Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Point of View in Your Writing

As I sit here pondering the next book I want to work on (neither weakly nor wearily), Point of View (POV) has been on my mind a lot. I've noticed that the YA novels and Urban Fantasies I prefer to read at this time tend to be in First Person. As the next book I want to work on is an Urban Fantasy, I need to decide which POV to do it in.

First, I had to look up the various Points of View to define them. I came up with the following (Note: I am skipping Second Person, which uses "you did this" or "you do this," as I am not interested in that tense at this time, and feel it is used the least of all the tenses):

1. First Person:
~Past Tense-I ran up the road.
~Present Tense-I run up the road.

2. Third Person*:
~Past Tense-She ran up the road.
~Present Tense-She runs up the road.
*Third person can be further classified as being:
~Omniscient-The reader knows everything the characters are thinking. The narrator sees all and knows all.
~Limited/Subjective-The reader is hearing the story from a specific character's POV, and only knows what this character thinks and perceives.
~Objective-The reader has no idea what the POV character is thinking, and only sees their actions, as well as other characters' actions. This form is more distant, like you're watching something occur, but aren't a part of it.

Hopefully that gives everyone an idea of what each POV is. I find I often have to look it up to confirm I'm thinking of the correct tense, but I'm a double-checker by nature.

The novel I've already written is in Third Person Limited Past Tense. In other words, I write the scenes as if they have already happened, using "he" and "she," and hearing the thoughts of the POV character, as well as their actions. It actually is told from the viewpoint of two different characters, and it is clearly shown who the POV character is when I switch.

I write in this form because I'm most comfortable with it. Yes, on a blog one writes in First Person ("I do this, I do that") and, I think, in Second Person ("You do this"), though that is used less. I do believe I've used it, though. I've never before thought about what POV I was using (other than in middle school when we did writing exercises in different POV's, of course). It was never an issue for me; I simply started writing and that's what came out. This quite possibly means that I am very much over-thinking how to write this next book, but I thought it would be good to see what other people thought about POV.

I've come across some schools of thought that say you should go with the predominant type of POV used in the genre you're going to write in. Some say you should write what feels the most comfortable to you. Still others say to analyze what you want from your story and how best to get that across.

There is a poll to your right, underneath my bio, so you can vote for the POV you prefer when reading. I've learned that there should always be an "Other" option, but if you choose that, please detail why in the comments. The same goes for those who answer "It Depends." I value your feedback.

Other than that, what POV do you feel most comfortable with when writing? How do you decide which POV to use?

Happy Writing!


Heidi W said...

I enjoy reading and writing in a variety of POVs. I've written novels in 3rd Limited Past, First Past and FIrst Present. I think it really depends on the project which POV works best, but I enjoy writing in First Present the most.

I think it is valuable for all writers to write in a variety of POVs. Changing POVs involves a lot more than just shifting tenses and pronouns. It is amazing how much I have learned about sentence structure, diction and pacing by writing in different POVs.

M.J. Fifield said...

I use both first and third person POV in writing. When writing in third person though, I stick with limited 3rd person and avoid omniscient 3rd person.

As for how I decide which to use, I let the story tell me. I don't know how that works but it just does.

I don't really have a preference as far as reading goes.

Weaver said...

I was 12,000 words in to my WIP when I realized the POV didn't work at all. Drearily I went back and started again with a change and it just flew. Phew.

Andrew said...

It really depends for me. As in, I don't actually care as long as the writing is good. However, I am getting a little tired of the over abundance of 1st person, lately. Often, I think, 1st person is used as a short cut to be able to "preach" at the audience. You can't really do that in the 3rd person, but, with 1st, you can kind of do whatever you want, since the narrator is talking directly to the audience. In that sense, 1st person tends to be the easiest to write in. It even allows you to switch from past to present at will as you switch back and forth between telling what has happened and talking to the audience. It can be the easiest to mess up because of that, too, though.

Karen Walker said...

I've only written memoir and personal essay up till now, so, obviously, it was first person. Now that I'm writing a novel, third person seems to be working, but we'll see how it goes.

Unknown said...

The first book I wrote was in third limited/subjective. That said, for some reason reading first person present really gives me the oomph I need to get deep into a character's head, but in third person. There's just something brisk and fun about it; I don't know.

Now, my current WIP (Historical YA) is written in first person present. I just feel more comfortable that way, and, as you pointed out, first seems to be the going trend in that category.

One more thing... and since you mentioned the speculation of writing for the genre/category as opposed to whatever feels comfortable for you, I say go with the latter. Then, if you need to change it, do it during edits. One author I know writes the entire novel in first, then converts it to third. Sounds like a lot of work, yes, and maybe it is, but it works for her. And it really makes for a deep PoV in third.

Great post!

Margo Kelly said...

I find first person easier - - but my current project is in third person - - so I'm stretching. :)

Great post! Love it.
And, I've given you an award!
You can pick it up at: http://www.margokelly.blogspot.com

Shannon Lawrence said...

Heidi, good advice. I think I will try first person to start with just to have an experience with it. If I like it and it's working, I'll keep it. I can't know until I try, right?

M.J., for me, a lot about writing is instinctive, so I'm hoping perspective will be the same. It sounds like it is for you. I also don't do omniscient.

Donna, yikes! But I'm glad you were able to get it to where it worked. Though I didn't change POV, I made some drastic changes about that far in and scrapped a whole lot of writing!

Andrew, those are valid points and something I will have to remember to watch for if I try it. I've read a few that were "preachy" and I wasn't fond of them.

Karen, I hope it works in third person!

Alyssia, very interesting method your friend has. I can see how that would help get deeper into the character, motivations (for POV character) and such. Also, that is one thing about first person: that you get deeper into their heads, the character and the story.

Margo, I imagine it's good to stretch in your writing, which means I need to try first! Thank you for the award!