Wednesday, February 23, 2005

First Person POV Perspectives

Here’s my take on the three subcategories of first person POV. (I briefly mentioned two of these on Monday, 2/14.) This is providing that the story is written in past tense. Stories written in first person present tense are something else altogether.

First person, immediate past perspective. The protagonist is telling the story minute by minute, just after events have happened. In these stories, the protagonist doesn’t know what’s going to happen next.

First person, not-quite-so-immediate past perspective. The protagonist tells events some time after they’ve happened—often after the entire story has occurred. In this perspective, even as the protagonist begins the story, he/she knows what is to come and can allude to future events.

First person, distant past perspective. The protagonist tells events that happened long ago, often in his/her childhood. This is the hardest POV I know. It requires that the author find two voices—one for the younger character as events unfold, and one for the older character who’s narrating the story, and who may insert lessons learned about life every now and then. Transitioning between these two voices is tricky.

Writers—if you’re going to write in first person, make sure you know which perspective you’ll choose.

I haven’t written in perspective #1. Don’t know why, because it’s probably the easiest. This is because it’s more akin to the past perspective of third person. My Hidden Faces suspense series is written in perspective #2. I really like this perspective. Annie, the forensic artist protagonist, is telling each story after the entire story has occurred. This allows her to say some things as narrator that she couldn’t say in perspective #1. For example, note the first line of chapter 1 in Dead of Night (out in April):

The moment before it all began, I was folding clothes in my bedroom.

I think this perspective is way cool because it allows me to insert little snippets like this to build suspense. Only thing is, writers have to be very careful not to overuse this, especially at the end of a chapter as a hook. That is, a chapter ending sentence like: If I had only known how much I would need that prayer. I may do this once a book, but even then, I consider it very carefully. Because it can come across as a “cheap hook.” And—ehem—a cheap hooker is not something I want to be.

Now here’s an example of perspective #3, taken from Cast A Road Before Me, book #1 in my women’s fiction Bradleyville series (published about 4 years ago):

One of the lessons I learned in that summer of 1968 was that there’s a line in each of us that can be crossed—a boundary that separates what we are from the monsters we can become . . . I see this now, but I could not understand it then. Nor could I understand that a person so pushed will only cross back once the enervating whirl in one’s head slows of its own accord. And so when it happened to Lee, I made one mistake after another—I cajoled; I cried; I yelled—as if I could reach him.

It was after midnight when he banged on our door.

That last sentence will transition the narrator’s older voice back into a scene—which happened many years before.

Y’all with me? See how the various perspectives really make a difference in the way the story is told? Any comments, questions? If not, we’ll turn to a new topic tomorrow.


Stuart said...

Thanks Brandylin, I've really enjoyed your discussion of First Person PoV and the insight into the different sub-categories found within it.

Unknown said...

Thanks for clarifying the sub-categories of First Person POV. I have a novel in progress in First Person. Although I've read many books on writing and POV, I've never seen the First Person broken down in quite this way (or if I did, I promptly forgot what I read;-). While I knew I wanted to write my book from the not-quite-so-immediate past perspective, I was starting to wonder if I could, as it doesn't keep you in the "now" in the same way the "immediate past perspective" does.

Your thoughts have helped immensely!

Anonymous said...

I have a YA novel in progress. After 6,000 words it began to bog down. DUH! I was writing in the wrong POV. I was using 3rd person singular, and my character was struggling with not being able to be completely herself!
Thanks for your input and explanations and examples. Very helpful. I will try 1st person, not sure if immediate or post event POV will work best, but I think that will make the words fly. Thanks again!


Anonymous said...

Oh, Brandilyn. I'm SO happy you were able to put that "cheap hooker" comment to good use at last. ;-)

I'm enjoying your blog immensely! Thanks for taking the time to do this.