheels—get a handle on writing in first person by using short stories then build up to a novel. I don’t know. I like third person limited for what I do and think I handle it fairly well. Change is not bad. It's just difficult.


KC Heath said...

The best novel I ever wrote was in third person, and each scene was a different character's POV. But I found I enjoyed reading first person so tried to write it. Wow--it's hard! It is very difficult to increase tension with only one POV, to the same point you can with mulitiple POVs. Like you said above--it is easier to increase the tension when the reader knows what's going on over the hill! Still, I am challenged with first person and can't stop playing with it. Why do I do that to myself? -ha!-

Constance said...

I find reading first person gets a bit claustrophobic for me. I don't like being trapped in one person's body. Then again, in the hands of the right writer, I've read first person books and enjoyed them.I think it may suit some of my more egomaniacal characters very well. :)