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Friday
Apr092010

POV Advantages and Pitfalls*

 

Photo by MikeCPeck (click pic for link)On the last few beta clubs, I've been pointing out where I think someone can deepen the POV.  I realized that I might be using that term and not explaining myself fully.  So I've decided to rerun a post (with a few tweaks) I did last year on this.  Hopefully, this will clear up what I'm trying to convey when I suggest deepening POV.

When I started my first novel, I didn't give POV much thought. I was going to write in first person. Why? I dunno...seemed obvious. I wanted my readers to feel close to my character. And that's the best way to do it, right?

Well, maybe, but not necessarily. First person came with a lot of restrictions and forced me to tell the story from one character's perspective. So making sure she "saw" everything that needed to be seen was a challenge. At the time, I didn't even realize I had another option at my disposal.
But then when I started to research my romance, I realized that the common romance structure is third person limited or deep third person POV. I had read hundreds of books using that POV, but had never realized exactly what I was reading. I just lumped third person into all one category. And once I started writing in deep POV, I found that this style POV came much easier to me and allowed me the flexibility I wanted.
So I thought I would give a brief overview of POVs so that you can know what options are out there:

First person
Told from the inner perspective ("I") of one character.
Ex.) a LOT of YA novels, the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood series (although after seeing the show, which deviates from only Sookie's perspective, we've gotten a number of new interesting story lines with secondary characters that would have never been possible in the books because Sookie wouldn't have been privy to "see" them.)
Exception: in rare instances, using more than one "I" perspective can work. New Moon did this with Bella and Jacob (kind of drove me crazy though), Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles alternated chapters with the heroine and hero from first person POV, which did work well IMO.
Advantages:
--If written well, your reader will feel like they are part of the character and will get to know them fully through their inner thoughts and storytelling voice.
--Intimate and emotionally intense
--When writing it may be easier to become the character
--Makes the story feel "true"
--This often feels most natural when you first start writing because, well, we think in first person.

Disadvantages:
--First person can sounds monotonous for an entire book
--If the reader doesn't like the main character of his/her voice, you're toast
(I've heard people say this about PC Cast's House of Night novels. I enjoy the MC's voice,  but some people find her annoying and therefore don't like reading the books despite a good story.  Update: the last few books have switched first person POVs for some chapters.)
--It's easy to get a little too wrapped up in introspection and not enough dialogue
--Sometimes when writing "I" you let too much of yourself enter the character. Have to remember to react as the character not as you.
Third Person Limited/Deep POV

Very similar to first person. You write from inside one character's head at a time--but it doesn't have to be the same character for the whole book (although it can be).
Ex.) Wicked Lovely (Melissa Marr), Uglies (Scott Westerfeld). Almost any romance you pick up and a large majority of genre fiction (mystery, suspense, etc.)

Advantages:
--You can write from more than one character's POV. In romance, that means you get the hero's perspective as well as the heroine's which adds to the tension. In suspense, you can have a few chapters from the villain's POV.
--Your MC doesn't have to be everywhere and with everyone to make sure the reader gets all important facts of the story.
--Readers are used to this POV and it becomes invisible
--Less likely to become monotonous because you're getting different perspectives
Disadvantages
--Not as immediate and intimate as first person
--You can be tempted to head hop
--You have to get to know every POV character intimately and develop distinct voices, which can involve more work. Your villain's POV can't sound like your MC's. And your hero needs to think like a guy, not a woman--there's a big difference.
Third Person Omniscient

Narrator is all-knowing and separate from the story--playing God. He/She knows what each character is thinking and can see it all. "Little did Bob know that today was the last day he'd see the sun."
Ex.) This is seen mostly in classics and epic fantasies/sci-fi. Lord of the Rings and some Literary Fiction.

 Advantages:

--You have control to reveal information whenever you'd like, regardless of whether or not your character is privy to it
--Can feel "epic" to the reader and give them a wide-sweeping view of your story
Disadvantages:
--Distance between the reader and characters.  This POV is very hard for me to read because I feel separate from the story.
--The reader becomes aware that there is a narrator present, so can feel like they are being "told" a story as opposed to experiencing it 

 

WARNING: What to watch out for in first and deep third person POV...
  • Cut out these words from your MC's voice: decided, thought, knew, remembered, noticed, saw, smelled, realized, heard, felt, understood, etc. These take us out of deep POV and "tell".
Wrong: She saw him smile at her and felt warmth course through her. She realized with dismay that she still loved him.
Better: He smiled and warmth coursed through her. Crap. I still love this idiot.
Wrong: I saw the empty living room and remembered how my grandmother used to braid my hair in front of the fireplace and tell me stories about her childhood.
Better: I stared at the empty living room and tears stung my eyes. Grandma used to braid my hair in front of the...
  • Don't report things that the MC can't see/know for herself or wouldn't notice under normal circumstances. Stay in her head and see through her eyes.  (also known as a form of author intrusion, which I talked about more here.)
Wrong: Her face turned beet red. (She can't see her own face.) The girls in the corner laughed at her reaction. (She can't know exactly why they are laughing, only guess.)
Better: Her face grew hot, and the girls in the corner pointed and laughed.

Alright, hope that helped.  This weekend I'll be attending the DFW Writers' Conference, woo-hoo!  They have so many workshops, I'm having trouble choosing which ones to go to.  But whichever ones I decide to attend, I'll be sure to take lots of notes so I can share some of what I learned with you guys.  Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

So what about you? What's your favorite POV to write in or read? Do you find yourself falling out of POV with those last two things (I do!)? Have you ever read a first person book that you couldn't finish because you didn't like the MC?  How do you feel about 3rd person omni?
 
 
**Today's Theme Song**
"Lost in Your Eyes"-- Debbie Gibson

(player in sidebar, take a listen to do it old school)

 

Reader Comments (28)

Yep! Yet another one for my fattening folder of Roni wisdom. You are such a helpful source of writing wisdom. :-)

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShannon O'Donnell

Thanks for the break-down,Roni!

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpaulgreci

Great post, Roni!

I like first person, at least for my current novel. My MC goes through a lot emotionally, and it just felt like the best way to convey that emotion. Anything else felt too distant--even 3rd Deep.

As for first person books I didn't like? The House of Night books are probably at the top of my list. I only read one book and her voice is what kept me from reading more.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAbby Annis

Excellent post! I like that you used examples here to solidify your point further.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKatie S

When I first started writing, I wrote in the epic fantasy omniprescent POV and lets just say I had no agents interested. This POV is so out of vogue right now.

I'm trying to deepen my thrid person POV, but it's always been hard for me.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAubrie

Great post! I've been indecisive about my POV for a while now. This will help me make a definite decision! Thanks!

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeika

I disagree that omniscient has to feel distant. In the past it was used that way, but I have read omniscient stories that are close to different characters at different times.

I find deep third POV very limiting. I'm using it because I feel like I have to if I want my book to sell. But it's really hard, and a lot of times I don't want that chatty voice you use in your example.

There is a sarcastic, funny voice that is popular now and works well for a lot of books. But it doesn't work with my story at all. I'm trying to be more classical and formal, so 3rd limited is very... limiting.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristine H

My favorite example of omniscient POV from "The Fellowship of the Ring" is where Tolkien describes how each of the four hobbits slept during their night with Tom Bombadil. It gives character info as to what is on their minds and how sensitive they are to the forces around them.

"They had hardly laid themselves on the deep beds and drawn the light covers over them before they were asleep.

In the dead night, Frodo lay in a dream without light. Then he saw the young moon rising; under its thin light their loomed before him a black wall of rock, pierced by a dark gate..

At his side, Pippin lay dreaming pleasantly; but a change came over his dreams and he turned and groaned. Suddenly he woke, or thought he had waked, and yet still heard in the darkness the sound that had disturbed his dream...

It was the sound of water that Merry heard falling into his quiet sleep: water streaming down gently, and then spreading, spreading irresistably all round the house into a dark shoreless pool...

As far as he could remember, Sam slept through the night in deep content, if logs are contented."

You are aware of the narrator, but I don't feel distanced from these characters at all. I wish I could write as effectively.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristine H

I should have said "there" not "their" above.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristine H

Christine, I appreciate your viewpoint and am sorry that you feel pressure to adhere to the current trend. I say write the book that you want to write and don't try to force what doesn't feel natural to you. If the story is wonderful and well-written, regardless of POV, I'm sure someone will give it a chance.

I write the chatty style, not because it's the trend but because that's how my writing comes out. It's who I am. I prefer beer to wine, flip-flops to high-heels, and romantic comedy to oscar winners. There's not hope for me being proper really. So classic, formal books have never done it for me. If I tried to write an epic fantasy or lit fic, it would be a disaster. :)

So I say be true to your own vision.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoni @ FictionGroupie

Thanks for sharing Roni, great advice! Except that damn, now I have another thing to comb my MS for, ouch.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Rush

Thank you so much for this! Great post.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLiz H. Allen

wow, what an amazing post. this is invaluable information.

thanks so much!!

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTahereh

3rd deep is my favourite to write and read in. I dont mind 3rd omniscient, but I could never write it. However, I strongly dislike 1st person (for the most part). I think it's because Ive read some really badly done 1st person books. I also like reading more POVs, which could be part of the reason why I dont like books written in 1st.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie Murphy

Great post! I've noticed these kinds of "oopses" in non-published stories but I guess I've never really thought about them :)

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterL. E. Neighbour

Thanks for your reply, Roni.

This is one of the paragraphs I've been working on this afternoon. You tell me, what POV do you think it is?
I'm not sure.

"Marenya did not feel like resting. She pushed back the covers and got out of bed, washed her face, and combed her hair. It felt good to move a little, but she was still quite weak. She went to the window and looked out over the courtyard and the distant fields. Glenhym was somewhere to the south, along the line of the mountains. The snowy peaks gleamed in the distance like old friends."

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristine H

I too write in a chatty style. I feel very comfortable writing in close third, which if done right feels like first.

I'd like to see more discussion of third because I've had critiques from people who don't understand third and felt that thoughts should be strictly limited to italics or something. I disagree, and think third can be used magnificently in different ways without having to be traditional.

Great post Roni, and great warning about words not to use in first or third.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSierra Godfrey

Great post with very nice concrete examples. Thanks!

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBish Denham

Great post! I write third person...but I have problem with head hoping. Ooops. LoL. I'm working it out though. ;-)

~JD

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJustineDell

This was very helpful. Thank you! My first novel is in first person, but I decided to try third person with my second novel. I hope I've been doing it correctly! Now I need to go back and check. :)

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Jo Lavin

Like Justine, I am a head-hopper. But, I have been reformed. I still find it difficult at times. It is a learning experience, and as I write, I try to stay in the head of my mc. After the beta club, I thought about switching to first person. (The only thing worse than changing the POV of my 40k in words would be finishing and THEN changing the POV.)

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber Tidd Murphy

Great post!

Lynnette Labelle
http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLynnette Labelle

Very helpful, thank you! I wrote some of these tips on a Post-It note to remind myself when editing.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShelley Sly

Great advice, Roni! And groan. I realized I've made some of those mistakes. I mean, I've made some of those mistakes. ;)

Have a great weekend!

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStina Lindenblatt

I LOVE first person. I used to write third person, but then I realized that if I actually wanted to experience the story and feel even more like the character, first person was my way. Now, even when I write third person, I'll turn around and find that I accidentally slipped back into first person. LOL

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOddyoddyo13

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