Wednesday, February 16, 2005

POVs Continued

Yesterday I ended with the question “Am I crazy?” Rather rhetorical, if you ask me. I could go into all sorts of tangents with that one, but since we’re talking POV, I’ll try to explain how I ended up writing my Hidden Faces novels in first person, when it’s not exactly the easiest POV for a suspense series. (Suspense readers—if you’ve just joined us, scroll back to Monday for definitions of POV.)

When I proposed Hidden Faces (featuring forensic artist Annie Kingston) to Zondervan, I never thought about it being in first person. I did have the sense that it would be Annie’s story, however. So I sort of generally thought about using third person singular POV. However, I didn’t mention POV in the proposal at all. Truth is, there’s a whole lot of things I didn’t mention. Like, for instance, the plots. I hate writing proposals. I kinda said, okay, there’s this forensic artist, see, and here are some supporting characters and where they live. In the first book a 12-year-old’s gonna witness her mother’s murder. And after that, um, stuff happens. Stuff will also happen in books 2 and 3. (I didn’t propose a book 4, but Zondervan wanted one anyway.)

Well, fudging on proposals is one thing. And selling’s way cool. But then the rubber hits the road, and I gotta write the books. So I sit down to write book #1, Brink of Death. I start to write in third person singular—a POV I’d not used before. I write about 10,000 words. Doesn’t feel right. The POV is weak. But neither do I see the story as using multiple POVs. Oh, man. Now I’m in trouble. The contract for this series is long signed, and I’ve already received the first half of all four advances. I’d better come up with a solution quick.

Under the circumstances, there is only one solution—write in first person. I balk at that. What will my editors say if I spring this on ’em? I think a lot and pray more. Walk around talking to myself. Finally I go back and change the 10,000 words to first person. That’s it! The story’s rollin’. It’s something I feel inside when I know I got it nailed. I write the whole book in first person without ever bothering to tell my editors I’ve chosen that POV. You know what? Neither one even commented on it. ’Cause the story was right, using it. And when the POV’s naturally right, it doesn’t stand out. You just can’t imagine the story any other way.

There are three things to discuss from here. (1) Why I think third person singular POV is weak. (2) Why I’ve discovered first person POV to be so hard for a suspense series—now that I’ve written all four books. (3) How I ended up, shall we say “enhancing” the first person POV in Hidden Faces.

(1). Third person singular POV. Yesterday I talked about the strengths of third person multiple POV, starting with the obvious fact that the story can be told through the perspectives of more than one character. The basic strength of first person is its intimacy with the protagonist. You are totally in his (or her) head, seeing the world the way he sees it, hearing his voice describe things rather than the author’s narrative voice. In the middle of these two opposites sits third person singular. The story is still told using “he” or “she,” but only through the viewpoint of one character throughout the book. For the life of me, I can’t find the strength in this POV. It lacks the multiplicity of third person, and also lacks the intimacy of first. The reader is still stuck with one character’s thoughts the whole story, without ever being in that character’s head as fully as possible. So I ask—why write a novel this way? A short story, okay. But a whole book?

What say you readers and writers out there? (I know you’re out there, ’cause my counter says so, even though you’re mighty quiet.) Enlighten me with some feedback.

Read Part 4


Stuart said...

Why write in Third Person Singular.

The main reason I'm doing it is because it gives my story the epic feel of a single character getting caught up in events that are much larger than him. Also I'm writing Sci-fi, from an alien perspective which, at least to me, would feel awkward from a first person PoV. Also the story I'm telling is specifically about the choices my PoV character makes and the consequences that follow and his reaction. I didn't want to diffuse that point by bringing in the reader into the heads of other characters and giving them access to information that the protaganist didn't have.

TPS may indeed be a weak PoV, but it is working well for my book and brings a unique feel that would be lost with any other.

-Stuart Stockton

Anonymous said...

So far for my novels I prefer multiple third person. However, I try to limit telling the story through too many eyes. However, all but one of my short stories have been told in first person. I don't know why. But that's the way they had to be told, so I understand completely your reasoning for Annie in the Hidden Faces series.

One type of story for which I can see third person singular working especially well are coming-of-age stories. Think To Kill A Mockingbird. We want to stay with that one character to see how they mature and react to various challenges.

Keep up the great work!

-C.J. Darlington

Anonymous said...

Um, scratch that comment about To Kill a Mockingbird. I just realized it wasn't third person singular but first person. Okay, it was a long time ago I read that one ... I do still think the thought applies to other coming-of-age novels though.

-C.J. Darlington

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