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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Monday, May 7, 2012

POV -- One Superior to Another

I thought today I'd say a few words about point of view (POV).  Point of view is the voice or vehicle you use to tell your story.  You can tell it first person, which means one of the characters is actually tell the story, using 'I,' 'my, 'we,' etc. (Think Hunger Games)  Or you can use third person, which uses 'he/she,' 'they,' etc.,  (think Harry Potter) as though another narrator is standing nearby observing.  Either one works, just depending on what you want to accomplish and how strong a connection you want your reader to feel to the story.

Between the two, first person will establish the strongest bond for the reader.  This is because they are actually in the head of the character telling the story.  They are right there, in the moment, with that character, so they feel a powerful bond to connection to what's happening as it's happening.  The downside is that you are stuck in the head of one character and can't really venture anywhere else.  On the flip side, third person allows for multiple narrators and POVs, but won't establish as strong a link between the reader and the story.

Personally, I've never written a novel in first person.  I've done a few short stories, but that's all.  I prefer to be able to use multiple narrators because it gives me the most complete storytelling power.  That said, I think my work might be stronger in first person, but I have yet to write a story that I felt I could tell from exclusively one POV, so I haven't used it.

If you're going to take on something daring like a first-person-present tense POV, you must know what you're doing.  I've seen some writers try to do this and end up shooting themselves in the foot because they slide between tenses or try to tell too much.  Make sure you know what you're doing and that if you're going to do it, you do it well! (Again, Hunger Games!)

I suppose this could be said of any tense, though.  If you're going to play it safe and use third person (like yours truly) you have to make sure that you give the reader enough of a connection to keep them in the story, even without the added advantage of a first person narrator.  In that light, the POV used may depennd as much on  writing ability as on what kind of story you want to tell.

The real reason I wanted to talk about this is that I've been criticized before for using multiple narrators to tell my stories.  Those who've given me this critique are agents, publishers and others who are concerned with actually selling stories to audiences.  They've told me that using multiple narrators can confuse the reader, even if the different narrators are obvious and well-written.  This surprised me because many of my favorite stories are written from multiple POVs.

Now, I completely understand not wanting to overwhelm your audience with seventy-five narrators (Wheel of Time, anyone?) but I also think that most people who are willing to sit down and read your book are willing to trust you and follow your lead.  As long as it makes sense and the writing is good, I don't see the difficulty with multiple narrators.  But perhaps that's just me.

What does everyone else think?  Are multiple narrators, in and of themselves, a problem for you?


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    1. Thanks for pointing out the missing button! I recently remodeled this blog and didn't realize I didn't have one! Blond moment! Anyway, there is one now. Thanks for the interest! :D

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    1. Sorry about the button. Didn't realize it wasn't there! Thanks for pointing it out. I've put buttons on, now, though, so you can come back and follow at your convenience. I'll definitely check out your blog, too! See ya 'round the blogosphere! :D

  3. It depends entirely. I usually think if the story can be told with less characters, then use less characters. I always have to ask myself: Whose story is this, really? And that's who should be narrating.

    And you can have more than one narrator in first person stories too. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE does this, and my forthcoming SURRENDER also has two narrators, both told in first person... So maybe give that a try!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Elana! I'm definitely interested to read a book with multiple first-person narrators! What an intriguing idea! :D