Monday, June 22, 2009
Choosing a Point of View
ROBERTA: So far all of my published books have been written in the first person. This made my job pretty straightforward. As long as I stuck to my character's point of view, stayed in her head, I couldn't write a word unless she heard, saw, or thought it. It was like writing with blinders on.
I'm trying something different in my new book. The book has two POV protagonists who alternate chapters. This of course widens the possibilities of where I can take the action, but it also raises lots of questions. For example, does it work if the chapters are not balanced between the two characters? Will it work to tell the story as one character sees it, and then back up and tell again from the other's POV? And when I reach points in the story where both characters will be present, whose head I should be in?
So I'd love to hear your opinions about point of view--how do you prefer to write and what do you prefer to read?
JAN: It really depends on the story and the author. I think if the author has a great voice the narration is often stronger in the first person. I loved Scott Turow in first person, like him less whenever he writes in third.
Like you Roberta, I'm trying to escape the prison of first person -- sort of. The story is told by an unseen narrator who writes in the first person, but can see everything. So the effect is ominiscient -- almost. I tried allowing my narrator to go into everybody's head whenever I felt like it, but my writers's group got confused. Now I allow the narrator into only one viewpoint at a time and shift it by section - much like you are doing. I'm making mistakes, but I feel there's no point writing if I'm not going to try to experiment and grow!
HALLIE: I confess I love a single narrator. But it does mean when your character gets stuck in a dungeon the reader's stuck there with him. Writing Never Tell a Lie, I started to feel claustrophobic when I got myself locked in an attic with my character Ivy.
The book I'm writing has occasional scenes narrated by different characters, so the reader knows more than my protagonist - it feels like a good way to build suspense. But I'm not sure those scenes will survive.
In the last Dr. Peter Zak book, Guilt, I alternated between two characters' viewpoints -- and then in the final crescendo short scenes snapped back and forth between them. It was hard, when both of those characters were in a scene, to decide who gets the viewpoint. How do you decide??
ROBERTA: Oh Hallie, I was hoping you'd answer that!
RHYS: When I conduct workshops I teach that every book has a point of view that works better than others. If the story is stalled or not going well, I tell them to try writing it in the first person to see where the characters themselves want to go. I have written in first and third and multiple points of view and I have to say that both Molly and Georgie's voices came so easily to me. I almost sit back and let them write. My only pet peeve in books is a story written in the present tense. It annoys me.
ROBERTA: Watch out Rhys--Hank's series is in the present tense:).
HANK: Oh, sorry Rhys. It's because of writing for TV news, I think. I love first person present, because it allows the reader to make mistakes along with the main character. To misjudge and misread and then make decisions based on those wrong perceptions. Because of course, as the author, I know what's correct and what's really happening. But I don't have to tell Charlie McNally.
But I wondered if I could do it another way--not sound like Charlie McNally, not be in present tense. SO I wrote a short story in third person, just to see, you know? And it was a completely different experience. And so--empowering.
I think--the story decides how it's written.
RO: As it happens, the manuscript I just delivered has two POVs. The second POV only occurs in a few chapters, but I felt I had to do it to tell the story I was telling. I think it works..we'll see what my editor says. It's challenging to write in the first person, and I like the idea that my character knows things just a few moments before the reader does, but it can be exhausting to keep coming up with new ways for her to get information she needs to solve the crime!
ROBERTA: Ok JR readers, please pitch in with your opinions. And then come back often this week--we have a great line-up. On Tuesday, visit with Chris Knopf, author of the Sam Acquillo mysteries, who will talk about setting books in the Hamptons and writing for a small press. On Wednesday, visit with Chester Campbell to learn everything you need to know about blog book tours. And on Friday, listen in as literary agent Paige Wheeler talks about the book biz right now.