Whose story is it? POV

Henry and IIndie crime writer, Henry Jay Forman (author of Poisonous Science) was over from Los Angeles on holiday in England and we were able to meet up in Salisbury. Henry and I are Facebook friends and he invited me to join the Writing Process Blog Tour (see my post for July). Surprise, surprise, our discussions were mainly about writing!

Henry has been approached by a publisher who would like him to re-write his novel in the first person. According to her, that’s the current trend. It a tall order! How do you cope with the scenes where the protagonist isn’t present? Surely it’s easier to write another novel then completely take an existing one totally apart.

My experience was the opposite! Ten years ago, when I was writing my first novel, I was told by three different agents to change it from first person to third. I was not a happy bunny! It was only after the third request that I reluctantly rewrote the novel. The only consolation I could take from the experience was the conviction that I could never have written ‘All in the Mind’ in the third person in the first place. I needed to stay in Sarah’s mind and experience her feelings.

All this has led me to think about POV.

First Person

Advantages

  • It’s immediate and intimate – your reader should find it easier to identify with the protagonist.
  • New writers tend to find this the easiest POV to create a distinctive internal voice.

Disadvantages

  • It has the limitation of revealing only what the protagonist experiences and thinks. Things that happen ‘offstage’ can only be reported and other characters thoughts and feelings expressed only by what the protagonist can interpret from what they see and hear.
  • The story needs to be continuous and it’s not possible to create extra tension by leaving a character in a tricky position and changing the scene to another character.
  • New writers must take care not to confuse their protagonist’s reactions and their own!

Third Person

Advantages

  • You can use multiple viewpoints (preferably a limited number) and allow the reader to see a contrasting reaction to what is going on.
  • Your protagonist does not have to be in every scene thus the reader can learn things in advance of the main character.
  • It is easy to move from one setting to another and so broaden the scope of the novel.

Disadvantages

  • Each viewpoint character’s voice must be distinctive so as not to confuse the reader.
  • There is a much greater temptation to slip into an authorial voice.
  • Beginner writers need to take care not to swop from one viewpoint to another within the same scene.

Omniscient Voice

Sometimes known as God’s eye view. Popular with Victorian novelists, but out of favour today – great for passages of detailed description but judged too remote for today’s tastes.

So what are YOUR thoughts as a reader –

  • Do you have a preference for one POV over another?
  • Which POV does your favourite writer use or haven’t you noticed?
  • Does POV make a difference

Writers, which POV do you prefer to write in and why?

2 thoughts on “Whose story is it? POV

  1. I use third so that my mysteries can have different settings and readers can get to know the “suspects” internal thoughts. I have the majority of scenes stay in the POV of my two main protagonists but readers always know who’s speaking. I think it would be difficult to do a traditional English mystery in first person, but then all of Sue Grafton’s early Kinsey Milhone’s were done in first! That being said, even she has used third for additional characters in the last few books~

  2. Good point, Marni. I’m with you about getting in my suspects thoughts – ‘Watcher in the Shadows’ wouldn’t work without the insights into my ‘watcher’s’ increasingly psychotic mind (plus those were the bits I really enjoyed writing) but lots do work well in first person – take Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum!

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